When I was younger I had this toy called a 'Zap It,' which was basically a squirt gun that resembled a real life Uzi that shot disappearing ink. The commercial for it showed kids popping out of trash cans (as we did back then) and sneaking up on adults to spray their nice shirts and make them mad, only to have the offending stain fade away minutes later. I remember having this thing and thinking how awesome it was going to be to trick my parents and their friends with, but I had to wait for the right moment to use it effectively. I waited and waited, never wanting to use it frivolously and deplete my precious supply of ammunition. That perfect moment? It never arrived, and I think either my mom or I threw the thing away because it never got used. I had spent more time imagining the moments, rather than actually living in them and enjoying myself.
As I continued to get older, this habit of waiting for the perfect time crept into other aspects of my life. I had plenty of time to try my hand at writing, to become a father, or pursue my dream project: developing dolphin sign language so I could tell them how awesome Star Wars was (I was 7 when this idea was conceived, so cut me some slack). I used this excuse not only to avoid trying but to avoid failing as well. Failure was, and still is, terrifying and embarrassing to me. What if I suck at writing and no one reads my stuff? What if I am a terrible parent and my child ends up hating me? What if dolphins didn't give a shit about who Luke Skywalker is and just want me to shut up and make with the fish treats already?
Today I turn 40, and I'm torn between appreciating all the good things that have happened in my life and dwelling on everything I haven't accomplished yet. I've lived in Japan and taught English as a second language, without having any prior experience. I've defied a classmate, who told me in high school that I'd never leave my home state, and spent the last 10 years living in New York City. I have a wonderful wife, a wonderful child (most of the time, anyway), and a stable job that's allowed us to live a good life. I'm very fortunate to have all that, yet my mind can't help but focus on the negatives: Why haven't I found my calling in life? Why can't I be a better husband, father, and friend? Why can't I figure out how to solve a Rubik's cube on my own?
When I was younger, being 40 years old seemed like such an adult thing to me. In my naive eyes, people at that age appeared to have their shit together. They had houses, cars, families, careers, a path in life; and I always felt like I should have those things by that age, too. Little did I know that those same people, who looked as though they had perfect lives, were most likely dealing with their own issues. Maybe they weren't happy with the path they'd chosen, they weren't satisfied with their job, or they worried how they'd get the bills paid. Or, maybe, they were questioning their own lives and they wondered why they didn't have their shit together by then, too.
Turning 40 is making me take inventory of the things I want more of in my life: to travel, to work on becoming a better writer, to spend more time with the people I value the most and to let them know how important they are to me. I want to be a better person, to take myself less seriously, to value myself more, and to stop worrying about what others think (never going to happen). I want to read more, watch more, play more, and do more. Last, but not least, I want to replicate myself like Michael Keaton in 'Multiplicity' so I can do all these things in one lifetime.
I can daydream and plan out all of the things I want to do in the next phase of my life, yet I still have to remember to live in the moment, too. Nothing has taught me to work on this more than becoming a parent. I've tried my best to ease up on all the things I needed to accomplish on my own schedule and let myself enjoy the chaotic fun that my child can bring. Of course, it hasn't been easy. I can honestly say that I've had my share of breakdowns when the subject of picking out and putting on pants has come up for the 20th time before going to school. Those were moments that I absolutely didn't want to live in and wished to all that is holy that Ron Popeil would stop his procrastinating and just invent spray on pants already.
But then I think about the times I've stopped to just play with Olivia, to put her on my shoulders and carry her so she can be taller, to be silly together, and to laugh about it all. If I can't stop and take the time to enjoy those moments with her, how can I do the same with anything else in my life? And so today, on the 40th anniversary of my birth, I pledge to take more chances, push myself to do more of the things I put off until tomorrow, and to live in the moment. And when the moment comes when Olivia pops out of a trash can and sprays my work shirt with disappearing ink, I will laugh, have fun playing with her, and remind her to enjoy living in the moment as well . . . but maybe after I freak out for a second about how she seemingly ruined a perfectly good work shirt.