When I was young my mind and body burned with an unquenchable ambition. In college I got involved in student politics and would not rest until I was elected president of the student body, which I was. I decided I wanted to go to medical school and would not rest until I was admitted to Harvard Medical School, which I was.
In those years I believed that there was a single straight line that connected any two points. Point A: where I was. Point B: where I wanted to be. Young people are generally praised for this sort of ambition; I know I certainly was. This is the American ideal of success. Pick a goal and stay the course, no matter what.
As I got older the fire of ambition continued to burn brightly but doubts began to creep into the back of my mind. I knew very well that persistence would always be a part of my character but maybe, just maybe, not every journey was meant to be a straight line. Maybe there could be some curves or even some loop-de-loops. I struggled with this insight and repeatedly fell back on the ferocity that had served me so well in my youth.
Now that I am in my mid-50’s I can see much more clearly that the whole journey of my life has been packed with twists and turns. In retrospect, those journeys from A to B were never as straight forward as I had believed them to be. Yes, I know, many of you are slapping your forehead and saying, “You’re just figuring this out?!”
Yeah, I am. Better late than never.
What I love about this age-inspired insight is that it gives me a vastly greater capacity for valuing relationship over performance and placing people ahead of tasks. The recent loss of our daughter Hannah puts an exclamation point on this for me. Life is short. Far too short. We the living are blessed with a opportunity to follow the crazy twisting and turning pathways of life. If we have even a trace of wisdom in us, we will treasure the people who travel that path at our side. One of the most important things that the elders I have cared for taught me is that I will remember the people in my life long after I have forgotten the numbers that I spend far too much time obsessing about.
Has it been a long strange trip? Yes it has. Do I want to continue the journey? I sure do. I expect to continue touring the country, to continue listening and learning. The question is, will you share the journey with me?
This is a road we will build together, through ups and downs, twists and turns, and we can not allow momentary discouragements or setbacks to lead us astray. Never has this been so clear as in my national Age of Disruption Tour. Last week we debuted in the Northeast with a zigzag line from Northampton, Mass., to Philadelphia, via Manchester, N.H., Cheshire, Conn. and New York. This week we’re all catching our breath and recouping at home. Next week we hit the Midwest–and I hope to see you there.
PS: Bring Your Friends!!!
Carol Marak says
Yeah,like you Dr. Bill, no journey of mine ever followed a straight line! Ever! I guess I signed up for lots of side trips. Not a bad thing. Now I realize life is about the journey and lessons we learn along the way… never meant to be one way only (at least not for this gal.) I’m very clear on why I’m here in the first place and the twist and turns and lessons learned illustrate this clarity.
Arthur James says
Dear Dr Bill , this article of yours has triggered my thoughts processes further and that is living life with some singular purpose and assisting others to learn and be educated about the positive traits of engaging aging . It is not easy but is challenging and I wish to learn more . Better late than never ! Thank you — Arthur James , Mumbai , India
I guess your point is that life seemed like a straight line until you got old enough where you saw it differently. Age does that. I can connect the dots, the moments, decisions, relationships, sage advice and mistakes a lot better from this vantage point. Aging brings important perspective and the chance for integration. Imagine, with all that has been said about getting older, one doesn’t often hear of its favors.
Dorothea Johnson says
I can relate to your story, Dr. Thomas. Not only did I see my life as a straight line, it was a lot worse. I saw my accomplishments as a function of me and myself alone! The arrogance of that makes me cringe now as I think back of all the people, known and unknown, who, directly or indirectly helped me get to point B. It’s on their shoulders that I stand today. I can’t wait to continue to experience my heart open and fill with gratitude as I get older in age.
Bill, do you believe you were in control when you made those choices to follow a linear path as a young man? Does being linear imply compliance? How do you reconcile being able to observe the importance of stochastic phenomenon without first having a benchmark of comparison? In other words, every choice we make has a purpose. But we can only define the value of that purpose after it’s made.To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. You are where you are supposed to be.
I like your thinking, it sure is a map of twists and turns and when it comes to our own lives, better to turn off the GPS! I imagine myself on a river, and understand there may be much I can’t control as to direction and speed, etc – VERY hard for a border collie!