May 21, 2012

On Turning 50

On Wednesday I turn 50.

Ive been a son for 50 years, a husband for 28 years, and a father for 19 years.

I've been a doctor for 20 years, a CIO for 15 years, and a blogger for 5 years.

What have I learned in all my roles over the half a century I've been on the planet?

 I've started to understand what really matters.

Is it fame or fortune?  No, although it is important to have an income that matches your lifestyle burn rate in a sustainable way.

Is it your work life and the trajectory of your career?  No, but it is important to spend your day doing something that is intellectually challenging and offers you the potential for personal growth.

Is it the awards and accolades you accumulate through strength of will and persistence against adversity?  No, but it is important to feel recognized for your successes.

In my multiple roles living, working, and playing over 50 years, I've spent time with  Presidents, Nobel Laureates, and tycoons.   Some have risen and some have fallen.  I've watched my mentors in life triumph and I've watched them fail.

So after 50 years what really matters?

I've said that the difference between an expert and novice is not the detail they notice, but what they choose to ignore.   For example, when I do a toxicology consult, I focus less on the exact subspecies of mushroom the patient has ingested, and more on ensuring it is not one of the few that kill humans.  

I ignore the day to day frustrations, bureaucratic hassles, and conflicts in my work life.  People leave, projects end, and no one remembers the details of last year's urgencies.

What really matters is happiness at home.

Jobs may change but family is forever.    The life events surrounding your parents, your spouse, and your children are the palette that color the stages of life.

If your relationships with those who are important to you are positive and supportive, you will feel a sense of optimism and life energy that empowers all the other aspects of your life.

You'll be able to share all your life joys, be supported through your sorrows, and look forward to the sanctuary that is your home life.

When my mentors have stumbled in the workplace, they've generally been forgiven.   However, when they've had challenges in their home lives (affairs, violence, or public conflict), they've been judged harshly.

As I've approached 50, I've worked hard to build a haven at home.   I married the first person I dated in college and we've created homes together since 1980.   Our relationship has always been based on loyalty.  I call my parents every week and we have an open loving relationship.   My 19 year daughter still believes her parents are reasonable people.   Tonight and for much of the summer, our household will be multi-generational since my daughter will be home from college, and my father in law recently moved in with us.   My wife is cancer free and our new farm is bursting with healthy young animals, fresh hay in our meadow, and the spring vegetables we planted.

Yes, I will be engaged and passionate in my work life as I begin my 50th year, but my reputation, integrity, and sense of equanimity derive from my happiness at home.  

Happy Birthday to my colleagues Micky Tripathi and Meg Aranow - all three of us were born on the same day and we share the very similar values of what matters and what does not as we age another year.

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