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One of the more sobering side effects of maturing is the gradual disappearance of the people you depended on to be wiser—parents, mentors, friends. Gadzooks! That means I’m at the front of the line now!
There is no “older but wiser” preparation course—except daily life, naturally. And the people who were ahead of me in wisdom weren’t necessarily older. Besides my parents, I lost two deeply close friends early on and another two fairly recently. The world feels lopsided without them. My first reaction to their loss was to lie low and lick my wounds, but you start to wither if you don’t grow. You look up from your wallowing to discover you need to make your own decisions now—find your own motivations and devise your own plans—although that means operating without as much support. Even worse, there are people behind you in line looking to you for inspiration.
Some people walk backward, peering into the past for direction. Certainly, you can learn from what has gone before. Human nature doesn’t seem to change much. We haul the same deadly sins with us from decade to decade. But the world doesn’t stay the SAME. Living in a boom-and-bust area, I’m keenly aware that resources appear and resources disappear—as does demand. The Earth evolves beneath our feet—sometimes at our command, sometimes in reaction to what we’ve done, and sometimes just because it does. Thus, careers and cultures and even nations come and go.
Naturally, we don’t lack for people who insist THEY are at the front of the line and they have ALL the answers we need. Perhaps. They make speeches, give workshops, and write books. However, those of us who studied logic in school recall the words “all,” “none,” “always,” and “never” are dangerous companions. We don’t live in a world of absolutes—even if we wish we did. I get nervous and itchy around people who believe in a yes-or-no world in which the answers are set in stone and shouldn’t be questioned. After all, I remember the deadly sins are still clanking along behind us like the change boxes chained behind the ghost of Jacob Marley. The deadly sins lead into dark times. I don’t choose to follow blindly. I peer into the gray areas to see if I’m missing something hidden there.
So, how do we find our way in a world that feels so different from the familiar? When I have to make that decision, I begin with my values. What values define me? Love for my fellow human beings and respect for the most informed truth I can discover are guidelines I hold dear. Does what I’m considering take me away from those values? I want to be someone I respect.
Next, I make a few predictions. What will the consequences of this decision look like in a few weeks? A few months? A few years? Will the benefits be worth the costs? In these “me” times, I want to honor those who will live after me. I don’t operate under a belief that it’s all about me. My growth spreads like a scent through the air around me, hopefully encouraging others to grow, as well. Likewise, when I betray myself and wallow, I drag the space around me into a black hole.
I turn to the people behind me in the line of influence. “Come on!” I urge them. “We can do better! …Can’t we?”