It's not so much about what I do for a living as it is where. I came by that philosophy as a youngster in large part due to my vagabond father’s example. He left friends, relatives and job security in the rearview mirror—followed his heart and Route 66 west from Ohio to Arizona—scant possessions and a family of five squeezed into a ’49 Ford.
If whimsical gods favor your continued existence, there will come a time when the bulk of your life lies in the unalterable past. Compensation for this injustice is said to be “wisdom.” No one said it’s a fair trade, wisdom for youth, but it beats the cold-coffin alternative.
Wisdom, more-or-less, is simple 20-20 hindsight, the ability to see past mistakes and wrong turns in focus. As Geezers we use hindsight to navigate whatever grains of sand remain in our “hourglass,” some from the safety of a rocking chair, others from the uncertainty of mountain peaks and mountain bike seats.
As an old, yet unrepentant adrenaline junkie, I would argue that there comes a point in life where quality trumps quantity. What better time to throw caution to the wind than in one’s old age, a time when there is less to lose with each passing day. We only get one story, after all, and the promise of “tomorrows” are oft broken by “Whimsical gods.”
The relationship between wisdom and 20-20 hindsight reminds me of how I stumbled onto a life-philosophy that was an essential key to happiness. It happened during a particularly low point in my young life. My Dad had just died and my “career,” as well as my mood, was floundering in a sea of misery. Maybe it was a dream, I don’t know. It was as if Dad spoke to me: “where over what…where over what.” It took me a while to figure out this life-altering guidance.
Gifted with age-related hindsight/wisdom, the past is now in focus. The less I was married to career and security, the longer my "leash.” I appreciate the sense of freedom inherent in the “where over what” philosophy my Dad passed down to me, how it allowed for experimentation and the luxury of charting a life-course with my “heart” as well as my brain. I began to dabble in the "Art of Living” instead of the art of “getting ahead.”
Looking back, a “career” may well have short-leashed me to a stake in Les Miserable, Missouri—left to the mercy of indebtedness, biting insects and undersized playgrounds. “Where over What” was my ticket to freedom, one that ultimately landed me here in Southwest Colorado. I credit my insightful parents who, instead of “hovering” over my head-scratching choices, granted me the freedom to “self-actualize” and fail without judgment. They, of all people, understood that mistakes are the building blocks of wisdom.
This leads me to question the efficacy of pressuring our children to make up their minds regarding careers as early as elementary school or even high school, a time of juggling math, science and hormones, trying to figure out which college and what courses. Well-intentioned parents can end up sentencing children to insurmountable student-loan debt, essentially chaining them to “treadmills” much like their own.
Thank whimsical gods I didn't have well-intentioned parents screwing with my freedom of choice. Yeah, education is important…but not at the expense of freedom to chose one’s own path. A year of “flipping burgers” does not plant the kiss of death on our children’s future. On the contrary, I would argue it might be motivational, provided parents refuse to be ATMs.
At age 25 I followed in my daddy’s footsteps and took to the road, leaving friends, family and a cheese factory career smoldering in the rearview mirror. The irony is palpable, how so many wrong turns led me “home” to a thriving landscape and lifestyle that fit my restless G-Nome like a glove. I found my place…all because my parents trusted that I was smart enough to figure it out. The day I realized that where mattered more than what was the day I found one of the keys to happiness.
In his book, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life,” author Donald Miller wrote, “Every human being is searching for a deep sense of meaning, and yet we're all chasing success. We've confused one for the other.” He went on to say, “Only when we stop expecting (our children) to be perfect… can we love them for who they really are.”
I’m living proof (or dying, depending on the gods) that some kids need a little more time to circle before landing than others. Suffer the children…It’s in the Bible.
Mark Johnson is a restless soul who lives in Ouray, Colorado with his wife, Bobbie. He is happiest when explor- ing the West's nooks and crannies, hiking, climbing and mountain biking. He authors a "wanderlust" based bloog: www.Boxcanyonblog.com