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Darby Hinkley


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So, once you hit the big 4-0, you’re supposed to have life all figured out, right?

Let’s look back two decades ago and see what my plans were.

“Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years? Twenty years?”

I’ve never been good at answering those questions. I rarely know what I’m going to eat for dinner, let alone what on Earth I’ll be doing in 10 years.

But, when I was 21, I had it all planned out. Yessir! I was going to run marathons (for fun?), become a clinical psychologist, and write a novel. Yeah, the great American one, or whatever.

Obviously, I was going to be rich, skinny, and famous, and have no problems at all. Oh, and I’d have a doting husband and some high-achievement, naturally talented kids who made me proud every step of the way. You know, the made-up kind of kids who never talk back and never need to be told what to do more than once. The kind that never leave their socks on the coffee table.

No offense to hopes and dreams, but that didn’t pan out.

However, I’m much happier now that I realize change is a valuable part of life, and every single day is a learning opportunity.

I used to think, “Once I get this job …,” or, “Once I get this husband …,” or, “Once I get ALL my bills paid off …,” then I’d finally be happy.

Not a thing, people. Not a thing.

Happiness is not an achievement. It’s a state of mind. Contentment is a word I don’t use very often because I associate it with “settling” for less than you desire or deserve. So, I am searching for a word between happiness and contentment. That’s where I am, and I like it.

In my 20s, my mantra was a quote by runner and philosopher George Sheehan: “No matter what I have done, there is still more to do. No matter how well I’ve done it, it can still be done better.”

I called it the perfectionist’s creed. But I recall a past editor and friend telling me, “That sounds like a recipe for disappointment.”

He was right. I can’t be perfect. I’m going to screw up. Then screw up some more. Other people are going to mess up my plans. It’s OK to be hard on myself for five or 10 minutes as I digest the lesson I’m learning. Dwelling on it in a depressed stupor for five days is not OK. And I have anxiety and depression, but I also have a great support system, including a wonderful therapist, family and friends.

What really happened, instead of me running marathons, getting my Ph.D. in Psychology, and marrying a strong, sensitive stockbroker or whatever fantasy dude I had concocted in my overactive imagination, was this.

At 22, fresh off a successful four-year college cross country career, I ran my longest race, the 10-mile Crim in Flint, with my coach/dad/running partner. I had to tinkle dangerously close to the starting gun, and I couldn’t find an available toilet, so we were running up and down the street trying to find one I could get in and out of ASAP. Well, we did, but the gun went off when we were in the 12-minute mile group. Runners line up in large races like that one in waves, based on their expected mile pace. Our expected mile pace was under eight minutes.

Somehow, starting in the 12-minute group worked to our advantage, as I spent the entire race passing people, delighted mile by mile as I checked my watch, which was telling me I was somehow running at a seven-minute mile pace. That continued for the first nine miles. Then, with just under a half-mile to go, my right achilles snapped. I heard it. I felt it. I looked at my watch. I kept going. I was not going to let something this late in the game ruin my record time! So I winced and limped my way in, still managing to average a little over seven minutes per mile.

But, needless to say, I wouldn’t be running the Detroit Marathon that October, after that debilitating injury. The marathon was only two months away. I was done.

So, that sucked. But Dad encouraged me to keep running, so I did. For a while. But I never ran my marathon. He did. I will. I might be in the 12-minute-mile group by now, though!

Onto the next goal-crushing disappointment. Let’s go!

This one wasn’t that bad. I just made it through college to get my bachelor’s degree in communications when I realized, “I’m all schooled out, man.” I didn’t even minor in Spanish, because I’d have had to go to one semester of summer school to complete that distinction. So I know a lot of Spanish but I don’t have a paper saying I minored in it. Does that even matter?

So I went straight into journalism, instead of seeking a Ph.D.

I really just wanted to be called “Dr. Darby.” That’s it. Ego. I mean, I wanted to help people — and I still do — but I decided my skills would be better used in a writing format than me actually mustering up enough patience to listen to people’s problems on the daily. Mad props to therapists. I can’t be one.

Next comes the husband scenario. If you know me, you know I believe in second chances. The first one didn’t work out. I’m not going to go into great detail, because airing dirty laundry is gross. Just wash it, fold it, and put it in the Goodwill pile. Then pick up a new husband next time you’re out and about. I found mine at work, but he was my friend for a couple of years before I realized I had a thing for him. He may not be a stockbroker, but he’s my best friend, and our mantra comes from a Red Hot Chili Peppers song: “Somehow, we’ll make it, cuz that’s what we do.”

And we have the best kid ever. No, he’s not perfect. None of us are. He’s smart, musically talented, athletic, hilarious, intuitive, dare I say wise, and, holy geez, he’s getting tall! We couldn’t be prouder to call him our son.

As for the novel, I’m going to work on that this year. It’s not necessarily a resolution, because those are bunk, but I’m setting aside one hour each day to write, not for work. Write for myself, and see if I come up with anything worth sharing.

At 41-and-a-half, I’m still figuring out life, and I’m having fun doing it. If you ask me where I see myself in 10 or 20 years, I will proudly proclaim, “I HAVE NO IDEA, AND I LOVE IT!”

All I know is I’ll be 10 or 20 years wiser than I am today, and that sounds pretty good to me.

Darby Hinkley can be found screwing up and learning what not to do the next time, at home and abroad. If you would like to tell her off, please do so by calling 989-358-5691 or emailing dhinkley@thealpenanews.com.

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