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Lessons from The School of Knocking Hard…

Lessons from The School of Knocking Hard…

I’m old – 76 years and counting. This comes as a shock to me sometimes, because I tend to forget. Then I will catch my reflection in a store window as I walk by and it comes as a total surprise – every single time. What the hell, I think to myself. How in hell did this happen?

And the answer, of course, is one day at a time – so slow you tend not to notice. You’re too busy living life to worry about the creeping little aches and pains that get a bit bigger with each passing year. Then one day, walking past the store window, it all catches up with you.

What the hell!

You look back at your life and you think – wow, that went quicker than I thought. And then you look forward to that day when it’s time to shuffle off the mortal coil, hand-in-hand with your contemporaries, and it seems like just a short little jog. It’s not that I’m afraid. I’m not. I’m just a little disappointed. It all went by a lot faster than I thought.

And that brings me to my first piece of advice for all my young friends. An entire lifetime may seem like a long time now, but it goes by so fast it will take your breath away. You only have a few years on the planet, so make them count.

My second piece of advice is don’t let them put you in a box. Who are “them?” Your parents, your teachers, your young naive friends, preachers, politicians, singers, actors, or other entertainers. This is as much a warning as a piece of advice. I hit all the potholes in life, I’ve done most of the things I’m warning you not to do. Love your parents, your grandparents, your uncles and aunts, but use their experiences as lessons not only in what to do with your life but also in what not to do.

My third piece of advice is don’t waste too much time in school. If you want to be a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, or a researcher, you will obviously need formal training, but those disciplines are trades – skills you acquire to make a living. Math and the physical sciences are aimed at understanding the world, they’re not the same things as arguing legalities or designing a better airplane. Don’t get me wrong. I’m very much for education. We can’t make proper decisions unless we understand history and the world around us, but education is a personal choice and it doesn’t happen just in college. Be curious about life. If you want to understand how the world works, you will do so. The only question is whether you go into years of debt to learn it at college from professors –   most of whom have spent most of their lives in school, either learning stuff or teaching it to others.

My fourth piece of advice is don’t take experts too seriously. Experts are mostly just people trained to spout the common wisdom, which sometimes is right, but often is not. Use common sense. Think for yourself. As you get older, you will look back and see how seriously flawed expert advice has been.

My fifth piece of advice is have fun. Enjoy yourself. You are not guaranteed 70 plus years. People around me have died, stretching as far back as elementary school. Some of the young people I currently know may well die before me. That really sucks, but let’s face it, life’s not fair. Don’t be planning so much for the future that you forget to enjoy the present.

And my very last piece of advice is to take everything I just advised with a grain of salt. You’re not me and I’m not you. Consider what I have to say if you like, but in the end make up your own mind and make your own mistakes. Be your own person – not who anybody else, including me, thinks you should be. It’s your life, live it, which is exactly what I am doing with mine.

Meanwhile, I’m still learning from my old mistakes and moving on – hopefully a little smarter. I will make brand new mistakes, I’m sure, but not the old ones. My plan is to be around as long as possible, having fun and enjoying life.

Wish me well in that endeavor, and I will do the same for you.

— Your pal, George Lee Cunningham

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