Thursday, June 24, 2010

Reconnecting With My Past

My 30th High School Reunion is August 14, 2010 at the Point Vicente Lighthouse in Palos Verdes, CA. I've not attended previous reunions and my schedule will likely not permit me to attend this one. I've not stayed in regular contact with anyone from my high school class, but I've exchanged a few emails via Facebook with my 1976-1980 friends.

Now that we're all approaching 50, we're curious about each other. What have we become, where have we been, where are we going?

This week I've had the opportunity to meet with 2 people I had not seen in 30 years.

In many of my blogs, I share lessons learned from my experience. What can I share about exploring my youth by meeting with friends from 30 years ago?

1. Our memories for the past are selective and we tend to suppress anything unpleasant. When I was 18, I was indefatigable, my health was perfect, my responsibilities were few and my only anxieties included SATs scores, my GPA, and college applications. In retrospect, it seems an idyllic time, but was it? I've forgotten the adolescent angst of feeling rejected by the mainstream for being socially awkward. I've forgotten the uncertainty of not knowing what the future would bring. Trying to recapture the glories of the past is truly a quixotic task. Do I want to replay my high school years? Definitely not. I prefer living in present, savoring my family, worklife, and current dreams for the future.

2. Evaluating success is a subjective process. To me success is defined by the difference you make, not your bank account balance, the size of your house, the hot tub in your Learjet or your annual lifestyle burn rate. You can make a difference for a spouse, a child, a workplace or an industry. Only you can decide if you are satisfied with your life.

3. Asking "What if" questions is not useful. In my past I've made many choices - call them forks in the road. I was admitted to Yale, Brown, MIT, Johns Hopkins, Stanford, and UC Berkeley. I was rejected from Harvard. I chose to go to Stanford. I met my wife there. My daughter was born as a result. My early exposure to the computer industry, to entrepreneurship and leadership were a direct result of being in Silicon Valley from 1980-1984. In 1983, I turned down a leadership job at Microsoft (present value of stock options could be $100+ million). In 1983, I patented e-greeting cards and early multimedia technologies but the patents have not been enforced. I was admitted to several medical schools (but rejected from Harvard) and went to UCSF. I made a decision to pursue bioengineering and information technology even though I was advised in 1985 that these fields would not go anywhere. I could have chosen many other paths - I might be richer, I might be poorer, I might be famous, I might be unknown. It does not matter and there is no value in looking back.

4. You are as old as you think you are. I try to maintain a healthy lifestyle - vegan, caffeine-free, ensuring daily exercise, reserving time outdoors for mental health recovery, and limiting alcohol to a glass or two of wine per week. Rather than focus on the endurance I've lost or the increased recovery time I experience after strenuous workouts, I focus on how much better I feel than when I was a super-sized fast food, 2 latte a day, sedentary, overstressed person in my 30's. By thinking about wellness, I feel as good as I have ever felt. I look forward to increasing activities as my free time expands post retirement (whenever that might be) including walking the Appalachian Trail, trekking in Nepal, and exploring new activities that I've never had to time to investigate. Each of us measures our mental age differently. I think of 50 as the beginning of another stage of life, not a milestone of age.

5. The journey is more important than the destination. In my life, I've been a hobby shop clerk, a programmer, a manager, a leader, a doctor, a winemaker, a musician, a naturalist, a handyman, a father and a husband. Who knows what awaits. I treasure each of my experiences, and do not think of any of them as an endpoint. Along the way I've had some unusual experiences, great joys, and occasional sorrows. What defines me is not where I am today, but how I got here. Job titles, belongings, and the issues of the moment are ephemeral. A lifetime of experiences, relationships, and emotions define each individual.

It was great seeing old friends and thinking about our lives 30 years ago, but I'm happy to be who I am today, a result of all the good and bad decisions I've made.

Now forward, ever forward, to the next 30 years!
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