“Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.” ~Carl Bard
Birthdays. They’re supposed to be a joyous celebration, right?
That one special day each year when we throw a party and reflect on the day our amazing journey began.
The starting point.
I’ve had quite a colorful journey and certainly enjoyed many wonderful birthdays in my life.
Turning 50 this past year wasn’t one of them. Here’s why.
When we’re little every birthday marks a major accomplishment. We learn to walk. Then we learn to talk. Then we go to school and learn our ABCs.
Everything is brand new.
When we graduate high school they tell us we have our whole lives in front of us. Whether we’re off to college, exploring the world, or entering the work force, we begin a whole new chapter. Independence.
A starting point.
You can just picture that open highway stretched out to infinity before you, beckoning to a future somewhere out on that horizon that calls you to adventure. All that you will become lies out there.
In my twenties, I was a freewheeling single young man touring the world with rock stars. How bad can that be, right?
Turning 30 was awesome too! I was living in sunny Southern California, playing music, and making records in recording studios. Life was good.
Even 40 was great. I had moved back to New York to play in my own band and got married. Our life together had just begun. Then came children. I became Dad.
A starting point.
You’re supposed to have accomplished your greatest life’s work by now, right? Achieved all your major goals. Changed the world.
But what if you’re still working on that? What if you’re just now starting to figure out what you’re really supposed to be doing with your life?
You can say many things about turning 50, but one thing you can’t say with a straight face is that you still have your whole life in front of you.
At this point in the journey, life has shown you many of its cards. Not all, mind you, but you’ve got a pretty good grasp on how the world turns. If there are still any surprises, they have mostly to do with learning to change the way you see things.
But something else happened that was very difficult to escape. Much as I hated to admit it, I found that I was looking around and comparing myself to my peers.
This person has kids entering college and I’m looking at two young children and the reality that I’ll be close to 70 by the time the youngest is out of school.
That one is retired at 50 and buying their second Ferrari while retirement doesn’t seem to be in the cards any time soon for me.
When you view life this way, there’s always going to be someone who you feel is ahead of you by your own estimate. And you’ll never catch up to them. So that leaves you feeling behind in some imaginary race that can’t be won.
And when the game is comparing yourself to others, you will never have enough. Ever.
Unknowingly, you build this imaginary scale to see how you measure up against your peers. Let’s call it the Success/Happiness curve. Yet, no matter where you believe you fall on that curve, the moment you mark your place is to engage in a losing battle.
You believe that if you can just obtain that (figure of money in the bank, job title, certain car) that you will have arrived at your destination and will find happiness there.
But you won’t. Because it’s not out there.
Not in any material things you can obtain. Whatever it is will begin to lose its luster the moment you acquire it. Then you’ll have to look for something new to replace it and give you another fix. And the cycle never ends.
So how do you break out of this destructive cycle?
Well first, I needed to learn how to let go of a lot of my preconceived notions about where I thought I would be by the time I reached 50.
Ultimately, I found the answer in meditation.
Through meditation you learn how to become present.
Most of us never learn to appreciate where we are at this very moment because we’re so focused on what happened (or didn’t happen) in a past that no longer exists and worried about a future that hasn’t happened yet.
Meditation taught me that to compare ourselves to others is the root of human suffering, or samsara. Because it creates a separation between ourselves and someone else. A duality. A them and an us.
Armed with this new perspective, the next thing I did was to review my life and my experiences to figure out what was working and what was not. This brought me face to face with a rather harsh reality.
As much as I liken myself to be a caring person, I realized that I’d spent most of my career focused on my own self-interests.
Sure I spent a lot of time making music, which is something very personal that you put out into the universe in the hopes that you will connect with an audience and make them feel something.
But it turns out the giving was conditional.
It was like, “Enjoy this music and help support my dream. Please vote for me in this contest and buy that CD and help me or my band out.” The focus was all wrong.
And that’s when I realized what had been gnawing away at me all these years. It was a yearning to connect with an audience in a meaningful way that focuses on helping them. On seeing the world through their eyes.
And so at age 50, I am only now seeing the light.
Only after allowing the hidden writer within to finally emerge did I realize that I have been telling stories my whole life.
With that came the realization that each of us has a unique story we’re supposed to tell. That’s why we’re here. And I’m supposed to help people to tell theirs.
The epiphany was that as a music producer and a songwriter, I had been doing this already for many years helping artists to realize their vision.
Suddenly everything felt different. Like I had steered the boat back on course. Like a new chapter.
A starting point.
Suddenly that really successful person I follow who I want to emulate, the one who seems so far ahead in their journey, finally, it all gets put into perspective.
We think they just arrived where they are today.
We never got to see all the years they spent toiling away in obscurity. Experimenting, missing the mark, failing. Trying to figure out the very things we’re looking to figure out now.
Until they honed their craft to excellence and were finally rewarded by the world for their efforts.
We never stop and give ourselves a break for simply being on the path. It may be a path of discovery. It may be a path toward a specific destination. Or it may be a path away from our old ways.
But you’re walking the path. Celebrate that.
The law says that if you take steps in the direction of your destination every day and keep walking, no matter how slow or how far you must travel, you must one day arrive there.
In Tibet they have a tradition. After a long and arduous journey, no matter how difficult, they seek a high vantage point and look back to see just how far they have come.
Age is irrelevant. Wherever you are in your journey is a starting point. Whoever or whatever it is you’re chasing, slow down.
Realize there is no race.
Whether you’re 20 or 50 or 80, if you never stop seeking then you’ll never cease to be amazed by what you might find.
And if every point is a starting point then every day can be your birthday!
How will you celebrate today?
Photo by girish_suryawanshi
About Mark Hermann
Mark Hermann is a music producer, songwriter, and blogger with the occasional whimsy to create mosaic art. He teaches musicians & other creators how to unearth their inner rock star and deliver the soundtrack to their story. Read more of his stories about how to discover your own personal legend at Rock andRoll Zen. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.