I turn 35 in a couple of months. I feel young but by the system's standards I'm not too far off being middle aged.
Should this bother me?
While I can't say getting older per se concerns me, what does bother me is getting older and not having done the things I wanted to do with my life.
Now that gets to me.
I look back over the years and, although I've been in a positive place for a good many now, I see large swathes of time where I was in limbo land, a desolate wilderness where I had little company but myself and little meaning to my life beyond holding out for something to change.
Secondary/High school saw me struggling to make friends as I resisted the tide of peer pressure.
University was occasional study, gym workouts and cinema visits but mainly time spent alone in my room (or if I got really bummed out, wandering around the streets at night) feeling totally disillusioned with the world I'd been born into.
My mid 20's saw me struggling to come to terms with, and initially resisting the call, to embrace the life I was meant to live.
As a result, I look back on my life now - from a position of confidence, wisdom and eagerness to embrace any opportunity - and wonder where the hell my youth went.
Apologies for getting this post off to such a depressing start. I'm genuinely happy now and in a stronger position than I've ever been in my life. However, it's important to recall the period of time where I wasn't.
You see I want to explore how a person comes to terms with unfulfilled potential, wasted years and recovering after a huge setback. After all, I'm sure we've all had some of these experiences.
You may have recovered from a major illness and be struggling to come to terms with all it took from you and wondering if you can ever be certain about life again.
You may be in your 40s or 50s, completely disillusioned with your job and wondering to what purpose you've been busting your balls for the last 30 years?
You might have just experienced a failed marriage or long-term relationship and be wondering how you could have invested so much of your life in something that has now come to an end.
Or you might have just finished your education and be questioning what it was all about. Were you genuinely stimulated by what you learned or did you just spend the last 15 years doing what was expected of you? And what if your life now continues in a similar vein?
If any of the above has, or does apply, then I'm writing this for YOU. And despite the bleak beginning, the message is VERY positive.
I want you to know that your life CAN turn around. I want you to finish reading this and realise that you can truly DO ANYTHING.
You can't get those days back. They're gone. No matter how much you rue a missed opportunity, wish that things could have been different or think about the past, you can't go back. In fact, partaking in this kind of thinking will only deny you the opportunity to live NOW.
I know it's hard. Those lost years may seem unfair or even an injustice. After all, you were younger then and lacked experience and knowledge. You're not a bad person; you just didn't know what you were getting yourself into.
Of course, this is true and because it's true, it makes it all the more difficult to move on. This is why you need a substitute thought.
A substitute thought! Instead of racking your brains over what might have been, you need to use this pain as a reminder to channel all of your focus on getting the absolute most out of life, right now.
It's the only way I've come to terms with wasting so many years of my life. Whenever a regretful thought or disappointed memory occurs I tell myself, 'that's why I MUST make the most of my life TODAY'.
No more watching TV or browsing the internet when it's time to work on my dream.
No more giving into doubt and fear when making important decisions and thinking about future life choices.
No more repeating mistakes from the past that hold me back.
The pain of the past reminds you of the preciousness of today.
'Ok, I hear you Joe, but you're just talking about getting over a bit of teenage angst and a pretty dull early adulthood. What about the people who've had truly devastating life experiences?' you say.
To the doubters I refer you to the story of one of my greatest inspirations, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter. The misfortune that this man experienced was monumental. In and out of juvenile reform since the age of 11, he was falsely convicted of murder in 1967. He subsequently served 19 years in prison for a crime HE DID NOT COMMIT, finally being exonerated in 1985.
Was he broken by this ordeal?
Despite being separated from his wife and kids, having a promising career as a middleweight boxer terminated and enduring the horrors of 19 years in prison, he displayed an amazing ability to make the most of his life once freed. He remarried and became executive director of The Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted. This video (watch the last 30 seconds for the most heart-warming part) and a quote before his death last year, should install the faith in all of us that no matter how wasted or tragic our past may have been, a life of complete happiness is always possible. As Rubin said,
"In my own years on this planet . . . I've lived in hell for the first 49 years, and have been in heaven for the past 28 years."
Perhaps I was inaccurate in saying there was nothing we can do about our wasted or unfortunate pasts. A strange thing has happened to me since my life turned around. After a good many years of living happily and with purpose, I've begun to look at my wasted youth differently. No longer do I kick myself at missed opportunities. Instead, I see it as an inevitable learning experience that has guided me to deeper wisdom and knowledge. The meaning and memory of it has changed in my mind.
If you have not done so already, I want YOU to know that you can get to this place. Starting right now, your life can be that meaningful, joyous and exciting story you've always dreamed it could be; packed with all the romance and adventure you can handle.
There is nothing chaining you to your past. It exists only in your mind and as soon as you focus on have a great time right now everything will change.
So step out of the shadows and seize the day!
(Photo taken from Ardinnnn:) photostream flickr.com)