Note to self: tackle life boldly, and buy a guitar

So I turned 44 last week. Not old. But certainly not young.

I’m tempted to ride my kids’ skateboard, confident I could still show them a thing or two. But I know if I do, I’ll be that guy on “America’s Funniest Home Videos” that I ridicule for not acting his age when he does a face plant on the sidewalk.

Interestingly, the internal voice that tells me which cabernet to order at wine bars, what to say to my wife to earn me a night’s accommodations on the couch and how best to traumatize my children, is the same voice I heard 25 years ago telling me that I looked really good in acid-washed jeans, a neon blue seersucker blazer and Panama hat.

So, I have a few things I’d like to tell that young me gingerly embarking upon adulthood:

Buy a cheap used guitar. I know you can't play it. Just buy it and strum it once in a while when you’re watching TV alone in your studio apartment.

Don't be so sensitive. Stop worrying about what other people think, especially about you. Step out of your comfort zone weekly and be willing to make more mistakes. Don’t be afraid to be different; take the quizzical looks of others as a badge of honor.

Stop acting like you know everything. You know you don't, and you know it's a veil for your insecurities. Those insecurities don’t make you unique or special. They make you human. Everyone has them and demonstrates them in their own way. Even that guy who seems so confident and arrogant.

Remember this each time you feel insulted, slighted or demeaned by someone: they are struggling too. Or they're jackasses. Either way, don't let their actions dictate your emotions.

On that note, don’t be so aloof. You know it’s because you’re socially awkward, but others simply think you’re an arrogant jackass.

Be honest with yourself. Your own honesty is the only thing you can control. Approach the world with integrity and an honest self-image, and there isn’t a hurdle you won’t be able to overcome gracefully and responsibly.

When your parents talk to you about contributing to a safe, long-term investment plan, or profess the virtues of starting that life insurance policy while your blood pressure and policy premiums are low, listen to them. I hate hearing about financial responsibility for “the long haul” too. But it is a very long haul. And it goes by faster than you can imagine.

Keep writing. Or painting. Or sculpting. Or dancing. Stay up late while you’re childless and your mind is still fresh and youthful, and just do it. Get up early and do it before you go to your day job. Don't wait until you’re 40 to finally do something with that passion you have. Had you picked up that pen, paintbrush or guitar back then you’d be halfway decent by now.

Two words: semester abroad. See some of the world before you get too old and spoiled for cheap hostels. It's going to take you seven years to get that bachelor's degree. Spend part of that time on a train in a foreign land with a rail pass stuffed into your smelly backpack.

There are invaluable lessons to learn in school, but lifelong lessons to learn in the world. Seeing how people get through the day in other countries keeps you from thinking that being American is being perfect.

You know all those things you want to do but think you can't? Drive across the country? See the Great Wall of China and Kilimanjaro? Write a book? Find your “true calling?” You still want them in 20 years. So start doing them as soon as possible.

Go out of your way to be nice to people. This one is hard to explain because I still don't understand it. But being kind to others — even in the smallest way, and especially if they don’t deserve it — makes you feel better about whatever it is you're going through.

Learn to pick things off the floor with your feet. This one comes in handy when you have kids and need to save your back. Trust me.

Don't worry so much about finding “the perfect one” for you. No one is perfect. But the partner that is best for you will come along when you stop looking outside yourself to fill some void within. Be comfortable with who you are. As soon as you do that, the right person out there will find you.

Remember that tip when you work at an insane low-budget movie company and share a desk with a cute girl whose laugh explodes like a flower cannon. She’s special.

Be patient. This all takes practice. It doesn’t just happen and life changes forever after. You have to keep doing it no matter how old you get.

Life is lived, not achieved.

PATRICK CANEDAY is author of the book “Crooked Little Birdhouse.” He may be reached on Facebook, at www.patrickcaneday.com and patrickcaneday@gmail.com.
 
 

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