My grandfather gave me a copy of Tom Sawyer when I was a kid that I read while sitting up in a tree in our front yard.
I still have it and I treasure it.
Then came other books.
The Black Stallion, Call of the Wild, My Side of the Mountain, Treasure Island, The Hobbit, Peter Pan. The list goes on and has continued to this day with stacks of books filling both my boat and my cabin.
I don’t know that grandfathers do that anymore. Buy books for their grandsons.
I suspect fewer boys read books high up in branches of trees.
I think a lot of boys would probably grow up into better men if they did.
I do know that those books sparked my imagination for adventure and mischief and that ember still burns hot.
I also know that I’m wired differently than most.
Some people never need to leave home.
Their hometown is their sanctuary.
They can get lost in the rhythm as weeks turn to years and years turn to decades in perfect harmonious bliss.
I am not one of those people.
My heroes have always been those who have pushed their own boundaries. They’re different kinds of pirates. They chased after life. They shaped it to their will.
Guys like Theodore Roosevelt, Jack London, Hemingway. These guys weren’t saints, in fact each ran from their own particular demons. But, they were each driven by an inner hunger that few of us can truly understand. It wasn’t money they were after. And it really wasn’t fame. It was something deeper. Something primal. They were chasing dragons.
Each had their own code for living. Each understood that the stories they wrote down on paper meant little if the stories they told with their lives didn’t reflect the same spirit. What was consistent for each of them was their inability to be content. They wanted to be more. They wanted to go farther. But, but not just farther, they wanted to go farther than anyone. They wanted to be better, but not just better, better than anyone.
None of them lived to be old men.
All of them became legends.
Me? I was in my classroom talking about them. I was lying bed at night reading about them. I was safe. I was bored. I was miserable.
Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely loved teaching. I still love teaching. But after a point, I was landlocked and not going anywhere anymore. I was drifting in a lake. Even though it felt like forward motion, it wasn’t. My boat was in the wrong water. But I kept going back, hoping things would change. Hoping things would improve and convinced that I couldn’t do any better.
But, something finally snapped. A week or so after graduation, I was sitting alone on my boat and realized that I just couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t go back. I wouldn’t go back. A few days later I drove 12 hours back to my office, cleaned out my office, left my keys on my desk and walked away. The one thing I left was a note on my whiteboard that had been up for months.
Solve for “why?”
There’s this thing that seems to happen to guys in their middle age years. I’m confident there is a parallel scenario for women, but a woman should write that story. I can only speak from my experience and other guys I’ve talked to. It seems like after we hit 40, we’re no longer considered the rising stars we may have once been. We seem to be valued as long as we’re useful but, once that usefulness runs out so does people’s interest. For many men, they’ve done their part to raise their kids and be a husband. They’ve worked whatever job they’ve needed to. I get it, some haven’t. But, most have. Maybe they weren’t always the best dads or the best husbands but, they did what they thought they needed to. They tried to stay useful.
Then one day the kids don’t need you and one day your job really wishes they had someone different in your position. You just don’t fit what they want anymore. And so your usefulness runs out and you get the distinct impression, that those you’ve tried to support over the years are actively looking for your replacement.
You just aren’t what anybody wants anymore.
And that is an extraordinarily painful place to be.
The story of Peter Pan is a sad one. Two characters, one who refuses to grow up and the other, Hook, is constantly pursued by time and death.
It is the story of all of us. We are caught in between these two forces. We’re afraid of living because we’re afraid of dying.
We grow up with big dreams. We believe the world will be different because of us. We imagine ourselves gods of our time.
We check off those life goals. We get an education. We get a job. We do all the things we think we’re supposed to do.
And then one day we realize.
We’re just another guy wearing khaki pants and sitting at a computer all day.
We’re just another guy pulling a shift for a company that doesn’t know we exist.
We are none of the things that we promised ourselves that we would be.
Punch a clock. Sit in traffic. Stay safe. Get fat. Wait for our turn to die.
Dead today, replaced tomorrow.
And you’re left thinking…
Is that it? Is that the best I have to offer? Is this all my life will add up to?
Maybe. Or maybe you can be more.
I think there’s a point we have to make a decision on what comes next.
Call it a midlife crisis if you want.
It’s really a point of reckoning.
We have to stop drifting and finally make a decision on what we’re living for.
I had to make that decision.
So will you.