Suggested Song: Diamonds and Rust, Joan Baez
Suggested Drink: Green Ghost cocktail. Gin, Chartreuse, lime juice.

well I’ll be damned
here comes your ghost again
but that’s not unusual
it’s just that the moon is full
and you happened to call

Joan Baez performed at the Olympia in Paris last week on a stop through her final tour. Her voice was dynamic as ever, and touch with the guitar fluid and delicate. I went to the show thinking, “okay, she’s a legend so why not?” What I enjoyed was a concert of surprising grace and emotion, Baez introducing each song in flawless French, the audience reverent and hanging on every word and note. When she played Diamonds and Rust, her heartbroken dig at Dylan, it got me thinking about that particular ghost in her life; the ghosts we all suffer.

Our lives are inhabited by the otherworldly. They are spurred from memories to comfort or vex. Angels glide in when invited; our ghosts slip away only when ready.

Do they exist? They very much exist for those who very much believe. You can accept or deny their presence in your life, but cannot question this fundamental principal: we create our own realities, those versions of who we were and how we were loved, and the laws of the universe that govern our future. Did Dylan love Baez? I suspect that she was convinced yes in the early days, then a time she suspected no longer, and perhaps later doubted everything. So reality is conveniently pliant and the truth selective. Diamonds and Rust provides some hints to Baez’s own take.

It’s January in Paris and you are freezing.
I see you framed in a soft falling snow and feel warm.
How’s the weather?

I’ve started lighting a candle for my sister every evening. She’s with me instantly, glowing against the wax and flickering along the wick. She sits with me at the piano and I ask her advice over dinner. Cathy lifts my mood and lowers my tensions, like she always has. She calms and encourages, so she is real, as evident as my fingers on the keys, floating in on angel wings. And at the end of the night, when I blow out the candle, she lifts away on the last glimmer of flame until I call again.

Sometimes we confuse angels from ghosts. We doubt our memories and question emotions. We visit old haunts to call new spirits, we light candles and recite poems in the hopes of conjuring the angels of old. Sometimes they come. Other times we find nothing but phantoms and smoke.

Chambre 35 at the Hotel Emile, with its clawfoot baignoire and 3rd floor view down Rue du Roi de Sicile, is haunted. Not-yet-lovers soak in the steamy bath with rose petals and champagne. They tease and tempt and soap each other toes. He’s never seen a woman so enchanting, no moment so inviting, as her and now. Ever. He’ll do nothing to risk the spell, just lay back submerged in this sudsy bliss until she slowly floats over him, plants her kiss and smiles, “ce maintenant le lit, non?”

Have you been in moments like this, completely surrendered to the dream and memory? But when your eyes open you are alone. You had called an angel but conjured a ghost. The image dissipates like smoke from a blown out match and you wonder what was real, ever. Diamonds and rust Joan, just diamonds and rust.

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

Suggested Song: The Human Touch, Bruce Springsteen
Suggested Drink: Communion cocktail: vodka, creme de menthe, orange juice, grenadine syrup

It was billed as “The World’s Biggest Eye Contact Experiment,” and the local event was held in a large grassy park in my hometown of Aix-en-Provence. This is what happened. I arrived soon after lunch to find 3 dozen or so people already paired up, sitting on cushions and facing one another, relaxed and concentrating on their partner’s eyes, and not uttering a peep. This trance would hold for a few minutes, then after warm smiles and a short debrief they would part and seek out someone new, … someone like me.

Fixing on a stranger’s eyes for a sustained moment without conversing is an intense, slightly disconcerting experience at first. Nicolas was my initial victim. I’ve never fixed on another man’s eyes for 2 minutes in silence. What should I be expressing and how do I do that without uttering a sound? It’s the opposite of mindfulness. You’re not focused internally on breath and body, you’re connecting externally and personally, and there is an odd intimacy that is unavoidable. The mind searches for the appropriate decorum. How to convey empathy but not attraction with only my gaze?

Lily was next. She was a different person of course and the opposite gender, and I was now experienced (as Jimi would say). I was curious to see if that changed things, started to relax, and could lock eyes without overthinking my presence and demeanor. From Nicolas I received a gentle vibe of curiosity and outreach, and with Lily it was a simple acceptance. Here I am facing you. There is nothing more important at this very moment than our simple bond. We are going to just connect in silence and relax, … friendly smile.

I sat with a few more people before leaving. Each exchange was unique and quietly profound, and required a moment to reflect and recompose before moving on to someone new. The point of this event, held that day in dozens of cities across the globe, was to appreciate afresh the wonders of genuine human connection. Not through a carefully manicured iPhone photo or social media stream, but across a naked space of perhaps 3 feet, separating you from a stranger offering 100% of their attention, deeply, for a few minutes. Beautiful.

The Need for Speed

I have a few friends on Tinder. I’ve gotten the demo: the wow Bill, the check this one out, their swipe, the immediate response and plans for an evening dalliance. It’s an ultimate end to the trend in speed and effortlessness that has taken root these past many years. Why spend time in the kitchen when gourmet options are available in your frozen section? Why learn to play a guitar with real strings when you can be the next Slash with Guitar Hero? Why learn to commune with friends in person when you can socialize over the phone, still in your boxers at home? And why learn to love when sex is available with the ease of a swipe?

Am I showing my age when I say that this leaves me more than a little sad, … and confused? What don’t people get? The joy of cooking is more than a classic recipe book. Art offers even more to the creator than the consumer. The beauty of friendship is most deeply enjoyed elbow to elbow (and glass to glass!), … without ringtones. And love, well the gulf between sex and love is as wide as the ocean is deep. It’s like comparing a Big Mac to the Colours, Textures & Flavours course at Restaurant Guy Savoy in Paris.

Personally, I shoot for the human touch trifecta by inviting good friends for long dinners prepared throughout the afternoon in my modest kitchen. And for this they get a proper torturing after dessert with a few new songs on my trusty guitar or piano. Food, friends, music, perfecto!

Life is short. Why rush through it? Dive deep and linger over what you create, when you connect, and whom you love.

For more on the “The World’s Biggest Eye Contact Experiment” click here.

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

Suggested Song: Mad, Bill Magill
Suggested Drink: Caribbean cocktail: Bombarra rum, cointreau, fruit juice, grenadine syrup (for my island friends, who’ve just survived a date with Irma)

Madness is close to everybody.
Carol Rama

I decided to take a gap year when I reached 50, to rediscover the world around, to reassess the man within. That year bled into a decade of exploration, an end to a marriage, a change in career ambitions, and a move across the globe. I sought out alternative beliefs and states of being, how to create, how to eat, how to love, how to live. Those first 50 years had brought me security, certainty, and predictability; things that kept me well anchored in a safe harbour. That all changed.

I’ve gotten to know the stranger within much better these past years in Provence. I came looking for an authentic life, a daily quotidian more genuine and rich than I could afford in the tech and investments worlds of Silicon Valley. And by afford I don’t mean with money. You cannot buy genuine. All the treasure of Zuckerberg and Gates and Bezos cannot buy genuine. You find it in the people whom love you, the dreams that seduce you, and the enchanted places that complement your own rhythms and energy.

I’ve learned that Easy Street is not my address of envy. Passion Avenue is where I look to squat. This can be a difficult neighbourhood, noisy at times, unstable, brilliantly sunny then ominously dark, rarely dull. Unpredictable lovers, impossible dreams, and impractical locales are what arouse my emotions. And aren’t emotions fully aroused the essence of a rich life?

I also value a good drink with trusted friends.

Madness

The weekends of my youth were spent with buddies wrenching on our cars, racing at the strip or on the streets. You had this keen and uneasy sense when your hopped-up, bored-out, over-torqued muscle motor was about to blow. It would roar down that last quarter mile run like a wild banshee, pushing your aggressive assemblage of custom painted steel and polished chrome seconds faster than ever before, gear after gear, eerily so. And then, in a scream of twisting rods and scorching valves, all of that mighty horsepower would explode in a crescendo of oil and fuel and flame.

You knew the risk but still pushed it hard. It was a mad drive to that wild edge. And at my point in life, again, … this is where I choose to live.

Time

Time is elemental. Quality time. Time spent with people who forgive (and perhaps even appreciate) your madness, doing things that define it, in places that provoke it. More time is more important than more possessions. Possessions are the enemy, actually. They require investment, maintenance, and energy; have to be placed or stored; and apply a brake on our ability to move quickly, to be fleet and flexible.

Gustav Klimt, The Kiss

Is there someone, something, or some place that you are mad enough about to pay for with time? Two years cropped from the end of your life for one more with them now, doing that, or living there? Four fewer final years for 2 now?  We would all pay for more time if we had the money, because money is a worthless, limitless currency. But time, now that’s a precious exchange in the extreme.

It’s a hypothetical question of course, but worth considering.  For if you have no one or nothing worth sacrificing your precious stores of time for, are you living a passionate life? Is it important to live a life of passion? I’m provoking, yes, but not leading with an answer. If you knew you would die in a year would you want the next 12 months to be mad and full of unpredictable passion, or choose comfort and security? It is very possible that you could die in year, in a month, or in week, so this particular question is not hypothetical. Right?

I want to know what my readers thinks about the merits of a mad life. I love to preach – my Scots-Irish grandfather was a fire and brimstone healer of the unholy, so please excuse the genetics – but I am sure of nothing except my own convictions. And I am immensely curious about your own.

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

Postscript: This essay is dedicated to a close friend who, at 64, has suddenly found himself unmoored and adrift in an unpredictable sea of life possibilities. Where he will be and what he will doing in the next months and years; it’s all green field territory. He is a true pirate and has provoked me to question much about my own priorities and ambitions over these past years. A toast to you, Dada. One of a mad kind.

Suggested Song: Hello, Goodbye, the Beatles
Suggested Drink: Memory Lane cocktail: rye whisky, shrub, bitters, lemon juice

Goodbyes can be hard and I’ve had an avalanche of them this year. Friends, kids, and lovers moving on, cherished apartments given up, and even my daily out-door market moved from the bottom of the street to across town. Now that really hurt. Adios.

This kind of churn wreaks havoc on the daily agenda. Whom I see when, where, and what it is we do together has been upended, and being a creature of habit I am off my game. The creative well is dusty, productivity down, and motivation flagging. My summer rosé pace remains robust and thank god for that. At least I can point to something that’s trending up.

It all started near year-end with that darn Sottak family. After holding court as provocateurs and organizers of all things social and immensely fun amongst our circle for the past 7 years, they decided to call it a French day and skedaddle back to the US. They were the glue and warm glow that pulled us all together for spontaneous apéros and long family dinners, group holidays to hither and tither, fun and frolic and generally irresponsible licentiousness. That they could not be replaced made their move even more unforgiveable.

Then over the Noel holidays my landlord sent a cryptic email that a dinner in January was welcome, … and needed. He needed to sell the apartment that was my welcome matt to Aix-en-Provence in 2010, a small but noble 17th century flat in the heart of this sun-touched, provincial city. So many memories between those walls: my 3 kids and their friends joyfully spread out amongst the cots and daybed and pullout; the communal meals and singing and supporting and debating and always one more bottle; mon amoure at my breakfast table, her perfume lingering for hours after departure. Another difficult goodbye.

More recently good friends of mine in Aix have decided to get divorced. They are managing it with all the love and respect that a beautiful 13-year marriage deserves, but it leaves me sad and deflated. My reaction is purely selfish of course, as they both seem fine and taking on the change with a positive, forward-facing attitude. I see a farewell to the many delicious memories we’ve shared these past 7 years, two of my closest friends imagined as forever a unit and couple.

I will continue to see them separately of course, but between their news and my own recent breakup, and my daughter packing up last week after a final long summer with Dad (growing up and college bound next year), and the Sottak departure, and the apartment move, … 2017 is becoming one long goodbye to an intimately warm and beautiful era.

Coping

Goodbye and Hello are funny words. One starts with a positive syllable but is often a distressing experience, while the other begins with a foreboding term but is typically hopeful and uplifting. Weird. Hello to new people in our lives, hello to new places.

The best we can do with empty space is to enjoy its serenity. Our daily lives are filled with turbulence, and a momentary calm can be soothing and restorative. An empty home is a clean slate, and an empty heart, once healed, open for new and beautiful souls to discover.

I’m keeping my hellos to a minimum through this transition, leaning toward the zen hermit mode and a few faithful friends. Stay busy and switch up the hours regularly. Avoid the routines that tug out warm memories. Run at dawn, write into the night, then write at dawn and run late. Travel on impulse, an evening in Italy or weekend in Paris. Keep the overnight bag at the ready. Staying off balance seems to offset the imbalance of these various goodbyes. I can’t explain why, but it’s working.

I’m hoping that all of your goodbyes are as warm and tender as mine. That doesn’t lessen the sting, but eases the recovery.

Enjoy the rest of the summer. It will be saying goodbye all too soon.

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

Suggested song: Respect, Aretha Franklin (written by Otis Reading)
Suggested drink: Shot of Respect cocktail: tequila, rum, tabasco

I love that my partner believes in past lives and future premonitions. She buys gemstones of various colors and shapes – agate and garnet and bloodstone – some for protection, some for energy, others for healing. The spiritual resonance of vintage jewelry and clothing can overwhelm her emotional antennae; the histories of ownership, the echoes of lives and loves. Phases of the moon and astral alignments can swing her moods and appetites. This embrace of mysticism is just a small part of her beautiful complexity, and often leaves me both baffled and enlightened.

I studied physics and worked in finance. I’m the son of a no-nonsense country doctor and was taught to believe in logic and the observable, in the need for empirical evidence, the credibility of proofs and statistical significance, and to call bullshit on bullshit. Grounded, predictable.

Do I share my partner’s faith in a world beyond our world? Does that matter? No, it doesn’t matter. What matters is respect.

I respect beliefs of all stripe and persuasion and allow that someone, most anyone actually, may have a better handle on the bewildering mysteries of life than me. I accept that emotional states like heartbreak and love may inexplicably induce or remedy our physical ailments, and wonder openly if universes parallel to our own might be humming along at this very moment, shifted in time and frequency. With the greatest admiration for the principals of solid science and Neil Degrasse Tyson, I respect that not all cause and effect can be proven through scientific method (although that’s a great starting point).

Respect for the beliefs and priorities of others is not a virtue promoted widely across the globe these days, particularly by our political leadership. There has been a decidedly my-way-or-the-highway approach to governing and diplomacy since George W. declared in 2001, “Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

This type of narrow, self-centered bluster, which proved highly effective at rousing patriotic fervor (and voter support), has been co-opted by every aspiring strongman worth his or her spittle: Putin, Jong un, Trump, and Le Pen are just four headliners making the most racket at the moment. National mandates are paramount, compromise shows weakness, and those with opposing views are twittered as morons, frauds, and liars. Respect for opposing opinions? That’s for losers.

 

Now here I sit, a loser with his pint of beer at Le Grand Café in downtown Fontainebleau, a beautiful French city (aren’t they all?) just an hour southeast of Paris. Macron’s win last week is the topic on everyone’s tongue. I’m guessing he was widely supported in this upper class enclave, home to the regal Fontainebleau Chateau where Henry IV (the very coolest of French kings), Napoleon, and various Louis entertained in the gardens, hunted in the forest, and generally carried on with the local beauties.

The election outcome reflects to me a story of 2 conflicting global movements, the first based on hope despite the very real risks, the second based on fear in light of the many challenges. France has emerged as the best example of #1, showing again that it cuts its own stubborn path. Liberté, égalité, fraternité: these are uneasy times to honor such honorable principles. The US is the best case study for #2. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. This is another tough invitation to honor for a nation terrified by the bad hombres under the bed.

It surprises me. The The Home of the Brave has been so quick to surrender its principals and self-respect to the threat of terror, despite having almost no instances of domestic terror in the past 15 years. Respect for the hopes and dreams of others, … the American DREAMers for example? Désolé. Look at the man they’ve elected. Meanwhile their Surrender Monkey counterparts have hung tough and shown real bravery, despite suffering the highest incidence of Allah Akbar-screaming lunatics spraying their cafés and clubs with deadly fire. You think life is dangerous in Paris, think of the genocide in Aleppo. Come, come. Look at the man they’ve elected.

It surprises me. At this moment of global upheaval both countries have placed their bets on mavericks with no political experience. The similarities end there. One married a schoolteacher 25 years his wise senior; the other a model 24 years his long-legged junior. (I give her big points for avoiding the White House these days, however. She’s growing on me.) On election eve one spoke of hope, humility, and the imperative of a proud country to coalesce around ambitions for a brighter future and respect for all cultures, creeds, and religions. The other spoke in dark tones of enemies at the gate, a country in crisis, and himself as the single sole savior able to counter the nation’s impending doom. Who deserves your respect?

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

Suggested song: Falling In Love, Elvis Presley
Suggested drink: Broken Heart cocktail: vodka, Chambord, orange juice, grenadine

A secret to happiness in our later years is through acts of creation; showing yourself and the world that you can still produce something amazing. Giants in the field of positive psychology like Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi have written about this extensively. Wind down and kick back and you’ll ossify right into a fossil of your former impressive self.

We are at our most creative when emotions are hot and high. I write my best music when provoked by something beautiful or terrible, something blissful or sad. I prefer inspirations of the beautiful and blissful varieties, but life doesn’t always let us choose.

heart_and_sea_by_onelifeoneartPainful experiences are also emotionally charging and nothing hurts more than a broken heart. The ache can collapse you in tears of distress and desperation. You want to wake up from this very bad dream, but it’s not a dream. Want to hear that they were only kidding, but they weren’t kidding. Your mind spins with memories of tender moments. And the plans you had dared imagine together singe black and curl like pages of a book thrown to the flame, the ash slowly drifting away.

They call it heartache because it truly aches in your heart. There is a physical pain in the center of your chest that feels like an iron grip around that precious organ, the same organ that fluttered and thumped when you used to think about her or him, the one that walked away.

All you can do when brokenhearted is treasure the times you shared and be grateful for having loved so richly. The more precious the memories and splendid the plans, the deeper the cut. If it feels fatal then you know it was good. It’s hard, but that’s the risk you take when opening your heart for the deep, deep dive.

I’m running on a very raw set of emotions as I write this piece tonight. I can’t curl up in a ball on the bed because my mind will flood with beautiful, painful memories. I can’t drink myself to sleep because I’ll wake up feeling even worse about things tomorrow. But I can be creative. I can grab my guitar or sit at the piano and turn this dark emotional burst into something beautiful, like a soulfully sad song. The cause for my pain was an experience so very, very beautiful. Why should its legacy be anything less?

Life is short. You can play it safe and just paddle around in the wading pool, or you can venture to the deep end. You can be reckless and foolish and if you’re lucky taste the most beautiful, heartbreaking thing life has to offer: to be in love. Now where’s my guitar?

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

Suggested Song: My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue), Neil Young
Suggested Drink: Jackhammer cocktail: Jack Daniels whiskey, Amaretto

“Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.”
– Pablo Picasso

I want to destroy your life. No, actually I want you to destroy your life. I want you to quite your job, leave your spouse, and plan your move, today.

Stick with me for one reckless moment.

We tend to frame major life changes – professional, personal, geographic, and other – from the inertia of our current situation. Like planets in a universe, each of these big things has a distinct and defining rotation, but orbit around a common core called our life. If any one of these big things gets out of orbit our whole universe can wobble out of control. So we focus on keeping things in safe (even if less than stimulating) trajectories. Knocking them out can initiate a chain of unpredictable consequences after all. Reckless.

planets_orbitsConsidering this astro-emotional dynamic, we ponder change through an inventory of impacts to our safe and predictable cosmos. If I left this job/spouse/location how much upheaval would it create in my entire universe of orbiting things? It’s a focus on the negatives and how to manage them. It’s a calculation that most often encourages inaction.

Let’s flip this conversation on its head. Imagine that for some reason – because Bill says so – you are required to leave your job, spouse, or location. Can you defend why you want to stay, why you are ready to defy that expectation? Tell me now, because as I said above, I want to destroy your life. Now the conversation leans toward positives. What do you so love about your job, spouse, location, and other big things? Remind yourself why the compromises are worth it, make a quick list. Is there enough good stuff there to fight for?

Now here’s the reckless part: stop treating this like a silly exercise. Do it, act on it. How’s the list coming along?

“It takes a long time to become young.”
– Pablo Picasso

Picasso was a big fan of child-like liberation, of creating art without the constraints of convention and expectations. Life imitates art with respect to our compliance to an ever-expanding collection of rules and etiquettes as we age. We grow up. We get properly tamed.

Did you ever “run away” when really young? I remember rolling some provisions into a cloth sac tied to the end of a wooden pole, tossing it over my shoulder like Huck Finn and heading out. I was probably 7 or so, and with no hand to hold that small Pennsylvania town felt like a wide-open universe. I didn’t consider my parents’ reaction, didn’t think about how I would buy stuff, wasn’t worried about my safety. I was limitless and unbounded. Untamed.

RunawayThe older we get the more we consider the consequences of our actions. A high priority is paid to risk aversion and fitting in, of not making waves. We gain a sense of responsibility at the surrender of possibilities and our autonomy. It’s also the start of the blame game: jobs, partners, and locations. My job is killing me. My marriage is boring me. This town is stifling me.

I wager that the single deepest source of frustration in our lives is the loss of self-determination; believing that our personal options and identities have become compromised. We sign contracts, make vows, and take on debts (financial and emotional) that we come to regret. But all of these obligations can be cancelled with a little steel in the backbone. Isn’t being honest and authentic more important than some hell-or-high-water cling to desires and ambitions long since faded? Kids are the only obligation that demands honor: you created them, now raise them. But, even kids don’t expect you to honor that until-death-do-we-part stuff if you’re unhappy and being a fraud. Ask them, I did.

We tiptoe around life like cowards. Most all of us. We limp through our second half and ask, why did I spend my best years with someone whom I no longer loved? Why didn’t I leave that crushing, pointless job when I still had the energy and time to pursue something of real interest? Why did I waste my life in city X instead of trying my dream on island Y?

I’ll tell you exactly why: money, security, feelings, and judgment.

Money

A lot of us drive career aspirations off income potential. I know I did. I was a failing physics major who loved the wine industry, and UC Davis had one of the best departments in the world. There was no money in that though, so rather than changing my major to wine and oenology I moved over to economics and had a decent career in finance and business. I was a square peg in a round hole but a couple of the jobs paid well. No regrets.

money worriesMaybe I’d make the same choice again at 25 and would be dishonest to suggest otherwise. I wasn’t living a passionate life, but managed to woo a great wife, buy a comfortable home, raise 3 terrible kids, and establish some savings. At 25 these are strong considerations for most of us, and that’s understandable. Be a good boy now, just a small dose of lithium and off you go to work.

At 50 I become uncooperative. Step 1 was to stop making life choices based on income. You should too. Our fixation on money is the single biggest source of bad decisions we’ll regret at the tail end of life; choices that pad our bank accounts and provide security to the detriment of true happiness and sense of authenticity. It’s a corruptive influence that pushes us to take on certain work, stay with certain people, and live in certain places that leave us feeling drained and compromised.

Doubt me? Just google “top regrets when dying” and compare the many, many various articles. The biggest common laments:

  • not being authentic to oneself (at the top of every list)
  • not pursuing one’s passions and purpose
  • not taking more risks
  • not finding real love and the right partner

Interesting that no one wishes they had worked longer hours and made more money, yet we make most of our big life decisions around their impacts to our finances. How odd.

Want to reclaim yourself? The single toughest but most immediate step is to vow no more decisions based on money, zero. Damn the consequences.

Security

Ever hear this: I’m not really happy with life and would change it tomorrow, but how would I survive, where would I live, what would I do? Maybe it’s a friend confiding over a glass of wine, maybe it’s a pesky voice in your own head.

We get comfortable in our bubbles of habit and security. Maybe life isn’t a soft bed of fragrant roses, but at least it’s not full of anxiety. Change and uncertainty make us anxious.

Consider for one reckless moment that it’s time to be a bit untethered and noncompliant. You can choose to face the unknown as a set of risks or list of possibilities. It can be how would I survive, where would I live, what would I do? Or it can be what new skills can I develop, new people can I meet, new horizons can I discover? Most importantly, you can approach change for what it is: the chance and excuse to reinvent and rediscover.

We are packrats with our bad tendencies; I know that I am. Only a disruptive move or change dislodges them from my routine. There’s no better time than midlife to question what’s important, go grab it, and leave the rest behind, despite the risks. (As for the anxiety that may result from your rash and reckless disregard for security I suggest meditation, sex, and the occasional joint.)

Want to reclaim yourself? A big step #2: no more safe decisions based on security.

Feelings

We stay too long in relationships, personal and professional, out of concerns for peoples’ feelings. It’s honorable to consider others’ happiness but serves no one to dial in a performance that is insincere, apathetic, and prolongs inevitable closure.

I’ve let people down at inopportune times and have been troubled by my betrayal and own egoism. I’ve quite rock bands and startups and corporate positions where my positions were key and the timings of my departures were disruptive. I recently broke up with a woman who loved me deeply. Feelings get hurt, colleagues and lovers feel betrayed, and we feel horrible. But life in all its unpredictable beauty is full of uncertainties and risks. Interests and priorities can change. The greater sin is remaining in expired situations and blaming others for our unhappiness and sense of entrapment. We have to be adults about this.

picasso giftWe also have to acknowledge that our gifts are unique and there is an obligation to share them to the best of our abilities. Each of us has a Picasso-sized gift waiting to be uncovered, developed, and shared. This can require life pivots that cause real damage.

Your inception was a miracle and your genetic inheritance was unimaginably unpredictable. Consider that going back just 10 generations all of the sets of parents in your inception line managed to survive wars, famine, plagues, terminal disease, premature birth, and other unpleasant forms of nasty demise before siring. Somehow each survived long enough to forward their genes, some of which are floating around your corporeal vessel at this very moment. The 10 male forbearers each produced about 250-300 million sperm per day if healthy and each and every one had a unique DNA profile, some elegant piece of genetic code that on some enchanted evening made it upstream through the generational spawning ladders to you. There is no one on this planet with your unique profile of education, experience, and talents and you have a responsibility to offer them up. Right? Should you let the fear of hurt feelings get in the way of this obligation?

Indeed everyone deserves kindness and respect in these situations. But that respect extends to you as well. In fact, you are your first priority.

Want to reclaim yourself? A sometimes painful step #3: no hesitations out of a fear of hurt feelings.

Judgment

No one enjoys being judged poorly. If I quite my job, leave my spouse, or move away what will my parents think, my friends think, my boss or colleagues think, my kids think? We waver over our actions and defer to the comfort of group acceptance, suitably tamed and compliant. What a terrible impulse.

judgedIt is patently unfair to blame others for our own unfilled desires and ambitions. Yet we hear it constantly, particularly in the final years. The what could have beens if I didn’t have this or that commitment to meet. As mentioned above, one of the common regrets in later life is not pursuing our real passions and much of that stems from a fear of judgment. But as also mentioned above, there is only one obligation: raising our kids responsibly, and that doesn’t require staying in dead-end jobs, expired marriages, or same cities. Think about the examples those decisions set for your impressionable brood. My mom sacrificed everything for me, and I’ll be a good mother and sacrifice all for my kids because I want them to be the best that they can be. But wait, based on your example they will feel obliged to sacrifice for their kids, who sacrifice it all for their own, and on and on. Who the hell gets to benefit from this solarium system of martyrdom?

If your actions are self-serving you will surely be judged, but who better to serve than yourself at the most fundamental core? If you live through the lens of others’ expectations, how will you align with the most authentic sense of yourself and be truly understood and appreciated? Who knows and appreciates that identity better than you?

Want to reclaim yourself? A courageous step #4: no hesitations from the fear of judgments (which are surely to come).

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
– Dylan Thomas

Taking a jackhammer to your secure life foundation sounds horrifying, but here’s the good news. If your list in defense of inaction is long and convincing, the hammer can be safely tucked away (for now). If not, there’s no better time for disruption than midlife. You’re maturity, self-awareness, skill set, and helpful connections have never been stronger. You probably have some financial buffer to see you through a gap, at least more now that at 25. And it’s been shown that we start to lose this constant anxiety over money at midlife and focus more on happiness and self realization.

Grow old gracefully, compliantly? To hell with that.

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence