60 Years Old? Young? So Far, So Good… It’s my birthday and I’ll blog if I want to.
Today is my 60th birthday. No post tomorrow, I’m blogging today, and taking the day after my birthday off from blogging! And then day after that, I’ll have a big announcement about the future of this blog.
It feels surreal to say that I’m turning 60 out loud. 59 felt like it was the longest year in my life, in part because I knew this moment was waiting at the end of it. Like waiting to go onstage, or waiting for your luggage, the clock seems to move slower when something important waits at the end of the waiting.
60. S I X T Y . Once upon a time, that seemed ancient. Now, seems like I’m about halfway done. I’m still healthy, strong, focused, driven and capable. I’ve slowed down, but not that much. My mind is still sharp and my body still responds to the same stimuli, be they pleasurable or painful. I don’t think I’m that old now that I’m here as I did as a kid looking at here from there. I know people my age who are MUCH older. And I still feel like a kid inside.
But this sure feels like a major milestone, Just like every decade marker that preceded it. I turned 20 by myself, walking a beach in Santa Barbara. I turned 30 in my Victorian house in Portland, with my 2 year old daughter playing at my feet. I turned 40 at the Royal Calidonian bar in Edinburgh, Scotland with a good friend (that’s when I got my walking stick.) I turned 50 surrounded by family and friends in Durango, Colorado. And I’m turning 60 with a big party right here in the town I’ve called my home for the last 29 years.
60 years old. I think this birthday is important for me for a few very good reasons. For one thing, I can more clearly see my eventual retirement from speaking and training from here. Don’t know how long retirement will last once I start it, but I love the idea of starting it. The glorious idea of waking up with no pressure, no deadlines, no projects, and wondering what I’ll do with myself, that’s a prize that increasingly beckons.
For another thing, I can more clearly see what got me this far, far more than I could ever see before. The people I’ve met, experiences I’ve had, opportunities taken and missed, betrayals and bonuses in business, broken hearts and true love…all together they make just one of me, and I know I can’t be duplicated.
I can remember a time when I believed that nobody over 30 could be trusted. I can remember a time when I felt completely alone in this world. Several times in fact. (It was never actually true.)
I can remember when total strangers befriended me and made my life better just by being a part of it. Fred and Tommy. Chaim and Yael. Rick, Sally and Michael. Kelly and Alison. Divine and Lizbet, J.D. and Steve. I can remember befriending people too, and wanting with all my heart to be a source of empowerment and encouragement in their lives as they found their way forward.
I can remember (vividly) the pain and frustration of communication breakdowns with people I loved as I grew (or ‘grew some’ as my former father-in-law used to say). I can remember feeling odd and awkward in my own skin all through grade school and high school. I can remember feeling like an outsider in my own community during those years. I can remember wondering how the world could be so cold and so cruel. And even when I left all that behind and went venturing west in search of a better life, I remember the many times I felt like a stranger in a strange land. (I still feel that one.)
I can remember the day I stopped running from my fear, and turned to face it, taking a stand on anger instead. I can remember rebellion for its own sake. I can remember when I learned to stand in strength instead of anger, in will instead of rebellion, and in love instead of fear. I stand here now.
I can remember taking big risks, most of which I’d never dream of taking at this stage in my life. And as I remember those risks, I am amazed at the audacity that drove them, and, on many occasions, the good fortune that protected me from my blind arrogance.
I can remember when the universe revealed something of itself to me in a splendid moment of profound clarity that lingered for days, then dissipated as quickly as it came, while remaining with me as a deep change inside all that I do and think and feel and am, even now.
I can remember my mother’s touch and smile and voice, and I can remember believing that she would always be around. And my heart aches as I remember this. I can remember when my little brother and I became real friends. I can remember when, in a state of absolute panic, my sister, perhaps the kindest and most generous person I’ll ever know, came to my rescue. I can remember when my father and I first saw eye to eye, and when he first told me something about myself that I didn’t know or understand. I can remember when I first realized what a wonderful man he is and how much I cherish his presence in my life.
I can remember cradling my daughter’s head in my hands as she first came into this world, and feeling the incredible rush of touching this new life, of feeling connected to this state of innocence, and knowing that this amazing little girl was just at the dawning moments of her journey in which I would play such a formative part. I can remember the scales falling away from my eyes when I made the commitment to marriage with my beloved Lindea, and she was revealed to me in all the splendor and magnificence of who she is, when I realized the incredible great fortune that had brought us together. This view of her and of us remains true for me to this day.
I can remember friends who have since disappeared from my life, who I’ve sought and not found, or who have passed away and now are truly gone. Aryeh. Bobby. Lonnie. Too many to name.
Here’s what I know about me now, at this stage of my life, that I didn’t know then, in the early years. I’m never alone. My friends are my treasure and any success I’ve had is found in my relationships first. I know now that even when people did dumb things that seemed intended to hurt me, they were doing the best they could with the limited resources they had on board. I now know that much of what seemed so personal never really was, and that much of what seemed so impersonal was as personal as my own breathing.
I now know not to fall in love with politicians because they always break your heart. I now know that no matter how bad things appear, they can always get worse, and that no matter how good something appears, if it seems to be too good to be true, it almost always is. And at the same time, I know that the woof and weave of this universe is irony and paradox, so I now know it’s important to stay open to the possibility of miracles and wonders, because they happen every day, but you only notice them if you pay attention for them. Indeed, my life is a string of miracles, punctuated with enough contrasting (difficult, painful, perplexing and hurtful) experiences to make sure I notice all the good stuff and don’t take any of it for granted.
I know that the world has appeared to be coming to an end since it’s very beginning, and that things are actually getting better even while they appear to be getting worse. I know it’s always darkest before the dawn, and that my feelings serve me and empower me if I simply honor them. And I know that who I am is enough, that I’m the right person in the right place at the right time, and that great things happen in my life and you could be one of them.
You could be one of them, and if you say something in response to what I’ve written here, I’ll certainly count you as one of them. And if you don’t, I won’t count you, but you’ll still count, because I now know that we touch each other’s lives in ways both visible and invisible, and that by our choices, we make a difference that really counts.
Happy My Birthday To You. I wish you all the good that is wished for me this day.
Rick is a best selling author and the founder of the Art of Change Skills for Life. His book titles include, Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to bring out the best in people at their worst, Life by Design and Influence and the Art of Persuasion. These days he is spending quality time away from the spotlight enjoying the company of his wife and practicing his electric guitar.