As I turn 53 today I’ve been thinking about the life lessons I still haven’t learned.

Row of Herbies

Chief among them is that I will always have shortcomings. During my 40s I put a lot of effort and energy into working through shortcomings. I believed, deep down, that I was unacceptable because of the ways in which I failed or fell short. I felt real shame over a few of those shortcomings. I wanted to identify and eliminate them all.

I’d like to get over that in my 54th year. That’s not to say I won’t keep working to be a better man. I just want to to accept that I’ll always be a work in progress, and that I may never be able to change certain things about me that I wish were different or better.

I want to be a better man because I want to have a better life, one less characterized by stress, disappointment, and sadness; one more characterized by peace and joy. I want to not be a jerk or an ass in the world, even unintentionally, even when I feel justified. I want to be more effective in the things I do and in my interactions with others. I want to build people and institutions up, not damage them.

It might surprise you to learn that I’m largely driven by anger. I see things that are wrong and it pisses me off. I want to correct or control them. I want to fix what’s broken and shape what’s wrong for right. I want justice. It’s my basic nature.

My photography and my writing counterbalance the anger. Photography is a wonderful distraction where I can lose myself in pleasure. Writing helps me discover what I think so I can make peace.

I still haven’t learned what to do when I feel angry. I’ve spent my life trying to not yell and punish in anger like Dad often did. He always played it down by saying he only raised his voice, but his raised voice always frightened me so. I don’t want to pollute my world like that.

That’s led me to internalize angry feelings. Sometimes I can process them and let them go. Once in a while they leak out in passive-aggressive ways. Mostly I get stuck in them. They keep me awake at night. They lead to pervasive feelings of disappointment. Unchecked, that disappointment leads to depression.

This year I’d like to work on dealing with anger more in the moment. First, I’d like to analyze quickly whether I can act on the thing that has activated my anger. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

For the things I can’t do anything about, I want to work on acceptance — radical acceptance, if need be — and set boundaries that let me protect and care for myself.

For the things I can do something about, I’m still afraid of losing my cool like my dad used to. That will remain unacceptable to me. But if I can just stay steady in that moment, and speak swiftly, I think I can speak my mind and discharge the anger without leaving others feeling burned. Take a quick breath, find as even a tone of voice as I can, and say what’s bothering me. Stay steady, speak swiftly. Maybe that will sometimes change things. But if it doesn’t, at least the anger should reduce and be less likely to linger.

I think this starts with me accepting my basic angry nature. After 53 years it’s still here, which is strong evidence that it’s not likely to go away. This is who I am. I don’t have to like it, but the path to peace and sanity is to accept it.

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51 thoughts on “53

  1. I suspect that very few have worked as hard at identifying undesirable traits and trying to do something about them as you have. Most of us spend our lives trying to run and hide from them.

    Happy birthday, and remember that you are fearfully, wonderfully made.

  2. Mike P says:

    It takes immeasurable courage to lay one’s issues out, for all the world to see. I admire that. Like they say in AA, the first step is recognizing that you have a problem. And understanding that you’ve got to do something about it before you hurt and push away those who love you. Happy Birthday to you Sir, here’s wishing you many more.

  3. Shirley B. says:

    Happy birthday!

    The very fact that you are aware of being a work in progress makes for a good starting point. As is voicing what you’d like to achieve.

    It is always good to set a goal and work towards that. Even is the road ahead is unclear and uneven. Yes you’ll probably stumble a couple of times, but that’s all part of the process.

    And when you stumble, you may be able to prevent yourself falling. Should you fall, take a breath, get up and start again.

    If you keep your eyes on your goal: you’ll get there. Good luck!

  4. Happy Birthday! If I remember correctly, “Work In Progress” shows up on many a balance sheet with a surprisingly high value, so don’t undervalue that status …

  5. Happy DNS port birthday! For the coming year, you can blame DNS for of your problems.

    And thank you for sharing your humanity so publicly. It’s an inspiration.

    • It’s funny, Ben. I do write pretty transparently here. There are things I simply won’t write about, but many things I will. And I guess this is public; anybody can find it. But it’s remarkable how in the 13+ years I’ve been doing this, how seldom anybody I know *has* found it. There’s one guy where I work, a fellow I worked with at another company 10 years ago as well, who’s read the blog all along. That’s … it.

  6. Andy Umbo says:

    Happy Birthday, and for some reason, this entry brings this to mind:

    I was in Kerouac Jacks in Chicago, sometime in the 90’s (it didn’t last long), and after a few drinks I went to the bathroom. I was in a stall (the bathroom actually had an audio loop running of Jack K reciting his stuff over a jazz soundtrack) and noticed that someone had scratched this very long paragraph about love and loss, lamenting a woman he was no longer with, and the thing went on for ages; with, if I can remember correctly, sentences saying that “… their relationship was like speeding a snowmobile over a frozen lake right towards an opening in the ice…:. etc. etc. At the end of it, someone in a different had had scratched:

    “Hey pal, lighten up!”

  7. -N- says:

    Happy Birthday! Enjoy the day – it celebrates YOU in all your glory, pain, faults and virtues. Being alive is a treat and a treasure, as well as a terror. I think you are just fine the way you are and admire your desire to improve who you are. Being conscious of the self and the impact it has on you and others takes courage. As you can see, your fans like you, and being on the inside looking out makes us forget that view. Enjoy and celebrate!

  8. Happy birthday! And if I may leave a word in support of Jim Grey: However you might feel about your own shortcomings, you’ve always seemed like one of the sanest and most even-tempered people I know. We occasionally disagree, but that’s because we’re different people with different attitudes and life experiences. I’m confident that whatever the issue or situation, you will approach it reasonably and with good faith. If we could just bottle that quality and distribute it, the world would be a better place.

  9. DougD says:

    Happy Birthday Jim, once again I am 3 months ahead of you and I can report that 53 is pretty good despite challenges and circumstances.

    I will hoist a wee dram of DoubleWood tonight in your honour.

  10. Bob says:

    Happy Birthday Jim!!!
    Don’t worry too much about shortcomings no one is perfect. You just need to work on being better realizing that you will never be perfect.

    • That’s more or less what I’ve come to. I wasn’t as much trying to reach perfection as I was trying to rid myself of some shortcomings that caused my life to not be all I wanted it to be. But still, after this many years I yam what I yam, to quote Popeye.

  11. As you get older you have to accept your shortcomings. They increase too, so you’d better get good at it. The physical affects the mental and vice-versa. With luck neither will become an extreme situation. Soon you learn you can’t solve every problem. If you don’t learn it’s you who suffers, on top of whatever is wrong that you can’t correct. Let the kids grow up and learn from their mistakes. Let the world go by and cope with its own. This isn’t being selfish; it’s being practical.
    And some things actually get easier with the years. Even society forgives some of our eccentricities if we can pass them off as age-related instead of just being weird.

    • This is great insight and wonderful advice. Thank you for sharing it. I know about myself already that physical challenges make me VERY VERY CRABBY and so I’d better get on with learning to manage that as I age!

  12. Happy Birthday, my friend. I hope you had a wonderful day and love the message of this post. I wouldn’t have guessed that anger plays such a role in your life. That certainly isn’t a prevalent theme in your storytelling. 🎂

  13. Happy Birthday Jim! I’m not that far off from you and that scares me a little because just like yesterday I was seventeen man! Wishing you all the best my friend, thanks for this deeply inflective post!

    • I barely remember 17, but I remember 25 like it was yesterday. I wouldn’t go back. I miss looking like I was 25, but I am SO much wiser now.

      • I understand what you mean Jim! I’ve often told people I can do many things so much better now with age and experience. When I was half my age I was awkward with a capital A! Cheers!!

  14. Happy Birthday Jim! And thanks for the annual reminder that I’m still 9 months older than you.

    I have to say, you come across in your writing as the least angry person I can imagine. But if you want to make an issue of it, I’ll see you outside in the parking lot….

    • I’ve never been a fighter! I just stew silently. Writing stuff out is one of the ways I process my feelings and thoughts so I can move forward placidly.

  15. I haven’t met you personally, but through your writings I have come to know you fairly well. In that respect I can’t see your anger at all, so it seems to work for you. Giving you time to work through your thoughts…or that is howbitnreads. Everyone has a trigger, everyone has something that causes rage. Knowing what is your trigger and how to balance it is so important. Sometimes, even that doesn’t stop it rising to the fore. Well done for being so honest with yourself.

    • Yes, one of the things this blog does is help me work through my thoughts and feelings. I need to talk/write things out to make sense of them. I wish I could just do it in my own head, but I can’t.

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