When I was growing up, my mother wouldn’t hesitate to kick my ass from here to kingdom come if I broke any of her rules. And as a teenager who never cared for the harsh reprimands, I learned to walk the straight and narrow path. Or sometimes, and more importantly, I learned to make sure that whatever little trouble I chose to indulge in would be well worth the consequences that were sure to follow.
For example, if I knew that, despite my best efforts, I was going to be late making it home by my curfew—let’s say five minutes or so—then I would figure that I might as well be five hours late! Five minutes, five hours, what was the difference in mama’s eyes? They would all yield me the same result, wouldn’t they? So while many teens would accelerate the speed on their cars and get home “close” to curfew, I would be the one to slow down and ask myself what else I might want to get into that night before I came home, much like the steak and seafood dinners that death row inmates enjoy shortly before execution.
This dysfunctional response to impending doom was one that I carried into my adulthood.
Me, in college: Damn. That test is tomorrow, isn’t it? Well if I haven’t studied by now, there’s no use in staying up all night trying to cram. I might as well get a good night’s rest so that I can think clearly when I make my educated guesses (eenie meenie miney moe) tomorrow.
Me, the night before lab work at the doctor: I wasn’t supposed to eat anything after midnight, was I? I knew I shouldn’t have grabbed that one pretzel. Oh to hell with it, I might as well finish the bag. And where did I put my Heineken?
Me, while working in my garden: I was supposed to plant those rose bushes by the 21st, wasn’t I? Well lookie here, it’s already the 22nd. Guess I’ll just be admiring my grass this year. I didn’t want to be in that yard of the month contest any-damn-way.
I could go on, but you might try to judge me.
It wasn’t long before I realized that this unhealthy response to stress was setting me back unnecessarily, though. So after a few too many flunked exams and rescheduled doctor visits and flowerless summers, I corrected my way of thinking. I leared that done is better than perfect. And that late really is better than never.
It had been a long time since I’d reflected back on any of these experiences until a friend of mine recently asked me if I thought it was too late for her to have the relationship, the job—essentially the happiness—that she wanted out of life. She went on to say that, because she’s nearing the age of 40, she sometimes wondered if she’d already let all of the right opportunities pass her by and if she should just take whatever she could get at this point. I listened thoughtfully, but didn’t offer her any advice.
I couldn’t answer her question a few weeks ago when she asked my opinion, but I’m ready now (I had to first remember that my mother’s responses to my late-nights were much less harsh than her responses to my super-late nights).
You can have what you want. But you have to go get it. Are you willing to do that?
Consider the possibility that the path you’ve taken so far (and perhaps even the time you’ve invested into the things that you’ve done and failed at) is the very thing that has ripened you to the point that you’re now ready to be all you can be. In other words, I doubt that many of us even would have been ready to maintain that dream job, relationship, etc. if it had been given to us long ago. I think that our struggles mature us, refine us and prepare us for the good things to come as long as we’re astute enough to respond to the discomfort of complacency and then take action.
But as soon as you realize that your car is driving in the wrong direction, you need to turn the damn thing around and push the gas. Be grateful for the wrong direction in which you’ve traveled, because it taught you where not to turn the next time.
As long as you can see and hear the clock still ticking, there’s no such thing as being too late. Too late only exists in your own mind. And as long as you’re alive and conscious, you can choose to give your best efforts to whatever is within your tiny sphere of control, or you can choose to give up. But ultimately, you can create the life you want to have (at any age and at any time) by changing your direction and priorities. If it’s a healthy relationship that you want, have you asked yourself what a decent man or woman might see in you? Or if it’s a promotion that you’re after, have you made yourself so indispensable that your job will want to make you happy in order to keep you? Figure out what you can bring to the table, be grateful for where you’ve been, and then watch your world change right in front of your eyes.
The only problem with any of this is that change is one of the most difficult things that we’ll ever encounter during the human experience, as it requires growth and always pushes you far away from your comfort zone.
I know for sure that it’s easier to quit than it is to keep going. It’s easier to do nothing than it is to try. It was easier for me to keep partying than to bring my teenage ass home on time. It was easier for me to neglect my studies, eat the pretzels and forfeit the flowers than it was to put in some work and actually get where I needed to be.
But I eventually figured out that the work is always worth the rewards. And I do hope that you’ll agree.