Monday, May 8, 2017

Life | Lefsetz Letter

Does not turn out the way you planned it.

Assuming you planned it at all.

Some of us come from pushy parents, with visions of our futures. We jump through preordained hoops and we get to a threshold, a fork in the road, and we’re clueless as to how to move forward.

Others grow up ignored. Or with values focused on belonging as opposed to achievement. And it’s hard if no one cares, but the truth is you’ve got to figure life out for yourself, and it’s better if you do. It’s just that you’ve got to avoid the potholes, the drugs, the diversions, the bad people who will lead you into backwaters that you may never recover from.

And the truth is it’s all internal, external pressures don’t ultimately work. Unless it’s to put a roof over your head and food on the table and sometimes I think it would be better if we were not coddled, if we were all challenged, because it builds character and survival instincts, to learn that even if someone is looking out for you, that does not mean you can make it, in business, in life, that you can navigate the 24 hours 365 days a year that seem alternately long and short, depending upon whether you are happy.

And you won’t always be, happy that is. There will be moments, completely unexpected. You’ll be driving with the radio on, standing on a cliff, and everything will come together, you’ll have a smile on your face, you’ll be thrilled you are living. Then there are milestones that should thrill you that don’t, like graduating, from college, even high school. It’s kind of scary, because you don’t know where you’re going, but even more you’re expecting to feel something you don’t. Life is all about expectations that go unfulfilled. And I’m not talking about winning and losing so much as people telling you such and such is a big deal and it turns out it is not.

When I graduated from college no one got a straight job. Now college is a preparatory institution wherein you shine up your bona fides so you can enter the workforce, one leg up from the rest, on your way to success. But you wake up one day and wonder if this is the road you want to be on. And that’s the scary thing about life, it’s hard to jump the track, once you reach a certain age you are who you are, you can buy a self-help book telling you how easy it is to switch careers but it’s not, especially if you’ve got obligations.

And society wants to tie you up, with a spouse and children and a mortgage and a car payment, and then you’re a slave to the grind. But if you opt out, you’re no longer a member of the tribe, you’re the other, on you own path, and sometimes the stars align and your choice is exalted, like in the hippy-dippy sixties, but usually this isn’t so. So if you’re going to take the road less traveled, you’ve got to be secure, no one is gonna hold your hand, you’re going against the grain and those who are with it are not going to to encourage and support you.

That’s another thing about life. You need money. Absolutely. More than ever. Don’t delude yourself that you do not. And more money brings more happiness and then it does not. Rich people are attractive, they have freedom, but then they start to believe their own hype become all about lifestyle and are then intolerable. Life is about your job, if you ain’t got one, you’re not very attractive. The pay isn’t important, it can even be voluntary, just as long as you show up every day and do the work, treat those surrounding you with respect.

So you don’t know when to jump off the cliff. When and if to get married and have kids.

Let me tell you, everybody else is flummoxed too. If you’re waiting for that inner voice to say yes, to say this is the path, you’re screwed. Everybody is unsure. But one thing’s for sure, some are more comfortable with risk than others.

And actions have consequences. You can’t extract yourself without pain. Divorce has a cost, primarily emotional. And you can abandon your children, but the guilt will haunt you forever. Which is why life is about character. Not that those with the best character get rich and survive, but they fit in best, and life is about fitting in. Isn’t that amazing. No one wants to be alone, they all want to be accepted and understood, have friends. Find those like-minded and be loyal to them, they’re all you’ve got, they’ll get you through.

And you’ll get fired and the industry will change and you’ll get sick and there will be wrenching transitions. If you haven’t been through them yet, just know they’re coming. You’re married for twenty years and then suddenly your spouse wants a divorce. Or the company moves to China, or suddenly there’s no need for the company at all. Watcha gonna do? I’m not sure, you’ve got to figure it out for yourself, good luck.

And then suddenly you’re old. Your parents told you about this. You look in the mirror and you don’t recognize that person and you don’t want to go back but you want to put the brakes on going forward. You can’t do what you once did, remember everything you did do, and so many expectations have gone unfulfilled.

This is your life.

Be thankful you get to live it.

It’s neither a race nor a competition. Rather a free-form art project. That’s right, grow older and all the STEM courses become irrelevant and the liberal arts ones shine. Because life is about experiencing the world and thinking about it, putting the pieces together. How are you gonna do this? It’s not just about getting up every day and doing what you should, that’s emotional death.

And that’s what you’re avoiding, emotional death.

So listen to your elders and ignore them. Study history and discard it. Read the maps but bushwhack, create your own path. Information is key but it won’t deliver anywhere near the answers you need. Be an individual but rely on others. And know when you get to the end, you’ll be stunned at the choices you made, but realize they were inevitable, that you couldn’t do it any other way.


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