We are well into the 21st Century. That still seems a bit strange when I say it or write it. I'm a product of the 20th Century and, most likely, so are you. While I'm not officially a “Baby Boomer,” I was born a year earlier than the Boomer generation has been defined to begin, I still grew up as part of that generation. Those were good times and those were bad times. Those of us who are Boomers were initially defined by the aftermath of the Great Depression and World War II.
Our parents wanted us to have better lives than they had. That's not unusual. I believe all parents since the beginning of time want their offspring to have lives better than they had. That's probably never been truer than during the past couple centuries as technology advanced at ever more accelerating rates. Those of us born in the 40's were actually around before or at the time the first 12” 33 1/3 and 7” 45 rpm phonograph records were introduced. Since then we've gone through those records, the 4 track and 8 track cartridge, the compact audio cassette, the CD, the Philips Digital Cassette, Digital Audio Tape (DAT), flash memory mp3 players, the iPod and now streaming and downloadable music formats. And that's just one small facet of our ever expanding technological world.
There are two many industries, technologies and advances to begin to explore them in this article. The fact remains, the world has changed exponentially over the past 70 years I've been around. So, too, have our expectations of what our lives should be. In the later 40's and 50's the average home was about 900 square feet. In 2015 the average home size is about 2,700 square feet. That's three times as large. The cost for the average home in the 40's was between $4,000 and $5,000. Today, in many areas of the U.S. the average starter home is well into the low to approaching the mid six figures. And for a nicer home in a good neighborhood in some markets, the price can exceed a million dollars.
Part of our youth, and this goes for our generation and the generations after ours, was spent developing big dreams and bigger expectations. It may not have seemed like it at the time. We had a limited frame of reference back then. But, we all wanted great careers, high paying jobs, job security, bigger and bigger houses, maybe two houses, big, flashy, fast cars (those became SUVs), fine clothes, exotic vacations, a fat retirement pension building so we could retire in leisure . . . and toys, lots of toys. We wanted it all. And why not? Our parents, our teachers, the newfangled television, glossy color magazines and catalogs, sales people in growing car dealerships, real estate offices and glitzy department stores told us we could have it all.
That Was Then, This Is Now
Well, here we are, several wars later, several recessions later and several changes in industry later. We saw computers go from huge room sized monster machines that sent us cards saying “Do Not Bend, Fold, Spindle or Mutilate” to where most of us have a computer in our pocket that has not only replaced the old black, dial telephone, but is far more powerful by magnitudes than those huge monster computers or even the computers that sent men to the moon and brought them back safely.
Some of us made lots of money, more money, with more zeros, than we even learned in elementary school arithmetic. We've lived in fine, huge homes exceeding 5,000, 10,000 and even 25,000 square feet on huge parcels of land in expensive locations. Some of us have had it all.
Most of us did pretty well. For the most part, we lived considerably better than our parents, acquired a lot of what we wanted and had decent lives. Of course, we worked our asses off to achieve all this. We put in long hours. Some spent way too much time in rush hour congestion and gridlock. We needed both partners in a marriage to work to support the lifestyle. And we invented the term, “Latch-key Children.”
So, here's the point. Was it all REALLY worth it? As you review your life, and we all should do that periodically, can you say you truly met your expectations in life? Did you have a career or jobs that were fulfilling? Do you feel you did or are making a difference in the world and lives you touch? Will you be remembered for anything in particular? Did you or do you really need the huge house and multiple expensive cars, toys, etc. that required you to keep working your ass off to acquire and support them and then watch them become obsolete and depreciate and possibly become albatrosses?
Here's the thing. Some of you may feel fulfilled and feel like your expectations have been met and fulfilled. Unfortunately, the facts seem to indicate that we had misplaced values. We placed values in things and not people and experiences. We ended up living in cocoons of our own making and relationships suffered. Our divorce rates increased massively and family dysfunction grew exponentially. Alcohol, prescription drugs and recreational drugs became our friends to help reduce the emotional and psychological pain of the stress of high pressure jobs, debt, crumbling relationships, sitting in traffic or riding on public transportation for, what seemed like, endless hours.
For those of you who had a dream life and life fulfilled your expectations, I applaud you. You can stop reading right now because you had the perfect life. You may be the only person who has.
Is That All There Is?
For those of you who are asking the question Peggy Lee asked in her 1969 hit record, “Is That All There Is?” it's time to do something about it, before anymore priceless time passes. It's time to reevaluate your expectations and change them.
Young people are always going to have big dreams and high expectations. That's common and to be expected. It's those dreams and expectations that propel us forward. If we didn't have them, we'd end up as useless lumps of humanity or very close to it. Have you noticed as you've matured, regardless of whether you're 30 years old or 80 years old or anywhere between, how the dreams and expectations have changed? We often hear the term “mellowing” the older we get.
There is an old German proverb, “Too soon we get old. Too late we get smart.” That is the essence of mellowing. We start our lives like a fire engine on the way to a house fire. At the other end of our lives we drive slower, don't enjoy the interstate highways as much and just enjoy looking at the scenery. But, we may still be living in far more space than we need, have more stuff than we need, are still paying off some debt for the stuff that's no longer being used and we're still not as happy as we feel we should be.
Hopefully, you start feeling this way at an early enough age and start making changes in your expectations. You reevaluate where you are in your life. You think about your career and job. Determine if this is something you enjoy so much you'd do it for free OR if you're just doing it because you NEED the money. You think about the things you actually love to do, but don't have enough time to enjoy them now.
So, you'll put them off until you retire – IF you'll actually ever be able to retire – IF you'll actually make it to retirement. A friend just told me about his sister-in-law, she slipped and fell at a family outing at the Lincoln Memorial and died – 22 days before she was retiring from a lifetime of work. A guy I went to elementary, junior and senior high school with died from a heart attack just two months shy of his planned retirement. I know too many stories like that – and, most likely, so do you.
The next big question is, are you happy with everything in your life right now? If the answer is yes, absolutely. Great! You are one of the few. If the answer is no, then why the hell aren't you doing something about it, NOW, not when it may be too late.
The Bottom Line
So, here it is. The eleventh hour is upon you. I don't care if you're 25 or 95, you're life could end between now and tomorrow evening. Oh my, aren't I fatalistic? No! I'm realistic. Recently, some people went out for an evening of fun and frivolity in Paris. They went to restaurants. They went to a soccer game, a huge competition between French and German rival teams. They went to a concert at an historic concert hall to listen to an American performing group. So far, 129 of them didn't get to go home that night. Another, roughly, 350 ended up in hospitals, some of them may also die. That was not their dream, plan or expectation.
But, that is only one small example of how fragile and unknown our short lives are. It doesn't have to be falling at the Lincoln Memorial or being stricken with a heart attack or being victims of a terrorism attack or being on an airliner blown out of the sky over Egypt. It can be any of thousands of possible things. And, worse yet, is how many people are still breathing air, consuming resources and yet, are among the “walking dead” because, as Thoreau stated it so succinctly, “Most men (and women) lead lives of quiet desperation.”
We don't start out that way. We have expectations that each of our lives is going to be just as we dream it will be. “Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans (expectations).” John Lennon. I don't think he had expectations of some nut case with a gun ending his dreams and expectations at age 40.
So, here is Tip #11 – Reevaluate your life and make changes. If you don't like your career – change it. If you don't like where you live – change where you live. If you don't like some of your relationships – change your relationships. If you no longer like all the “stuff” in your life – change or get rid of the stuff that no longer makes you happy and your life fulfilling. Rethink your dreams and rediscover the ones you've missed or discover new dreams.
Change your expectations from whatever they have been if your life is too complicated, overloaded or just plain stressful to whatever you want your life to be. I doubt that it's being rich and famous, because too many people who are rich and famous are far from happy. Too many people who have had great financial success don't know how to just sit back and enjoy life and smell the roses. They don't know how to play with their kids, spouse, friends and families. All they know how to do is make more money. Then they buy stuff for all those other people in an attempt to buy their love and admiration. It doesn't work. Simplify your life by changing your expectations.
Live free and be happy. EH