Finding true happiness 2015.06.24


It is finally official. I am the oldest man alive. Guinness is on their way to bring me my plaque. In both the Bronze and Iron Ages, I would already be at full life expectancy. My little girl has graduated kindergarten, I received a promotion at work and am now a manager, and I recently turned 26 years old. I know....I know, it's hard to believe someone could reach such an astounding age, but I have my birth certificate right here, I was born way back in the 1980s. 

I was born into a world of Walkmans and Video Home System cassettes. You know, those VHS tapes you can find in the "Free" basket at garage sales. Those were all the rage when I was a little guy. I've been around since a wall separated East and West Germany. I was less than four months old, but I'll always remember the day they tore down that wall. A great day in the history of the world. 

Then when I was a young man of seven months old, a new decade arrived, the 1990s. Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby" was a genuine hit song in my lifetime. George Bush, Sr., went out and Bill Clinton came into the presidency, and then I turned three years old. Not long after, O.J. Simpson ran from the police. The TV shows Friends and Seinfeld came and left, and that Clinton guy had a scandal involving a blue dress and a secretary. It's been a while so I don't remember all the details, but I'm sure you could Google it. 

Speaking of Google, I was around before that, too. In fact, I used dial-up internet. This is going to seem a little strange so I'll take it slow. There was a time before cell phones (gasp!). In that time people had telephones connected to wires in their homes. If you took away that wire, the phone no longer worked, but to access the internet you needed that phone wire hooked to your computer. That sounds crazy, right? Yeah, you got it, I was around even before Wi-Fi. 

Then, one Tuesday morning, at the start of seventh grade, a plane crashed into the North tower of the World Trade Center buildings. I was in Mrs. Duty's geography class. She turned on the television just as a second plane flew into the South tower. It was a strange and terrifying day, even as a 12-year-old. Around noon, my parents came and got me from school. The effects of that day in history are still noticeable in day-to-day American life across the country. It's hard to believe it happened more than half my life ago.

Nine months and eight days later my little sister, Tupeka, was born. She's now a seventh grader herself. Less than eight years after September 11th, I became a father myself. I graduated high school, went to college at Western Michigan University, and subsequently dropped out to work full time to take care of my family.

I became a certified photo specialist at Walgreen's, sold floor tile on commission at The Tile Shop, worked every position at Olga's Restaurant and eventually became a trainer, took on McDonald's as a second job overnights, worked in a couple factories including RevSpring in Wixom, Mich., and Wauseon Machine in Wauseon, Ohio. Then, in January of this year, I started at Rent-A-Center as a delivery driver, and I am now the assistant manager. 

Obviously, most of this column is in jest. I know that 26 is still a relatively young age. With that being said, I have picked up a few nuggets of wisdom that I wish I could tell my younger self to make all of those transitions smoother. This past weekend we attended my brother-in-law's graduation ceremony. Mine was only eight years ago, but all of the advice I was given at my graduation went in one ear and out the other. If any graduates happen to read this, my biggest advice to you is to slow down. 

Pursue all of your dreams with determination, perseverance, and ambition, but realize that the destination is ultimately the journey itself. There is no amount of wealth, fame or praise that will ever fully satisfy you.  If you ever find yourself pursuing one of those or any other goal, at the expense of your own sanity, think about why you want it in the first place. In the end, the answer will invariably be, "I would be happy if only ...… would happen." That logic is flawed. Happiness isn't found in money or notoriety or plaques on the wall. 

Happiness will be slightly different to everyone, but I have had windfalls of money, I've been given awards, and I've received plenty of praise. None of those stick out as especially happy moments in my life. I think of going on a picnic by the edge of the water when my daughter was first learning to walk. Last week, my son, daughter, and I laid on our backs in the grass and watched the clouds and laughed at imagining what they could be. Watching my beautiful wife walk down the aisle, and now the bond we share having been side-by-side through great and terrible times together—that is happiness to me, and that is my advice to you.

Don't live your life trying to find happiness where society says it is, because that’s full of other people’s personal agendas. Instead, pursue happiness where your heart says it is, and redefine what successful means to you.