That is my interpretation this morning of what life is all about after reading some blog posts and on-line newsletter articles from some of the other people I personally follow. You may interpret life differently and that's just fine with me. Share your ideas, definitions and opinions in the comments after this post. Each of these four words can inspire an individual post, a feature length periodical article or even one or more chapters of a book. Actually, each of the words could easily inspire an entire book. Who knows what the future holds. Maybe I'll undertake one or more of those as challenges.
So, let's begin with the basics. Everything begins with a dream. I won't go into what inspired our conception. I hope we're all familiar with the mechanics of this miracle. The next miracle for all, but the tiniest percentage of human beings, is "The Dream." You and I are who we are and where we are today because of "The Dream." According to an article in Scientific American, researchers have found scientific evidence that dreaming may actually begin in the womb as early as the 23rd week of gestation. More research says it begins between the age of 5 and 7 years. Yet, experiential evidence suggests that children will speak of dreams as soon as they are able to talk and articulate reasoned thoughts at the most basic level. Personally, while I don't have a lot of memories from before the age of four, I do recall small "snapshots" from before that and they included some nightmares. How about you?
Dreams begin to take on more sophistication and meaning as we become more aware and knowledgeable about the world we live in. I think this probably begins by the age of four or five. Of course, our world is very small at that time. Our circle of relationships and experiences is very limited and, accordingly, so are our dreams. For young boys, those things they see in nature and their small surrounding world typically impress them. Policemen, firemen, soldiers, doctors, teachers are their outside the home influences and may be why in early years boys dream of these occupations for their own future. Young girls, on the other hand, even today, though, perhaps less so than in the past, seem to see teachers, nurses, women doctors, mothers and similar as their early influences. Of course, much of our earliest literature focuses on these kinds of occupations, after all, what five or six year old is ready to comprehend a graphic designer, computer programmer, hedge fund manager, etc.
There are lots of stimuli in the current, developed world with all forms of literature, audio, video, broadcast and cable television, movies and the Internet. Most of us had only a fraction of this kind of stimulation when we were children. But, dream we all did. And as our brains became filled with more and more knowledge and we expanded our minds through more and more experiences, so, also, did our dreams expand. The exciting thing is that human potential is almost limitless. By the time we reach puberty and those exciting, yet often painful teenage years, we begin to believe we know where we want to go with our lives. Most teenagers become overly anxious to spread their wings, leave the nest and soar. We envision (dream about) falling in love, finding THE "One" who will be our permanent mate for life, the place we want to live, the kind of home we want to have, the occupation/profession we will earn our living from, the lifestyle we'll lead, the places we'll visit and the adventures we'll experience. In essence we've created our dream "magic carpet" that will take us through this glorious life we envision. Oh, yeah, and that glorious life we envision usually will not exactly emulate the more mundane, hum-drum life of our parents, unless, of course, we're never allowed to think outside that box.
Those dreams are what propel us into adulthood. Regardless of how simple they may be or how complex, adventurous, exciting and glamorous they may be, they are our launching pad. And then comes...
So, it's not like we didn't do any experimenting during our developmental, teenage years. Sure we did. We wanted to learn about all kinds of things including sex, love, what was outside the boundaries established by our parents, what it was like to have money of our own, how to express ourselves culturally, socially, fashionably, intellectually, physically, creatively and occupationally. Most of us muddled through this challenging stage of life without many serious consequences. But, oh baby! Once we were 18, out of high school, maybe in college and away from home on our own recognizance, working a job and earning our own money, free to come and go as we pleased, maybe even getting our own cave/nest or sharing one with one or more roommates and so on, the experimenting with all things "life" took on a much bigger meaning.
This is truly the time of our lives when the rubber started to meet the road. This is also when certain stark realities began rearing their ugly heads. All of a sudden our responsibilities and obligations expanded beyond those of helping with household chores and keeping our rooms cleaned up (to a greater or lesser degree depending on our parents strictness or leniency). We may have experimented with drinking alcohol and with some drugs while we were in high school, but now, NOW we had the option and choices to make about how far down those roads we wanted to "experiment." Now, we could dress anyway we wanted to. Now, we could run with a "fast" crowd all hours of the night and weekends. Now, we could travel whenever and wherever we wanted to. Now, we could try different jobs and careers. Now, we could do and be anything we wanted to whenever and wherever we chose to. Or so it seemed.
Well, that was part of the "dream," anyway. But, along with this time of experimenting came those stark realities. We began learning new lessons during this major experimental phase of our lives. First, we are responsible for our actions. Second, we are always accountable to someone. Third, obligations must be met and fulfilled. Fourth, there are ALWAYS consequences, positive or negative to all our choices and actions. As examples, I'll use just two areas of human behavior that are major areas of experimentation during this time in particular, sex and alcohol.
Responsible sexual behavior will lead to a lifetime of joy, respect and fulfillment for both individuals involved. Irresponsible sexual behavior can lead to the conception of one or more (by one or more partners) unwanted children and all the responsibilities thereto attached. It can also lead to disease that may detrimentally impact one and possibly others for their rest of his or her life and their lives. Of course, in the worse case scenario, it can end in an early and usually ugly death. Most of us have made it through this stage of experimentation. Unfortunately, far too many pay the consequences.
Responsible use of alcohol is another area of experimentation. I make no judgments and am not going to be hypocritical about alcohol. But, one of the great questions that remains in the back of my mind is why do alcoholic beverages exist and why to we partake in them? Please don't reply to this question. It's rhetorical. While the "health industry" and the medical profession both keep coming up with ways and reasons that consumption of alcohol is beneficial in moderation, I see this as a feeble justification to support this industry. If alcohol is good for us, why does the same medical community vehemently demand that pregnant women not drink alcohol? It all seems like another double standard to me. Hey! I did my share of drinking, my drink of choice was Scotch - on the rocks. I am one VERY, VERY lucky individual who has driven an automobile numerous times (in Manhattan, one time, I might add) so drunk that under today's laws they would slap me in jail and throw away the key. I never had an accident, injured anyone, any property or myself, but I sure could have. Stupid and irresponsible doesn't begin to describe how I feel about my actions at that time of my life.
I just described my experience with alcohol in which I was extremely fortunate. Unfortunately, way too many young "experimenters" have maimed and killed innocent men, women and children because of their experimenting and irresponsibility. They found the negative consequences. Many people will self-medicate with booze. The pain of dealing/coping with those stark realities of life weakens them to use alcohol to temporarily relieve them of the pain. What most people don't realize is that the pain is probably a good thing. There are lessons to be learned. But, that's a topic for another time. Unfortunately, for too many people, the body (and mind) develop a dependence on alcohol (like any of the many other addictions). Fortunately, the majority of people do not become alcoholics and "bad drunks." But, for those who do, the harm they do to themselves, their loved ones and others they may have maimed or killed is beyond any reason. They may spend some time in jail and many may permanently lose the privilege of driving any kind of motorized vehicle.
Experimenting is an important part of who we become and leads us into...
Experiencing is truly when the rubber meets the road and stark reality truly faces us, head on...sometimes whacking us up the side of the head with a 2x4. Reality is when the dreams and the experimenting land us smack, dab where most people will end up spending most of or all of the rest of their lives. That's why I've heard many people wiser than me say, "No matter where you are in your life, it's exactly where you want to be, otherwise...you'd be someplace else." This is the time when we typically make all kinds of excuses, blame someone else for the path our life took and why we're basically not happy, not joyful, not fulfilled and taking way too many anti-depressant drugs (the drug industry and the therapists are happy, though).
I've heard people say "I'm lucky, I married the right man/woman, have/had great kids, have/had a job/profession/career I love, work/worked for the best employer, live/lived in the perfect home, reside/resided in the best village/town/city in the world, etc." I don't think luck had much to do with any of that. I think you have/had dreams, you pursued them, you experimented and found what worked and didn't work for you and focused on what worked, didn't settle for a partner but sought one who shared your dreams and values, had great kids because you again, shared your values and dreams (and included them in your dreams) with them, respected them and earned their respect by sticking by your values and established fair, meaningful, reasonable boundaries for them based on your values. The same goes for the career, the home you live in and the village/town/city you chose to live. These were all conscious choices you made based on your dreams, the values you developed and the experimenting and determining what worked and didn't work for you. Sure, there is always some small element of chance in life. For example, there is a chance some freak act of nature could happen and change your life. There's a chance you could contract some terminal disease and die way too young. There are always "chances" of things happening. Heck! If you buy a lottery ticket in the PowerBall, there is a chance you could win millions of dollars. But, most of us don't live our lives waiting for that PowerBall winning ticket.
You can't blame other things or people or circumstances. As the old saying goes - "Shit Happens!" We have to deal with it. That's part of experiencing life. If you're married to (or even divorced from) the wrong partner, don't blame the other person. In any relationship, it takes two (in a marriage) or more (in other forms of relationships) to make the relationship work or fail. It always amazes me how many people love to beat dead horses. For some reason, we want to have and use the latest technology in the form of smart phones, computers, tablets, the Internet, high-tech appliances, cars that have more techy bells and whistles than Carter had little liver pills (for those who remember Carter). But, we cling to archaic values, standards and ideas that should have ended eons ago (maybe when they stopped burning witches). If your marriage isn't working, DEAL WITH IT! The only reason (poor excuse) to stay in a dead or abusive marriage (or relationship) is because of insecurity and fear (often fear of failure). Change it and move on. Life is short. The same applies to not liking where you live or where you work or whom you work for or what you do for a living. CHANGE IT! Easier said than done, you say. Of course, it's always easier to do nothing and stay in the pain, despair, anguish, discontent, abuse, etc. that you're in. Besides, there is also the fear of the unknown. What if it's worse on the outside? Well, you'll never know if you don't go find out. If I get any comments at all on this, I'm sure you're going to give me a million excuses.
Hey! I've been there! I've done that! I've been divorced twice. My family that I grew up in disintegrated in one day by one single action when I was 21 years old. I've had businesses fail. Sure! There are many things I haven't experienced, but I'd credit that to making choices that didn't put me in a position to experience those things (score one for good choices). Everything we do during our life from the moment we're born until the moment we die is, in some form or another, experiencing...
This is the bottom line, brothers and sisters. Life is about living. I cannot accept the idea that we take those beautiful dreams we start creating as soon as we're able to begin comprehending what tangible life is all about, build and expand those dreams, experiment and manage to live through doing some really stupid things (all too often) to ultimately allow circumstances take control of this miracle and gift we call life. Maybe we don't set high enough expectations. Worse, yet, maybe we don't even have any real expectations. If you don't know where you're going, you're very likely not going to like where you end up.
No! This is not a motivational speech! This is simple philosophy. I'm not some brilliant sage. I'm a simple guy who was fortunate enough to pursue some education, develop some dreams and follow those dreams. I stumbled. I fell. I failed. I lost my shirt, my family, my marriages (and a significant other) relationships and some businesses. But, I determined a long time ago, no matter what the outcome of a situation or circumstance, I AM ALWAYS THE WINNER! I may lose a wife or money or a business, but I always gain far more in Experience than I lose. Multi-millionaire, successful business consultant, best selling author, Brian Tracy says, "We will always tend to fulfill our own expectation of ourselves." Low or no expectations and we'll have low outcome and fulfillment. High expectations and we'll have a high-level outcome and fulfillment - even if we miss the final mark. Wendy Wasserman says, "Don't live down to expectations. Go out there and do something remarkable."
Each of has a finite amount of time on this Earth. I don't care if you have an unshakable, devout religious belief in some kind of eternal afterlife or if you believe in reincarnation or if you believe that when you take your last breath that's all there is and it's over for eternity. That is all up to you and I'm not even going to suggest I know anything about what happens at the end of this life. What I do know is that by some miracle each of us was born and endowed with various talents, degrees of intelligence and the ability to dream. We were born somewhere in this world under a broad range of possible circumstances. It is not our parent's or anyone else's responsibility to create our future. That's the beauty of living free. No matter what the circumstances of our birth, we are ultimately in control of and responsible for our own lives. As the best selling author of the classic book, Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill said in his book, "Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve." He also said, "It takes half your life before you discover life is a do-it-yourself project."
So, there you have it. In four words, what a life is all about. Dream...Experiment...Experience...Live this life to all you want it to be. Don't measure it in money and investments, how much property and possessions you gather or touchdowns, home runs, partners you've had sex with, places you've visited and experienced, etc. Measure this life in freedom, joyfulness, happiness and contentment. Everything else is simply numbers and measurements that don't count for anything in that last moment of life. The only thing that really matters is how you lived your life and how happy and content you are at that final moment.