Self-reflection is always advised even in the best of times. During the pandemic I have had a chance to stop the merry-go-round of life and take a more extended pause. It has been interesting.
I have been one of the lucky ones to remain gainfully employed and working from home as the pandemic rages and I acknowledge that provides a certain level of privilege that allows for quiet introspection to take place. Still, I also consciously chose this time to reflect more deeply on myself and my life.
Those who know me might describe me as ambitious. I have successfully climbed the ladder in my corporate and self-employed endeavors. My work in civil rights and activism has born fruit, at least so far as I can ascertain. With my community organizing I have witnessed clear evidence of improved situations for many. My published writings are well received. Periodically I appear on a stage to deliver a speech or in the media and I joke to friends about enjoying my “E-List” celebrity status.
By all accounts my life has been reasonably successful and for that I am grateful because I do not for a moment believe there is not some sheer dumb luck mixed in with my dedication and perseverance. At 66 years of age, I am content with what I have done with my life.
All that said, during the pandemic I have taken time to dig deep into myself to try and determine who the next iteration of me will be. Do I want to be the same person I have been? Do I want to continue to drive myself to juggle nonstop projects? Do I want to continue to elevate my public profile? Do I want to lead new companies, organizations or large-scale projects? What societal problems do I wish to tackle, if any?
That answer appears to be a mixed bag of realizations while accepting that this stage of my life naturally brings with it some truths and accompanying changes.
I have come to a few conclusions, or better yet current life course directions since I must always bow to what I know are the vagaries of existence. Life can pull the proverbial rug out from under us at any moment and we resist ducking and weaving as the punches come, and adapting as necessary, at our own peril.
Here are some of the things I have pondered. I state them hear in part to simply offer some transparency to others, but also because the sharing of our own personal stories are the ways we help each other grab some nugget from which we mull and ponder, hopefully resulting in personal growth.
What I see for myself going forward is a simpler and more contracted way of living. I do not necessarily want to do more, but rather do less, but more intentionally and with more focused outcomes.
For my living environment I want to whittle down my possessions and day-to-day household tasks and commitments to a minimum. I have begun the slow process of chucking material possessions that are simply adding clutter. Items that have sentimental value are being kept. Things that I truly use are going to be cared for and utilized.
My personal guideline is that I do not want to own anything more than would fit into a modest sized studio apartment. We shall see how that goes. I am not sure how this simplification project will unfold ultimately, but this is what I am doing and plan to keep doing until I can stand back and say to myself “That’s all I need to be happy.”
In terms of work I have chosen to continue my corporate gig because I work with some lovely people who have treated me well for years. The work remains interesting, even if I have no allusions my career is going to span too many more years. I can work remotely, and this gives me the freedom to travel or live anywhere I choose. Luck and my valuing of maintaining a happy work life over big jumps in compensation and position have proven to be a good formula for me. I highly recommend happy work situations over grabbing for the money or status if you can follow that path.
When I might separate from my “day job” is a mystery, even to me. I do not know when that day will come. I assume it will be an organic process that presents itself when the time is right, but that time is not yet here.
So, approximately eight hours a day, five days a week, is accounted for with eight hours of sleep required each of seven days. This leaves me with at best eight hours on weekdays and an open schedule weekends to fill in meaningful ways.
Recently I was part of a mastermind group with two amazing women. These are two women I admire to the moon and respect for their heart, integrity and talent. Remarkable human beings.
During the mastermind we focused on energizing each other to greatness and conquering the world with whatever goals, projects and processes resulted from our weekly discussions. I loved every minute of these mastermind sessions, until I did not. At some point I changed, and I had to acknowledge that change as difficult as it was at times.
As I grappled with my newfound realizations it came to be evident that I no longer wanted to conquer the world. I no longer wanted to lay out long-term stretch goals. I did not want to work hard on creating some semblance of external success at the cost of what I now deemed my guiding light in all that I do — happiness.
I want to be happy. Of course, I have been generally happy most of my life. Much of that happiness is a result of hard work on my part. Much is the result of the randomness of life and the chips falling my way. But happiness is now a guiding light for me, not just a happenstance byproduct.
I do not believe happiness can be a goal unto itself. Happiness is indeed a result, not a destination. It results from remaining engaged with living the best life possible. It results from trying to be a good person and doing good things for people and society. It results from ongoing self-education and personal improvement.
While happiness is a result of other actions, it is those actions and mindsets that precipitate happiness on which I now choose to focus my remaining days on this planet.
As a result of those personal changes what I have chosen for those hours to myself are encapsulated in the new tag line that now resides on most of my social media under my name: “Generalist. I learn. I think. Sometimes I write about it.”
I find all of life fascinating. I love to learn. I love to read. I love to talk to interesting people who are doing interesting things. I love to wrestle with ideas and think deeply about everything that sparks my interest. I love to write about these things and create in ways that hone my own thinking while perhaps helping others think for themselves in new, unforeseen ways. I love to engage in conversations, whether that is a coffee meeting with a subject matter expert or me speaking to a room of 1,000 people about something for which I am passionate.
While I have historically written a lot about sexuality, relationships, LGBTQ rights, gay men’s public health, and self-education, I no longer wish to confine the work I create to any one realm. I know that specialization is seen by many as a plus, but for me right now it is something I want to consciously eschew as I branch out into other areas of study and interest.
The life I see for myself is living a bit more simply, reading a lot of books, learning all kinds of fascinating things, and writing and creating related content in various manifestations to inform, inspire and perhaps entertain.
I no longer want to climb the mountains that society and our culture places in front of us and tells us we should climb them. Mountains labeled with corporate ladders, social status, credentials, ever increasing wealth, and fame have less interest than they once did. I have climbed some of them, and I do not regret doing so. Regret is a bitter emotion that is never useful. We do what we do, but our lives do not need to remain static. We have agency to create the life we want, at least within the confines of the situations in which we find ourselves.
This has been rambling post for me. So be it. Part of the reason for writing this may be indulgent and cathartic. Laying my insides bare is perhaps liberating of the self in some way. I know I often try to share my thoughts in the hope they benefit others in some meaningful way.
Regardless, this is where I am at right now. Of course, I could change yet again. I probably will. That is the nature of being human, or at least it should be because change is the only constant on both a micro and macro level.
Yet again, I feel the need to repeat my favorite quote of all time from the remarkable Dr. Seuss, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” Such wise advice.
I hope you follow whatever path leads you to happiness and peace. Life is ultimately experienced in the blink of an eye. We must all make the best of the time we have.