January 6, 2019

The Next Twenty Years

“Twenty years from now you’ll be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did.” – Mark Twain

It was 1980. I was 13 years old and in Grade 8 at Stonepark Junior High School. I recall one particular day sitting on the floor in the upstairs hallway of House C, back against the wall, chatting with friends. Somehow we started talking about the year 2000, still twenty years away, and calculated that we’d be in our early thirties. We laughed hysterically at the idea because none of us could fathom being that old.

I’m 51 now, and I’m no longer laughing hysterically. The year 2000 is long gone, and so are my early thirties. Now I think ahead twenty years and realize that I’ll be in my early seventies. Unlike my 13-year-old self, I can comprehend this, perhaps a bit too well.

What will my life be like twenty years from now? Will I still be alive? What will I have accomplished? Will I be married or widowed? Will I have grandchildren? I can’t answer any of this, and I suppose it’s better that way. Better to focus on the present they say.

Despite not being able to see into the future and knowing it’s better not to worry too much about it, I still wonder what I can do to make the next twenty years relatively good ones. (For now, I’m going to assume I have at least that many left.)

Because I was enjoying a few days of vacation this past week, I sat down and gave the next twenty years some thought. There are all sorts of things I could do, but I narrowed it down to a few that make sense to me.

When I was done, I realized that what I came up with applies to just about anyone. So here you go, a few things to help make the next twenty years even better.

Maintain social networks – You may be an introvert like me who needs a lot of quiet time to recharge. A full day at work can tire you out, not because you don’t like people – you really do – but because social interaction drains your energy. Still, human interaction is very important for health and well-being.

Important to maintain close connections with family, friends or both. If you’re not overly social, stick to smaller, less frequent doses. Remember, when times get tough, it’s good to have a shoulder or two to lean on.

Live a healthy lifestyle – I will die. So will you. Despite our best efforts, most of us will succumb to one illness or another. Still, healthy eating and exercise will increase your chances of keeping serious illness at bay, help you feel better, and enable you to accomplish more. Think about that the next time you’re tempted to wolf down that bag of Oreos or drink a 6-pack on a Saturday night. If you can’t resist temptation on occasion, that’s fine. If it happens too often, though, I suggest reflecting on the reasons.

Take on projects – Set your sights on accomplishing something every year. For me this year, it’s to have the manuscript of my memoir publisher ready. Maybe you want to plan and save for a trip to Southeast Asia, learn to paint, dust off the saxophone you played in the high school band, train to do 50 push-ups or learn Spanish. Whatever it is, set your sights on something. It’s good for body, mind, spirit and makes life worth living. Here’s a little gem I read: “The project that scares you the most is the one you need to do first.”

Aim for small daily improvements – It’s not like you have to spend every day thinking, “What can I do today to improve myself?” Overall, however, small  things can add up to big things. A tea instead of a Coke, a 30-minute walk instead of thirty minutes on social media, ten minutes of writing, learning five words of another language,

All these things add up over the course of weeks, months and years to yield great results.

Strive but not at the expense of relationships – Striving  to improve or accomplish things is good. However, don’t ignore everyone else around you in the process. Don’t step over others in your desire to get ahead. And don’t become so driven that you don’t have time for family and friends. I’m all for self-improvement and achieving your goals, but if you don’t spend time with those who love (or even like) you, chances are you’ll be celebrating your successes alone.  How fun is that?

Slow down – For all you Type A’s out there, relax a bit. Anyone who’s ever achieved anything of substance will point out how important it is to take time to think, reflect and even do nothing. This is how great ideas are born. It’s well known that busyness is not conducive to creativity. As well, relentless pursuit, competitiveness and obsession with getting ahead can actually cause health problems (for you and even the people who have to deal with you).

Release the need to be liked by everyone – I’m not suggesting that you want to be another Donald Trump whom a significant number of the world’s population thinks is an idiot, but in order to be content, you have to give yourself permission to  be YOU. This might mean that other people aren’t going to like what they see.

That’s ok. At least the ones who stick around like you for who you are. And there’s a whole lot less pressure when you don’t have to be a fake.

Be grateful –  You may be sick of hearing about gratitude, but being grateful will make your next twenty years more pleasant. Gratitude may even help you work through some of the really crappy things that life throws your way. Your partner walked out on you? At some point, you could try being grateful for the lesson in resilience or the opportunity to pursue new relationships – romantic or not. You lost your job? Maybe this was exactly the kick you needed to pursue that teaching degree or open that bed and breakfast you’ve been dreaming about. Even when things are going well, be grateful for things like food, clothing and shelter. That’s a lot more than many people have.

You may have twenty years (or more) left to live. You may not. Regardless, there are things you can do to make your remaining time more meaningful and fulfilling. If nothing on my list resonates with you (which I’d find hard to believe), take some time and think about what WOULD make your life more than just a daily grind and get at it.

Here’s to the next twenty years! 😊