*Several years ago when I first began blogging, I asked a few of my favorite people to tell me what their twenties had taught them and share it with the blogosphere. The old site has long been taken down and replaced with this one, but the posts still live on over there in my archives, so I decided to dig some up. Enjoy!
What have my 20s taught me?
At 21 I returned from serving as an LDS missionary in Japan and headed off to the University of Western Ontario. I was working hard and excited about the coming decade. Western is a prestigious university and I was going to be a doctor. Growing up in a large religious community meant that marriage prospects were good. So career, marriage and a boat load of kids were the foreseeable future for this proud Canadian. By the time I turned 30 I was living in Charleston, South Carolina in a marriage that was collapsing under the weight of my first wife’s personality disorder. (Don’t ask; just know that she has been diagnosed several times in several psyche units as an Anti-Social Personality Disorder), my teaching career was stillborn and I was beginning the effort to hold on to my kids.
That’s right, I said teaching career. Part way through the third year of my BSc, I realized that I did not want to be a doctor at all. I loved to read. English was my best subject by far all through high school, I had enjoyed teaching in Japan, I had always tutored people…I want to be a teacher, NOT a doctor…an English Teacher! That epiphany came in three steps as I was on the way home from class. A series of convolutions meant that that decision would take three years to lead to a teaching certificate and then four more years to get a green card to be able to work in the States.
Why the States?
Well, right wing politics worked against nurses and teachers in Ontario at that time and jobs were scarce for both my wife and myself. South Carolina burns out teachers so fast that teenagers can work as substitutes the September after they get their high school diplomas (no, seriously!) so they always need teachers, and Canadian trained nurses can get a job anywhere in the United States. We devised a five-year plan to work and pay off our student loans and then come home to Canada. On 1 July, 2007 (exactly eleven years after we moved to South Carolina), divorced and burnt out (see above for how South Carolina burns out teachers) I brought my two kids home and moved in with my parents in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
I’m now forty-five years old. I am remarried and have four kids.
I work in a hotel and have been a DJ since 2002.
My lovely wife is an angel, by the way.
What does all this have to do with what I learned from my 20s?
Remember that little phrase from the first paragraph?
“The foreseeable future?”
I got married in my early twenties and that ended in disaster.
When I met my current wife, I was avoiding relationships so diligently that I would have worn a hazmat suit had there been one to ward off romance.
I started DJing to make extra money and now it is an integral part of my life.
Fluency in Japanese has gotten me more jobs than my MA from the College of Charleston.
I no longer teach.
I was NEVER going to go to med school. I’m just not that smart.
I’m still Mormon, still Canadian, and I’m still a father. Other than those three things, no one who attended my first wedding would recognize me. I know that because when I run into my friends from those days they don’t recognize me.
In my early thirties had you asked what my 20s taught me, I would have told much of this story and answered that I had learned little more than disappointment. Perspective resulting from still another decade and a half of surprises, though, has changed the main lesson of my twenties into something less bilious. There is no foreseeable future, there is only preparation and acceptance. Everything in my life, intimidatingly brilliant kids, angelically kind wife, failed career aspirations, zero free time, bench-pressing 250 lbs in middle-age, a six-month old premie growing fat and happy, baldness. I saw none of it coming.
Jennifer, our hostess, knows that one of my favourite poems is The Road Not Taken.
I taught it every year, every semester, every grade - because it is so poorly taught that it leads people into a false sense of individuality. For me the most important lines are these
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
See that? I get one path and can only see a little way along till it bends beyond my perception. It is NOT foreseeable. The road chooses you as much as you choose it. Education, fitness, spirituality, frugality, hard work are how we plan to get the things we want out of life, but, truth be told, they guarantee nothing when it comes to our expectations. That hard truth can lead to fear and bitterness, which is what I had thought my 20s taught me when I was thirty. The deeper truth, though, is that bitterness and fear come from those very limited and brittle expectations - if the future is not what I think it should be then God, the universe, kharma, etc have failed me or, at the very least, I have failed. The destructive responses available to me include, but are not limited to, sitting down to give up, looking in foolish envy at the roads other travel, sabotaging the efforts of others, fantasizing aboutthe roads I didn’t choose so long ago, or drugs, or alcohol. or ....
Or I can learn, adapt, and grow.
I love this quote from Bruce Lee. It clarifies for me how I might accept life as it comes and still remain essentially me.
Don't get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.
The water stays water, but it experiences every circumstance because it is not brittle. I could go on, but that would simply multiply words without deepening understanding. I will add this little tidbit, though, by way of warning. Jennifer asked for my input because I am WAY past my 20s so I should be able to say something deep. Here it is. If you reread this, you will see that I learned nothing from my 20s until my late 30s. Please be wiser than that.