Tired of my tips? Take some from the folks at NPR.
This is a quick blog post to showcase an article posted by NPR — that’s National Public Radio — on its website.
I’m a big NPR listener (and supporter) and usually have the radio tuned in at home when I’m working around the house or in my shop/garage. Conservative Americans will tell you that NPR is a left wing propaganda machine, but I think they do a good job of staying in the center — too good, at times. But beyond politics — which are difficult to get away from these days — NPR offers a lot of programming on general topics of interest. I especially recommend All Things Considered, which airs in the afternoons here.
The article I want to recommend came out way back in March 2016. I missed it then but, for some reason, NPR tweeted a link to it the other day and I caught it. Titled “8 Ways You Can Survive — And Thrive In — Midlife,” It’s a brief piece with numbered tips. I can’t tell you how absolutely on target this article is.
But I’ll try.
This List and My Life
As regular readers know, I went through an extremely difficult time in my life back in 2012 and 2013. The short version is that the man I’d spent 29 years of my life with and had made the mistake of marrying back in 2006 lost his mind, left me for a woman old enough to be my mother, and attempted to use the divorce court to separate me from everything I’d worked hard for my whole life. He dragged us through an ugly and expensive divorce and then — believe it or not — an appeal. Along the way, he harassed me regularly with legal action and unreasonable demands and made a lot of stupid decisions that made him look like a selfish idiot. In the end, I won (twice) and got to keep what was mine. That’s the short version.
They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and I can vouch for that. I came away from a really crazy and sometimes painful experience feeling better than ever about myself. I rebooted my life in a new place with lots of new friends. And because I was now fully in charge of my destiny, I made decisions that enabled me to build a home that was perfect for me in a place I loved and to grow my flying business bigger than I ever thought possible. I now have the lifestyle I’d once envisioned for myself and my wasband — I tend to business responsibilities five months a year and play/travel the rest of the year. I started my seven month “vacation” on August 1 this year and don’t need to get back to work until late February.
I’ve written numerous times in this blog about my thoughts and feelings related to my success, most recently here. I’m proud of myself and what I’ve achieved and I want readers who visit this blog to see how they can succeed, too. I believe that each person is in charge of his or her own destiny; our decisions and efforts will mold our lives and futures. One stupid decision can really screw things up; I’m sure you know at least one person who will regretfully agree. My mistake was getting married and it cost me dearly. I was able to pull myself back up from what seemed at the time like an abyss because I was financially secure, had a decent brain in my head, and was able to make decisions and take actions that moved me in a positive direction.
That’s where some of this NPR article’s advice comes into play. I wasn’t looking just at the short-term goal of ending my marriage quickly with minimal financial loses. I was also looking at the big picture: my next home, my new friends, the future of my business. Long-term meaning? I’d been thinking about that since 2008 when my friend Erik got sick. That’s when I started planning for the future — a future that originally included my wasband, fueled with his input and promises. Fortunately, I was able to salvage and rebuild those plans when he left my life and the crazy started in 2012.
I also realized that what matters most is my time. Other people will say family, but I have no kids and my family, which is small, lives on the other side of the country. My friends are important — some more than others — but I’ve learned that friends come and go and even the ones you thought were good friends sometimes change and fall from your life. But time — well, that’s a valuable commodity. Being able to spend as much of my time doing the things I wanted to do became a real driving force in how I shaped my work and business. A perfect example: starting in 1998, I wrote Quicken: The Official Guide for Osborne/McGraw-Hill. It was a bestseller and, along with another bestseller I wrote around that time, helped me put a lot of money away for retirement and invest in my future career as a helicopter owner/operator/pilot. The book was revised annually and became, over the years, a bit of a frustrating grind. After the 11th edition, I threw in the towel and asked them to find another author, which they did. The simple truth is that I wanted my summers back. And on a micro level, ask my wasband what I often wanted for my birthday when I spent summers at home; if he’s honest (which is unlikely), he’ll admit that I wanted the day for myself, to do whatever I wanted to do. (He never did understand that.)
If there’s anything on the NPR article’s list that really pops out for me, it’s the third and fourth points, which talk about getting out of your comfort zone and exploring new things. I think I began doing this when I first struck out as a freelancer in 1990, leaving a good-paying job in corporate America for an uncertain career as a writer. Talk about leaving your comfort zone! It would have been easy to stick with that job and continue my climb up the corporate ladder, but I wasn’t happy. Making the change was risky and tough, but I did it better than I expected. As for learning new things, well, I’m often accused of being an overachiever (as if that’s a bad thing) and a lot of people notice my hobbies, like beekeeping and photography. I’ve been fiddling these days with up cycling glass, making wine and cider (and possibly more potent potables), mushroom hunting, astrophotography, and dying fabric using natural materials like lichen and flower petals. I’m a rookie at all of these things and I love learning from them from the ground up! Maybe that’s part of the punctuation referred to in the sixth point, too? The courses I take to learn about mushrooms and photography and wine? The dance lessons I took last year? Soloing in a gyro two winters ago even though I know I’ll never own one?
Setbacks are what make life interesting. Obviously, my divorce was a huge setback, especially with the amount of time and money it took to finally conclude. But as I said earlier, what doesn’t kill you does make you stronger. Working through setbacks help us learn to work with others and solve problems. They also help us appreciate the days when we don’t have troubles clouding our world.
And it’s pretty clear that I failed completely at the seventh point. My marriage went downhill almost from the moment we exchanged vows. After 23 years together, did he really expect things to change? For me to settle down and be the homebody wife and mommy he apparently wanted and needed? I didn’t want a change; hell, I didn’t even want to get married. (Long story there.) In any case, there was plenty of boredom and neglect on both sides. I felt as if I was perpetually in a holding pattern, waiting for him to keep promises he’d made to me to move forward in our future together. He likely felt that I was neglecting him by going off to my summer job in Washington every year. I’ll never know, though, since he lacked the courage to talk to me about it, even after the marriage counsellor he wanted us to see recommended it. Honest conversation probably could have saved what was once an amazing relationship, but some people respect the value of truth and others don’t. Enough said.
Happiness is love. Hmm. Not sure what that’s supposed to mean. I do know that I’m happier now than I have been in a very long time. There’s no new love in my life and frankly, after all I’ve been through, I don’t think I want one. Some people are meant to be part of a pair and others aren’t. Unless I find someone with the same outlook in life that I have — a real love of the outdoors, a desire to try and learn new things, an understanding of the value of time, and a willingness to drop everything for a spur-of-the-moment adventure — I’ll stay single and be very happy that way. I’ve learned that I’d much rather be single than in a relationship with the wrong partner. I’ll take the happiness; you can keep the love.
If there’s one thing on this topic I’ve learned in my life, it’s this: Happiness might be love, but love isn’t necessarily happiness.
Now Look at Your Life
But I didn’t share this article to talk about my life. I shared it to help you — the people who read this blog, many of whom have contacted me privately to tell me how I’ve inspired them. (A special thanks to Meghan, who emailed me just past weekend to tell me I was “rad.” You’re rad, too; work hard and smart and you’ll be even radder.) It’s within your power to survive and thrive not only your midlife years, but the years leading up to them and those beyond.
Read the article. It’s short. Or better yet, read the book it’s extracted from, Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife. Think about how its advice might apply to your life. Make the changes you might need to move forward and be happy.
It’s not always easy, but it is so worth it.
And if you get a chance, use the comments to share how the tips listed above might apply in your life to make you happier. I’m sure we could all learn from your experience, too!