When I first moved to California from Minnesota, I trained at a judo club that had a lot of current and former members of the U.S. national team. I’d only been in Minneapolis a couple of years, to get an MBA and at my first job, so there was one person from Minnesota I had heard about but never met. He’d left the state shortly before I arrived. When we ended up at the same club in Los Angeles, I asked him, since I had even less of a filter then than I do now:
“Hey, Steve, what’s the deal? Everyone tells me you’re an asshole but you seem all right to me.”
“I used to be. When I made the Olympic team. I thought I was better than everybody. Then, the U.S. boycotted the Olympics and we didn’t go. The next Olympics, I came in second in the trials. I was the alternate. I realized that I had made the Olympics for judo, not for life.”
There is no “right life”
At the end of the movie, Pleasantville, when his mother says, she had the right car, right house, right life and it’s not supposed to be like this, the character says,
Over a long and varied life, I have met a lot of people – billionaires and bar owners, doctors and dog groomers, people who are elite athletes and people who are paraplegic. Randomly, I’ve known three people who own funeral homes and that has to be disproportionate to their percentage of the population.
It’s a lot easier to predict failure than success
There are some predictors of having an unhappy life – being addicted to alcohol or drugs, abusing your spouse or children and being too poor to pay for basic necessities like food or a place to live. Beyond that, though, there doesn’t seem to be any recipe for happiness.
Personally, I worried about money when I was concerned whether I’d have enough to make it to the end of the month and now I worry whether I will have enough to make it to the end of my life if I retire next year. Friends who have way less than me worry less than I do and others stress if their checking account dips below $50,000. When I was young, I could not imagine being happy if I couldn’t compete in judo. With all the knee operations I had, I knew that day was coming and I dreaded it because, before I had my children, winning was the most important thing in my whole life. Now, I think there is a medal from the British Open being used as a coaster, my world championships trophy is in the closet and I have no idea what happened to everything else I won.
Happiness is more than money or medals. It’s being satisfied with your location, your love life and your social life. You could not pay me enough to move back to North Dakota or Minnesota. The people are nice but the weather is fucking cold and if you think I’m swearing unnecessarily, then you have never lived through a Great Plains winter. Yet, a woman I met who lives just south of the Arctic Circle and east of nowhere told me she could never imagine living in Los Angeles because she couldn’t live without horses.
My point, and I do have one …
We waste too much time worrying as if there IS an Olympic team of life and we haven’t made it. Whether it is your neighbors, parents or your great-aunt Martha who convinced you that you failed if you got a divorce, lived in an apartment, got fifth at the Olympics, didn’t become a millionaire – take a step back and ask yourself if you are really unhappy with your life. Do you like where you live? Do you love your family? Is your daily life – whether working, retired or partying down – something you enjoy doing?
Then, you win.