We have all heard the saying that goes something like this: “If I had known then what I know now.” I take that to mean that blessed in youth with the wisdom and knowledge that come only with experience, we would not have made the mistakes we made.
Truth be told, I can think of no serious regrets that I will take to my grave. I went to the right college, married the right woman, adopted the right daughter. But I have learned some lessons later in life than I wish I had learned as a much younger man.
Most important, I would have learned long ago not to anger. Until a few years ago, I would have had choice words and gestures for the driver who pulled out in front of me on U.S. 301, the route I take to and from work to home. Not anymore, because it occurred to me a while back that anger, unlike some other emotions, has no physical or mental health benefits. No one has ever lived a day longer because he got angry. Besides, unless the driver hits me or I hit him, it’s no harm, no foul. And it’s not like I can change the fact that he pulled out in front of me, so why bring my blood to a boil?
Second, I have learned not to sweat the small stuff, and it turns out most stuff is small. Car needs costly repairs? Ten years ago, I would have cursed my bad luck. Today, I hand the repair shop my credit card and have faith that I will be able to repay that debt with time. Because it is true that no matter what annoyances arise today, the sun will come up tomorrow. And I suspect that will be the case for another 5 billion years or so.
Finally, because I still get angry sometimes and still fret, I have learned to watch my words. Which is to say that I could berate the person in Bangalore who tried but failed to fix my computer problem, or I could say, “Thanks for trying. Have a nice day.” As I like to tell my daughter, no one ever lifted himself up by beating someone else down.
I try to be especially careful about how I speak to the people who matter most to me, because one day they might not be there, and I’d hate for the last words I said to a family member or friend to be unkind, or hateful or mean.
I can’t change the fact that I didn’t learn then what I know now, but I’m trying to convey what I’ve learned to my daughter. Like any 21-year-old college student, she can fret about this, get mad about that and maybe have choice words in the process. I know from experience that none of that is helpful.
Life’s too short as it is, so the sooner we learn to let go of our anger, reduce our stress and speak kindly to others, the more we’ll enjoy what time we have on this earth. I am now certain of that.