Lately, folks around me have either been dying, dropping out or retiring. Yes, I know almost everyone living looks in a mirror and sees the young person they were or indeed they are. For the moment. After a day of throwing boxes in retail, my knees tell me what my mirror won’t: You don’t have that much time. And that goes for all of us.
I have seen some ridiculous things this year. Folks who got the boot who not only showed up for work, but who also stayed after the lights went out in the office. And other folks, who by merely being in the right place at the right time, caught the big fish. There is no pattern of reason – sometimes it just gets down to luck. But in the time department – time, the great leveler – luck has no chance. Whether it is a big-face watch that costs $5,000 or a $50 Timex, the clock, she keeps on ticking.
Let’s say you are in your early 30’s. You have a good job or a position in a company somewhere that allows you to think you’re in a good place. Let’s talk about the wine business, and let’s drill down to the Italian wine business. You travel, stay in places like New York, Hong Kong, Helsinki, Berlin. It all seems so important, balancing the travel and the business with the stuff you have at home. Maybe you live in the Tuscan countryside by the winery. Maybe you live near Alba. Maybe Palermo. And when you are out “in the world” you are making a difference, moving Italian wine forward. Maybe you allow yourself the indulgence to feel powerful, important. You are a game changer, a force of nature. You are young, with all of life handed to you on an enormous buffet plate. It’s all there; all you have to do is show up, wearing the nice clothes, whether it’s the snazzy suit or the shabby but chic jeans. You’re Italian, and Italians are known for this kind of thing. You come from a great country with a great heritage and a history and a mission and a purpose, and you are in the stream and you are fishing for your fortune and fame and you catch a fish every now and then, and life feels just bloody wonderful. Yes?
You might have passed 40. Maybe you have gotten married and had a family. Maybe you are juggling all you had with this new course. Maybe you didn’t have time to get married. Regardless, life keeps flowing. Moving you forward. Or so it seems.
Have you looked at a newly born baby lately? Their little eyes, shut. They spend nine months safely swaddled in serenity. All they hear is the murmurs and the shuffles of the life express outside their berth. And then the moment comes, all hell breaks loose inside, and it’s time to go outside for the rest of their life. And swoosh, just like that, there they are. It all seems so odd, we being hatched like that. Oh, don’t get me wrong; it is one of the most amazing moments I have ever witnessed. But still, a little unusual, considering.
Considering that, as little as 20-30 years later, that little person might be shuffling along the street somewhere trying to sell Chianti or Prosecco. I don’t know, maybe it just feels odd to me, looking at it from the perspective in time I have.
A young blogger scolded me the other day. Seems in my zeal to illustrate a pattern and a progression, it came off as a “lecture.” Meg Houston Maker wrote a wonderful piece on her site, called Advice to Young Professionals. She is talking to the journalism crowd (what some young bloggers like to think they are). One of her points: Don’t assume you already know everything you need to be successful. Worth a read, whether you are 25 or 65. If you don’t believe me, read someone younger, like Meg. Or wait for the baseball bat in the face as you round that corner of confidence you thought you had nailed. Life is like that. Relentlessly waiting to toss a pie in your face.
Yeah I know, it sounds like I’m all maudlin and stuff. I just threw 100 cases and then ran 3 miles. And it’s the holiday season. I might be a bit fatigued.
What I realized last night, in the dark, with a sliver of moon overhead to light the way, is that if you are fortunate with health you have 20, 25 years max to run it hard. And then, you have to get out of the way. But before you do that, you give it all you have, don’t expect much in return (remember the “luck” factor), and hope you make it to a place where the rest of the ride still means something.
What you might want to avoid is being the chap who had all the luck, did all the wrong things, except one, and got the big reward at the end, at 65. Only to die three years later, depressed, sad, alone, without a purpose. Thinking it had been because he was such a brilliant force. When all it was, really, was dumb luck.