"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory or defeat." --Theodore Roosevelt
This quote which I was recently reminded of during my reading of "The Path Between the Seas, The Creation of the Panama Canal" is probably the closest I can think of that depicts my desired approach to life.
Life as I have chosen to live it has seen its share of victories and defeats. I have rarely taken the "safest" route to get where I want in life...and I have a few scars and painful memories to show for it. Yet, when people ask me what it takes to be a "global citizen" or patriot who has lived a lot of places and done a wide range of things...I usually answer some form of "its not for the faint of heart or negative thinking".
This past 8 years living in Central America has brought many new challenges, experiences, joys and sorrows. I have lost or burned off a few former friends and acquaintances in the past decade. That is never pleasant but sometimes necessary for "moving on" and not accepting the limitations of others. It takes a while to really know people most of the time...and in exotic places like Central America you get a caste of characters unique to most any other contemporary time or space.
I have had a number of great adventures I could never have imagined 10-20 years ago...and I like to think the years and introspection I have achieved have wizened me somewhat to many of life's realities...both pleasant and harsh. Now in my 50s, I try to keep the perspective that "life begins at 50"...but truth be known, I also realize at this age that many of my former dreams or ambitions will never be realized. While I appreciate being in relatively good health (knock on wood), I realize I don't have the same stamina or physical energy that I had 20 years ago. Since 20 years ago seems like yesterday...it pains me psychologically to think of the irreversible effects of the clock on our physiology. More young people are starting to call me "sir" (at least the ones with manners), and most people my own age are looking and acting way too old for me. I must admit a growing aversion to dawdling too much looking in the mirror. I see less and less of what I want to see...though I suppose some minor corrections in lifestyle could somewhat enhance or prolong more youthful looks. 20-30 extra pounds is NOT attractive at this or any age.
Lest I focus too much on the tawdry and vain...lets turn this conversation around to the positive by saying most challenges in life are "mind over matter". I have always believed humans err to place so much emphasis on outer appearances and image. After all, many of the world's most "attractive" people are the most psychotic losers in our society. Intelligence is still the most attractive attribute of a person to me. A woman's external beauty gets her 2-5 minutes of my attention...but beyond that they better have some wit and charm about them or they suddenly become a waste of time. Sincerity and grace can sometimes seem like dying attributes in the human race. Thankfully, I move around and network enough to where I have found enough friends and family that fit that bill of being positive influences and challenge me to live up to their good examples.
So how does all this tie into what Teddy Roosevelt said? Well, I personally think we live in very difficult times. The world as we have known it the last 50+ years is changing very rapidly. There are huge paradigm shifts in wealth, governmental systems, and mass mind-share caused by the information age and an overload on all the cultural mores and icons in our world, forcing rapid change and challenging accommodation for differences. Populations are growing/shifting rapidly while supplies of clean water, air and food dwindle. Many religions have gone extreme in reaction to this or have "gone out the window" of relevance completely. The world is waking up to the death of many core institutions. There is a vacuum of true leadership and it is quickly becoming a world mindset of "every man/woman for themselves". We are finding there really was something to that Darwinian idea of "survival of the fittest".
As these reflections and observations kick in, I find Teddy's statement made over 100 years ago more relevant than ever before. We can no longer count on a return to life "as we knew it". There is no going back to "Mayberry", "Father Knows Best" or other TV icons of the life we once knew. We are in the middle of economic meltdowns, massive climate change and access to information and communications capabilities never imagined 50 years ago. It takes a whole new set of skills and adaptation to change in order to survive in the long term today.
In these 50+ "post world war" years we have gotten a bit complacent and "chubby" in body, mind and spirit. Many of us thought the gravy train would never end. The DOW would always continue to go up, and America and democracy would always be the standard bearer for world systems. We are now unfortunately seeing many of those presuppositions being chipped away by the realities of masses who have never learned to live or think independently. The few who "have" cannot keep up with the demands of those who don't. Political promises are even less likely to be kept...and you are going to see a lot more "dog eat dog" in the world at large at all levels of existence.
In the middle of all this change and lack of clarity...it seems to me the perfect time to hitch up our pants and our minds...and start pushing the button of passion and ingenuity within ourselves. We need to spend less time watching the news, and more time trying to "make the news". Like never before, we need to move ourselves and those around us in a more positive and individualistic direction. Most of us who understand this do NOT want to go the way of the masses. We do NOT want to wait for someone to give us something or bring us the answers. We want to make our own ways...and have the satisfaction when all is said and done that we played the game of life to the best of our potential and ability. To sit back and do nothing, either because of age, infirmity or just general depression is really not an option if you want to survive and even more importantly LIVE.
I MAY live another 50 years in this age of quickly expanding science and technology. That means it is way too soon to rest on my laurels or past accomplishments. Like never before I need to apply all my strengths, experiences and life's lessons to a re-focused effort on answering the questions of 1) how can I best secure a successful balance of my life, and 2) how can I best influence others to help me build the life we want?
The reality is we cannot do much alone. We need other people in our lives. People to bounce ideas off and who will reflect back to us our reality. We need people to sell our skills or products to...and we need others to provide that which we cannot do ourselves. We can't necessarily count on others to provide easy answers to our many questions. We need to be demanding of ourselves and those we care about. We can't just tolerate hopelessness or negligence...and we can't assume people are going to "get it" eventually.
The bottom line of this day and age is we have to rediscover and then burn the path to success and happiness. We cannot leave that task to others. No person or institution is responsible for our health and well-being. If we don't, it won't. But if we DO...we will take great comfort in both our failures and successes, knowing that if we KEEP trying...if we STAY focused within the reality of our reason...we WILL do great and mighty things. It starts with the daring to do so...