Revisiting the past is, depending on who you are, either an interesting, illuminating exercise in self assessment, or a painful, negative exercise in self loathing. I’m lucky to be one of the former, and seeing as I am also a person who likes to talk, and stay in touch with friends, researching this article has been a lot of fun.
I came across the name Juliette in my phones contacts. Now Juliette was a girl I went to university (college) with when I was 25 years old. She was a bit younger, studying journalism and law – go figure right? – while I was doing journalism. I remember her as an attractive, down to earth, funny and fun girl to be around. The last time I saw her was in a seedy Irish pub in Sydney’s Central Business District. We had a few drinks, a few laughs, and I never saw or spoke to her again. Yet her number was still in my phone nine years later.
Now a bit has happened in the ensuing nine years, and I thought, ‘I’d love to speak to her again.’ So I called her.
In fact, I decided to call a bunch of old friends. Several that I became friends with while I was a member of Veg Out, a communal garden in Melbourne, where my wife and I lived for three years between 2009 and 2012. A couple of recruiters I became friends with through work down there, an an old school friend I haven’t seen in 15 years.
It was a great exercise. Reconnecting with old friends, people I really liked no less, was good fun in and of itself, though I decided to ask them two questions.
1) What have you learned since I last saw you?
2) What did you honestly think of me when you knew me?
The answers were surprising, educating and somewhat enlightening. This is what you can learn from your past if you dare to look into it:
1) People think more highly of you than you think they will.
b. Almost universally, everyone I asked, (keep in mind I liked these people, still do in fact so there was bound to be a bit of a positive bias as they liked me too) said I was a genuine, down to earth guy who was honest to the point of being disarming. I was loose “but we all were back then” said three or four of the blokes that I spoke with.
2) Humility is important – a guy I became friends with through my work in recruitment, Jim, said this. He is a confident, good-looking, intelligent bloke who has the gift of the gab. He always had a good yarn to tell about his motor biking, hunting or exploits in the business world. But he was overly confident. He was a bit schmaltzy. He started his own business, and soon learned – the hard way I assume – that people would prefer much more to do business with you when you are genuinely being just you, rather than trying to be someone you’re not.
3) Be patient. Work isn’t everything – a mate from Veg Out, Bill, said that he has had to learn, since having a child, that you need to leave your work behind you when you clock off. You need to be with your family, really BE with them when you’re at home. Not worrying about the next deal, lying awake at nigh expending energy on stuff that could wait until you get back in the office. Bill is one of the mot laid back blokes you’ll ever meet. If he were any more laid back he’d be asleep. Funny, smart, and chilled.
4) People are full of shit, and stupid– my old school mate, Joel, is a builder. A really lovely bloke, a big man whose gentle nature belies his powerful frame, and whose character is just as sound as can be. He said that he’s found that what people say they will do and what they actually deliver are often worlds apart.
Anna, another recruiter from Melbourne, a gorgeous woman who had set up and run a few of her own businesses, also found this. She thinks that one of the most important skills she has learned to harness is the ability to see whether someone’s words match their actions. If what someone says doesn’t gel with their behaviour, then they need to be watched carefully. You need to maintain an amount of cynicism and wariness toward them, and you need to embrace those who are genuine and appear to be really committed to doing what they say.
If she had been cognisant of this sooner, she would have been able to see con men for what they really are. Not necessarily people who are consciously trying to con you, but those who believe their own bullshit so much that they lie and cheat without even trying.
5) Life is about choices. The way you react to situations is a choice. If you make the right choices, and decide to act in a way that creates peace and harmony, then your life can be stress free. (Anna)
6) Everybody in life is loveable. So it really comes down to how ‘liveable’ they are. You can find redeeming qualities in almost anyone. Whether you enter a work, romantic or friendly relationship with them comes down to how much you can live with their idiosyncrasies, faults and eccentricities. (Anna)
7) No matter how many times your heart breaks, you can always dust yourself off, get up and find love again. (Anna)
8) Our children are our greatest teachers – “My son is the greatest gift I have been given, and I’ll keep learning from him until the day I die.” That’s Anna again.
She is this beautiful, smart, successful businesswoman and yet she is just so down to earth, grounded and just awesome. It was so much fun reconnecting with her.
9) Money means nothing – this is Joel the builder again. He has realised that maintaining your friendships is absolutely the most important thing you need to do in life. He lives a long way away from home, his schoolmates and his family. And staying in touch with those he cares for is crucial to his happiness.
And then, of course, there is the beautiful Juliette O’Brien, who took the longest to get back to me, had to think and write hard about it, and did an exceptional job, as I should have known.
11) A shitload
12) Don’t let go of your idealism or big ideas. If you think letting go of that stuff is part of getting older, then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
13. Variety is the secret to life. You need to have more in your life than your job and TV. I now have two part-time jobs and a bunch of my own projects and love it.
14. Andrew Solomon was right (insert link here). The opposite of depression is not happiness; it is vitality. When the chips are down, focus on the simple pleasures and allow yourself time and space to heal and build yourself back up. It took me two years to rebuild myself after my dad died when I was 25, and two years again after my brother died in 2011. You just need to wake up each morning, appreciate the earth, get to sunset, go to bed and do it all again. Put another day between yourself and ‘the event’. Eventually, something shifts. The fog lifts.
15. Always think compassionately and be accepting of people’s flaws, especially when it comes to your loved ones. Don’t try to change someone. Accept them for who they are and love them even more for it. I should have done this more for my older brother before he died.
16. I’ve worked in a lot of workplaces and it seems at every one I go to, people are complaining about the same things. The world is full of squeaky wheels. Try not to be one of them. If something’s wrong, rather than bitching, try and fix it.
17. Family and relationships come first. Always.