Dearest EXPLORE reader,
A few stats about yours truly:
I’m a single dad to 3, ages 17, 14, 11. 45 years old. Moderately decent health and physique. 6’2” tall. About 190 pounds. Hair has seen better days. I’ve been self-employed since 2004, have lived in Boerne since the late 80s, and have no debt beyond my house. I’m super controlling, can’t stand being told what to do, am twice divorced to my unending shame, and my only younger brother died of cancer in ’13. I yell too much when I get upset, then I dwell on things for far too long, and I have humongous emotions that paralyze me sometimes. I believe in God, but I’ve been angry with Him for a good while, I like to go fishing, I have a long term girlfriend and I’m constantly suspicious of people and waiting for them to hurt me. Life has taught me that lesson. I am the first to admit my sins to others, yet the last to forgive myself. I want to disappear to Belize, but I’m not wealthy, so I grind away like all of you do as well. I can sit and stare at a river or body of water for hours, yet I can’t sit and listen to an inspiring lecture for more than 10 minutes. I’m impatient, yet exhaustingly introspective. I’m honest, but will hide my anxieties from you. I am tall and I suppose I look as masculine as the next man, yet I will cry at every love story movie I watch. I love HARD…so hard that few can match it which makes me doubt them. I’m the smiling jovial guy you might meet, that then contemplates why I’ve decided you hate me as I drive home.
I’m exhausting, frankly. See – that’s another thing – I put myself down a lot.
But if you want to get the “tale of the tape” for me…there it is.
This puts me in a “demographic” I suppose for advertisers. As we all know with our ever changing world, businesses can drill down farther and farther with their data on who we are, and what we do, and what drives our decisions…and they advertise to us accordingly.
I have known this for quite a while as I work in advertising myself, but I sort of chuckled to myself the other day as I was loading a Youtube video and realized that the little ad they show me before the video was the 7th straight one I had seen that starts with some pitch person passionately saying “Guys! Sick of fighting the world? Miserable? No energy? Wife is sick of you? Job sucks? Lost your passion for living? Well, listen to what I’m selling you cause I will change your life!”
The first 6 times I guess I had been given this message, I ignored it as most do. But for some reason on the 7th presentation, I took note. I guess that, generally speaking, the good ol’ “midlife crisis” is something that is supposed to be smashing against my brain right about now.
And, as I listened to the ad, I realized that they might be right.
Most will snort when the term “midlife crisis” comes up and they make a joke about buying a corvette and dating a 22y old. “What are you gonna do? Wear a Tommy Bahama shirt and hit on college girls at the bar?” they laugh. I get it – it’s notorious for being associated with grown men acting like irresponsible jackasses and screwing their lives up. And I suppose they do exactly that sometimes.
But, being who I am, after that 7th presentation of my midlife-crisis ad, I went for a seriously long walk for some reason.
Because honestly, the ad resonated with me. And I suppose it scared me terribly BECAUSE it resonated with me.
I have no idea where I’m going with this, so just bear with me. Sometimes the best discussions in this little letter come from just some rambling, so let’s see what happens, shall we?
Midlife Crisis. Sounds so clinical, yet so ridiculous. “So you’ve hit midlife, and are now freaking out? Well, simmer down, put on your slippers and watch Jeopardy. Everything will be fine, old man” someone wants to say. “You’ve got a nice home, your kids are almost grown, you’re not starving, and you’ve got a pretty decent golf game. You vacation in Mexico once a year, your wife (or girlfriend or husband) is faithful to you, and you’re well respected in your career. Could be worse, amigo. Buck up.”
And they might be right on all accounts.
But therein lies the problem I think, and I don’t think this is specific to men (so don’t give up on this convo yet, ladies).
I’ve come to hypothesize that upon reaching that blissful milestone of “middle age”, we learn a few hard truths. The curtain gets pulled back on a few fallacies we are told throughout our lives and unfortunately, some hard realities stare us square in the eyes and for many of us, it shakes us badly.
I gave you some raw and gritty facts about me above because, frankly, it’s the truth. Yes it’s embarrassing to type some of that up – even more so to do it in my hometown magazine that countless friends of mine read. But what must I hide from? They probably know all of that stuff already if they’re real friends of mine.
I also coughed up the info because I think I’ve spent the better part of my adult life trying to “undo” much of that. “If only I could get this part under control…” or “If I’d just stop being so…then life would be easier for me.” Yet it never gets “easier”, no matter how much weight I throw against my demons. They persist.
And as I look around at many of my similarly aged friends, the ones that would never admit half of what I have admitted in this little letter, the ones that would crack the joke about midlife crisis…I realize that they are all probably wrestling with the same dark thoughts that I do late at night.
I think that’s where the depression of “mid-life” kicks in: when we begin to understand that we are who we are, warts and all. We’re trying our damndest to be the best we can be, but we all slide back into the ooze despite our best efforts. So what do we do? We get depressed. We drink too much. We snap at our children. We buy corvettes and hit on college girls…because nothing else seems to matter, so why should this? Why keep trying?
“I’ve got the house I wanted. I’ve got a cool boat. I make decent money. My wife is beautiful. My buddies are all successful. Then why in the hell am I so pissed off at life?!”
The answer: because this is as good as it gets. That’s what we tell ourselves, and it crushes our spirits.
I’ve done it. Maybe you’ve done it. Maybe your spouse is doing it. But it’s very real and it’s very difficult and it causes a person to pause on a Youtube video and think “Holy shit – how did they know this about me?!”
So where are we going with this conversation? I don’t know yet.
Maybe this letter is more for me than you. Especially if you think I’m crazy right now. I just think that sometimes as young adults we lay out this wish list of our goals. The house. The car. The family. The job title. On and on. But sometimes the absolute worst thing happens: we get those things! We actually accomplish our goals, and oftentimes, we are left realizing that those goals didn’t bring us the happiness that we expected. We got the house, but are saddled with the mortgage. The family is great, but the stressors are crazy. The job title brings a fat check, but the 80 hour weeks are brutal. We make good money, but the emptiness in our hearts just keeps spreading like cancer.
Then many buy the vette and start hanging out in college bars. Some cheat on their spouse. Some switch careers in an illogical way. Some of us buy some sort of nostalgia object like a motorcycle or really ridiculous boat. The list is endless.
But for 100% of us, we might get a brief respite from the emptiness, but we’re left with the same hole in our hearts at 11pm while we watch some late night movie alone while the house sleeps. Our lives are no different, no matter what sort of ridiculous decisions we may throw at it.
I haven’t come to the conclusion of my own little journey through this topic, but I should probably wrap this up. After seeing the same ads over and over, I’ve come to see what they’re selling: fulfillment. They’re not trying to sell me a rock hard body, a new hair line, or a less stressful job. They’re just trying to sell me a discussion about how, at some point, I have to be PRESENT in my own life and appreciate it for what it is.
That’s really all they’re selling. And that’s a pretty damn good purchase if you ask me.
As I mentioned, I lost my only younger brother 7 years ago. Ouch. Obviously a LOT of emotions are tied up in that. But I also learned a most invaluable lesson: Life is short – value it. I know we’ve all been told that sentence countless times, but sometimes you must experience a life cut short in order to appreciate your own. When I get dark with my own thoughts and begin to think about moving to Belize or doing some equally crazy thing…I can come back to my heart and look around. I’m warm in my house. My kids are doing ok. There are some people around me that love me. I’m not rich, but I’m not poor. My truck isn’t fancy, but it’s paid off. It’s not the most exciting life, and many of the things I dreamt of having do not bring me great joy as I envisioned, but I can sorta smirk as I look around my house and say:
It’s my life. For as long as I have it. I better do something amazing with it and appreciate it for what it is.
Does that make me an inspirational speaker? Send me checks for my life-altering advice? I’m kidding, but is it really much more complicated than that? If there’s one thing I’ve learned as I have reached mid-life is that your life will pass you by before you can blink. It’s passed you by SO fast that it’ll make you dizzy. Sitting on your couch late at night watching bad movies and drinking bad whiskey while you grumble about how you want to change things in your life will not change a damn thing. You’ll still be sitting there doing that exact same activity in 10 years if you’re not careful.
Don’t do that.
Embrace what you have, no matter what it looks like. Smile and laugh and do whatever it is to shake things up and find your joy, friend. Hug someone tighter than you did yesterday. Laugh far too loudly. Plan an impromptu trip…just because. Surprise your wife. Be different. Because these things won’t make you any “different”, they actually just bring you back to who you actually ARE.
Because YOU are a wonderful and happy person, even though we all forget this fact sometimes. Find your happiness. And I promise you it’s not in a corvette.
It’s actually in your own heart already. Just let it loose. Even if it takes acting differently on a random Saturday afternoon, that moment of spontaneity is sometimes all it takes to break the gears loose.
And then get on with your life.
And cherish it for what it is.
Welcome to February. The month of LOVE. May you love your family, may you EXPLORE your life, and may you shake it up a bit, and in doing so, find that happiness you’ve been searching.