I have discovered the three secrets of life and I did it over coffee.
Last Monday morning, Mr. Smith and I sat savoring our steamy, fragrant morning lattes. I don’t remember exactly how we got on the topic, but we started discussing “if I knew then what I know now.” We talked about lessons we had learned over the years that we wished we could pass on to our grandchildren. Perhaps a top ten list of grandparents’ golden nuggets of wisdom. We realize they probably wouldn’t really listen any more than we listened to our elders back in the day. But that didn’t stop us from thinking about it.
At the ripe old age of 65, I am grateful to have let go of some of the ropes that held me back in the past. I worried way too much about what other people thought, when in reality, they weren’t really thinking all that much about me. And for the most part, I have stopped comparing my life to others’ and try to operate on the premise that everybody is just doing the best they can. I do fear my grandchildren getting caught up in the social media world where everyone else’s life can look perfect in an Instagram post. I want them to understand it is often smoke and mirrors and things are frequently not as they appear.
Mr. Smith is not one to ruminate about the past. He focuses more on what he has learned through all his life choices. But if he could pass on any wisdom to his grandchildren, he would make them aware of the reality of the class system and that they should not be intimidated by it. Your class does not define the type of person you are or how you live your life. His only true regret is that he didn’t take his education more seriously earlier in his life. But through discipline and perseverance, he managed to graduate from college before his sons did!
Our discussion started me thinking about others in my life, people who had made an impact on me. I proceeded to text a couple of bosses I had in the past to seek out their thoughts on the subject. I wasn’t sure they would have any regrets but wondered if they had any sage advice for the younger generation.
I was a fledgling paralegal when I was hired by Brian and his lessons were invaluable to me. I saw him as a preeminent family law attorney in our community and a wonderful mentor. As he begins to think about retirement and what is next for him, he shared his thoughts with me. “When I graduated from high school, I had a choice of attending my local college or going on campus to Indiana University.” He stayed at home with his family and while it did save his family tens of thousands of dollars, in retrospect, he thinks the compelling reason was to stay in town with his then girlfriend! “In hindsight, it was a mistake to not attend at least one year on the Bloomington campus. I think of everything that I missed including, but not limited to, the college culture, lifestyle, people I could have met (from all over the world), and the temptations that all students on campus experience.” Like Brian, I also regret not taking a bigger leap out of the nest when I was younger, but luckily we have both found our wings.
Years later, when we moved to Pennsylvania, I took a position at a personal injury firm. Jim was often viewed as the office curmudgeon, but I was able to see the kind heart just below the surface which he tried to keep hidden. His response made me a little misty eyed. “I should have taken more chances…I was the ant who slowly and methodically worked to accomplish. I should have been a grasshopper.” A grasshopper symbolizes courage, resourcefulness and creativity. I see all those qualities in you, Jim, and think your grasshopper days are right in front of you.
Tenzin Kiyosaki, a former Buddhist nun who now works as in interfaith hospice chaplain for Torrance Memorial Medical Center in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, spends her days listening to the concerns of the dying. She found the top three to be: 1) I did not live my life of dreams; 2) I did not share my love; and 3) I did not forgive. She wants us to remember that death doesn’t only come to the old, and urges us to resolve or prevent any regrets now. And that is what I want to do.
So, over morning coffee, I believe I discovered that the three secrets of life – and a peaceful death – for me are courage, kindness and discipline. And using these tools to follow your heart. Be the grasshopper.
C’est la vie.