Paul wrote this reflection for his “Listing Bucketeer” blog in 2010, and in many ways, it has informed his and our journey since then. At this time of reflecting on that journey, we’re including it here.
The Wise Elder Within
Do we acquire wisdom as we grow older? I wonder. Perhaps wisdom is a state of mind that we can uncover within us at any time.
On the road to creating my Bucket List, I imagined asking a much older self what advice he had for me on living the rest of my life. My older self was at the end of his days, and I could sense him conserving his words. He spoke slowly, and there were many pauses while he collected his strength.
I had expected the Old Man would urge me to take on grand new tasks – to write a symphony or discover a cure for cancer. Surely he knew of those unfinished works of art or science or business that lay hidden still within me. I searched his words as I wrote them down, looking for that earth-shaking advice. I found myself sadly disappointed in the Old Man. Is that all you have for me, I asked? I put the pages aside.
Yet, when I re-read them a few days later, I found myself strangely moved. Over the days that followed, I felt myself lightening up, shedding long-carried burdens. Logjams in my life began to break up. I felt a sense of flow. Things began to happen.
I reread the Old Man’s letter to me several times over the next month. Each time, I saw new wisdom in what he had to offer. I was surprised by how much he seemed to have learned since he was my age. This enlightenment didn’t consist of new facts or recipes. Rather it was about priorities. What a lifetime had taught him – and me – about what was truly important. Perhaps that is the domain of wisdom – knowing and living what really matters.
Sharing my personal advice to myself was the furthest thing from my mind when I wrote it. Still, a few colleagues did read it. Several of them were inspired by the words, and asked to share them with others. Some made use of them in their own quest for wisdom. So I’ve decided to share the Old Man’s advice here. If these thoughts move you in any way, I am thankful. If not, may they at least inspire you to ask your own personal elder, “What advice on living do you have for me, Old Timer?”
“Come closer, young fellow, so I can see better…
“Do not worry about trying to change the world by the time you get to my age.
“Make sure that at least one person – make it the one you are with – felt the full force of what it meant to be loved by you. Take her to the edge of what’s possible. Show her boundless love. Make sure she always knows she is accepted for exactly who and what she is. Make sure she knows who it is that loves her. Have it come from every part of you. Tell her you love growing old with her. Make sure you sometimes take her without asking permission. But never take her for granted. Ask her what you need to know about her.
“Keep loving your boys. Hold on to their shoulders sometimes when you talk to them. Give them the peace of knowing that they are OK, exactly as they are. Let them see your struggles and your passions. Realize that they are not here in this world to live life for you. They will have their own lives to live, their own places where no one else can go. Accept that, even though it may make you sad at times. Be all the more thankful for the opportunity to share in their lives when they offer it. Be a good and patient grandpa.
“Don’t sweat it! Do what turns your crank every day, and don’t worry so much about whether it’s the “right” thing to do. But make sure you are moved by the life you are living. Say the things that move you in the saying of them. Do the things in which you lose yourself.
“Realize that you are not omnipotent. The world will go on with you or without you, and not much different either way. Don’t get hung up on “Making a Difference”. The trick is simply to show up where you already are. You don’t know how important that is. Don’t wait another second for your life to “start”. You are living it now!
“Realize that you are OK doing exactly what you are doing. There is nothing else you should be doing. Do what you are already doing and expand it: turn that letter into an article; turn that trip into an adventure; invite more people into whatever you are doing. Spend your money on what’s important to you. Spend your time on what matters to you.
“Look for ways to always be learning new things that intrigue and excite you, and look for ways to share that knowledge and excitement as you are learning and discovering.
“Make it up as you go along. Don’t get so hung up on leaving a legacy. Nothing will last forever. Sure, leave some writings – but write for the moment. Start things, but don’t get hung up on keeping them going. Don’t sweat it so much. None of it really matters. It’s a bit of a joke – a trap. What you leave behind doesn’t matter; it’s only how you leave it – how you live it – that matters.
“Build a community for yourself – one that you want to live in and grow old in. Live in a small house. Live like you’re on vacation all the time. Travel.
“Stay close to family and friends. Keep your relationships in good repair. Talk. Talk when things are going well. Talk whenever things aren’t working out. Talk until something moves. Keep some good men about you. Never believe you have to “go it alone”.
“Don’t suffer – suffering is optional. Stay in shape – don’t let your body stop you.
“Remember that you make it all up. “Man is a being of self-created purpose, of self-made soul.” Go easy on yourself. You have arrived. Do what it takes to know that you’re as good as any man. Never give up on sex. Never give up on love.
“Get outside every day – especially when the sun is shining. Plant trees. Live in a place that moves you.
“Above all, trust yourself. Trust the life you have created for yourself and the life you are creating. Don’t worry about what others may think. Life is far too short to live by someone else’s script.”
Pingback: Living inside a Bucket List | No Pension, Will Travel
Pingback: Keeping Travel Alive between Trips | No Pension, Will Travel
Pingback: What Happens While You’re Busy Making Other Plans | No Pension, Will Travel
These thoughts from a palliative care nurse “Top Regrets of the Dying” seem to bear this out: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/feb/01/top-five-regrets-of-the-dying
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Paul, I’ve often thought of imagining myself twenty years hence, and writing down what advice I would offer. So much harder to do this than the suggestion of what to tell your younger self. Much of what you write here is exactly as I envision my older self speaking to my younger self. I thoroughly enjoyed the post.
Thanks, Wendy. This was part of quite a process. It included a guided “death meditation” complete with candles, chants and black shroud, where I imagined my own funeral. I scrawled the words above lying on a couch, and afterwards, I could barely read them.