This post has gone through three lives in the past twenty-four hours.
The first life was in the swimming pool. I was taking my first swim of the year, since the water temperature was finally in the 80s. I am a “temp wimp”, so I really want the pool to be warm before I get in. Of course, once my ancient yellow lab Kobe saw me in there, he jumped right in too and swam right beside me. Although he is the human equivalent of over 100 years old, he is a far more capable swimmer.
Anyway, as I was swimming, I was musing about my life, as I often do. I have an absurd amount of time with my own thoughts which, given how poisonous my mind can be, is probably not a good thing. At first, I broke my life into a triad, considering how I had spent the first third, second third, and final third of my life to date.
That didn’t fall into any neat categories, so I broke it into six pieces instead. Those pie slices didn’t form neat little groups either, so I then considered how I would judge my life most effectively. Well, since my life revolves around charts, I began thinking that I could chart my life out, year by year. Of course, love and money tend to be dominant themes in life, so I decided to break up my own personal stock into two categories – financial and personal. I don’t suppose many people dwell on such things when they’re doing laps, but I do. I’m strange that way.
Later on, I scribbled on a piece of paper my own ratings for those two categories, year to year, and thus formed the second version of this post. I ranked each year from 1 (horrible) to 10 (wonderful) on a relative scale. In other words, my financial life, for example, as a twelve year old would not be measured in absolute terms with my financial life as a 32 year old. That would be ridiculous. I simply wanted to give each year a rank as to how things were vis a vis how, ideally, I would have liked them to be at that stage in my life.
I tried to be very honest with myself, and the resulting chart was intriguing, if not alarming. I hesitated sharing this at all – I mean, you people don’t know me, and I don’t know you, so why should I share something this intimate? But, if nothing else, Slope of Hope has been a place of transparency and honesty for nearly a decade now, and I might as well raise the bar. So, at the risk of delighting those who wish me ill, here it is:
The blue chart is financial, the red chart is personal, and the green chart is the sum of those two. So, to be clear, a “sum” of 2 would have me perched on the railing of the Golden Gate Bridge, trying to muster the courage to jump, whereas a 20 would have me dancing on the roof of my massively overpriced Palo Alto house.
As you can see, I “peaked” at a value of 18, which is awfully high. Regular readers of my blog probably need not puzzle over this lofty figure during the height of the financial crisis. Everything in my life was going spectacularly well. This was augmented by the fact that, frankly, everyone else’s life was going so badly. I felt like I could print money, things were so easy, and besides rocking the trading world, things were splendid in all other areas of my life as well.
Since then, for various and sundry reasons, things have been sinking. That is not to say my life is a disaster. I’ve got money, a relatively steady income (thanks to you good people), and a fine family. But, as someone very wise once said to me, I do not suffer well, and it’s very easy for me to feel sorry for myself. There are some very unenviable elements in my life, and it’s easy for me to let myself get down because of those. It’s a bit like trolls; I can get one hundred loving, grateful emails in a row, but just one nasty email can dwarf those good feelings. It’s a sickness, and I know I am not alone in being cursed with it.
And now we come to the third version of this post. It seemed my sorrow prompted the universe to smack me upside the head. That very day, I happened to read an article about Viktor Frankl, whom I had never heard about before. He had survived the Nazi concentration camps, and he emerged from that horrible experience with wisdom that helped reshape the world of psychology. You can read the linked article to get a background on the man, but here are some pithy quotes of his I wanted to share:
What will it matter to him if he notices that he is growing old? Has he any reason to envy the young people whom he sees, or wax nostalgic over his own lost youth? What reasons has he to envy a young person? For the possibilities that a young person has, the future which is in store for him? No, thank you,’ he will think. ‘Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered. These sufferings are even the things of which I am most proud, although these are things which cannot inspire envy.’ “
“Our greatest freedom is the freedom to choose our attitude.”
“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”
“In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”
“The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of a trick learned while mastering the art of living.”
“A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how”.”
“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it”
I found Mr. Frankl’s words to be both touching and shame-inducing, because I berated myself for feeling at all sorry for myself. I mean, here I am, this guy who gets to spend every day of the week doing precisely what he wants, swimming around in his own pool behind his zillion-dollar house, and I’m thinking what a poor, sad fellow I am. Good God, I suck.
Hopefully this post will help make up for some of that.