MY LIFE; a play in three acts. Creating, or writing, the life we want should be simple. A stage-play in three acts that starts out, appearing to be at an airport where a wide-body plane is about to land – the opening scene, shot on the arrivals level, maybe it arrives in a FedEx package … scanned, pushed along a metaphorical conveyor belt of life.
Then, a scene-shift to the delivery room, the package is opened. There is some crying. I’ve got some parts outlined, but I’m struggling with the ending – my third act ACTion-plan, is incomplete.
The back story:
Parents encouraged me, “Go to university.”
They didn’t push, not knowing what kind of difference that could make for me because they’d not experienced it themselves. They’d grown up in the depression, dropped out of school, met and married after WW II. I arrived, a baby-boomer in their small prairie town toward the end of that demographic, too young to be wild in those wild and crazy 60s like the early-boomer cohort.
During my first twenty years, I got raised and schooled but with little encouragement to stray from the path my makers imagined – though, to be fair, they didn’t have big ambitions or wide-angle vision.
They could not envision a world for me they’d not known themselves, or one that didn’t exist yet. For example, they could hardly wish for me to be an astronaut or a computer-anything. If they had, they would have had a vision beyond the reality of their time, knowledge, or education.
If asked, I would have preferred a more educated set of parents or wealthy ones, or sophisticated ones – we could all wish for things like that, but who would want someone else?
Because, if we had different parents, we would have been someone else, right?
Who would give up who they are to suddenly be inside the brain and body of a stranger?
Even with my wild imagination, I cannot imagine that.
Though taller would be nice. Hair that didn’t fall out due to inherited baldness would be fantastic.
While being someone different from a different place in history, lineage, location, and DNA might be dreamy, we would lose all the experiences we had as ‘us’ and have them replaced by someone else’s experiences. Giving up that reality we know for a dreamy fictional one – who wants that dream to come true?
Not for me. Dreamy as life in that alternative universe might have been, I’ll stick with my reality.
Even if I could turn back time by many decades and reinvent my birth family, I wouldn’t.
The first act:
Life was never chosen by us.
It was chosen for us.
Or, if you’re cynical, done to us!
We arrive, wet, hungry, and afraid of falling with an urge to poop.
That’s when the trouble starts …
Whether or not parents had some form of family planning vision or expected their pregnancy – two people contributed to each new arrival, one swimmer penetrating a single egg, and then our fetus grew. And grew. All we did was gestate for nine months in a warm place. Like hydroponic tomatoes, nourished inside, in the dark; then, matured and fully formed – pushed out into the world.
If we see this life as a three-act play, this first act is one of fulfilling our parents’ ambitions for us.
They brought us into the world and raised us. They fed us and clothed us, sent us on a path of education and lifestyle akin to their desires …
The second act:
First hints of independent thought appear at puberty; through our loss of innocence, then as twenty-somethings, charting a life-course and in turn creating some new humans to ourselves guide while not yet knowing our own selves, we work through the angst of “why am I here?”, and “what do I want my purpose in life to be?” questions – and we work. We buy and sell. We shift, follow career paths and societal trends, chase ambitions, lick wounds, re-try, re-start, kick-start and many times over fail, flail, and get re-fueled by every glimmer of success. Most things are neither full-throated success nor abject failures – and we call them teachable moments …
During this second act, we see peers enjoying (or not) similar patterns of navel-gazing, re-thinking, right-sizing, and realizing there is more to life than all of that which we’ve been doing at the same time as we come to recognize our time-remaining gets one day shorter every day.
We focus on health and fitness more – though evidence suggests we focus on it more in our thinking and talking than in our doing – we envision establishing better habits and lifestyle trends that support the notion of living longer, living better, living healthier.
The bridge from the second act to the third goes far beyond downsizing one’s footprint, getting our affairs in order (wills, funeral planning, personal directives, powers of attorney), leaving notes on where things are, computer and bank passwords etc. so those we leave behind can easily pick up our pieces. It’s not a fixation, just something we all need to take care of unless we want to leave that for our kids to sort out.
But the better questions, I think, are not testing what we are doing with our lives, but rather in questioning what we are not doing.
What do we want to do?
I realize, past mid-life, those aspirations of being an Olympic athlete or brain-surgeon fit into the ‘that ship has sailed’ category. I don’t think that means we should hang up our skates and retire quietly to a lazy backwater to watch the sun shining and let passing breezes weather our wrinkly faces.
At the same time, I don’t think actions need to be bold, gigantic, or flamboyant to be valid.
One person’s ambition to swim across the country might seem too much, while one length of the pool might be plenty for someone else.
I think the magic – in the thought process at least, for me, is to question what I want to do that won’t get done if I don’t do it.
Sure, I could strive to do more work, more transactions, serve more customers and do more deals – that would be bloody welcome at this stage of the pandemic economy. I could certainly and always use the income, but the more challenging questions are deeper complexities. If I don’t do deal A or B, someone else will.
I’m more interested in things that won’t get done unless I do them. Things that matter most to me are things that matter, period. And my BHAGs fit that criterion.
The third act:
I think I’m ready for the third act.
I have tools in my box. While the most obvious ones are real estate expertise and writing is an evident passion, my strongest inclinations are education and advocacy on issues impacting people with disabilities and indigenous people. In these areas, I’ve done some projects, been involved in policy and regulation work – and some political advocacy – where the satisfaction of doing valued work nobody else is doing that produces lasting results that make a difference in people’s lives and maybe change society a tiny bit – that has been the most satisfying. Never been rewarding financially, but that seems a far less critical need now than it did fifty years ago.
I didn’t choose this life – it was created for me by my parents.
I didn’t follow any path they’d planned.
And for a long time, I had short-term plans and a crooked path. I’ve learned some navigation skills, and I’m working on a plan – clearer focus, planned zigs, zags, spontaneous tangential off-shoots, because the journey can be a thrill whether or not we know the ultimate destination …
In retrospect, I wish my parents put me on a different path in the beginning, but they didn’t.
I don’t find that issue cause for as much angst as I once did – but rather as fuel for my choices made, which I must own, and wisdom for the ones I make now, next week, next year, next – well, you get the picture.
I didn’t choose the early parts of my life, and I abdicated choice in the middle parts of my life – so I’m completely unwilling to let anyone else determine the next stage and phases of my life. It’s too important to let anyone else decide and too private to completely share/disclose.