The Perfect Life

I don’t know if it’s because I’m wading into the deep end of my mid-life crisis or if it’s simple escapism, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about when my life seemed perfect. When precisely was this this? It was soon after working through the issues of my recent divorce. I was in my 30’s and making a comfortable living which afforded me a trendy downtown loft and a hot car, the kind the valets like to park out front for others to see.

Physically fit, I weighed 25 pounds less than I do now, and had a closet full of designer suits that made me feel sharp as I walked out the door each morning. Professionally, I was at the top of my game, and I knew it which gave me a supreme confidence and healthy sort of cockiness that fueled my continued success.

At the same time I had a solid group of friends and an active social calendar. There were trips to places like Vegas and Tahoe where we stayed in high-roller suites and partied with celebrities.  That calendar also included dates with a number of attractive young women—one competed in state beauty pageants, another just missed the final cut for joining the Pussy Cat Dolls.

As one of my co-workers put it, my life appeared “Clooney-esque.”

Lest you picture me as some sort of douche (I know I kinda sound that way), keep in mind I also attended church regularly, painted, and spent as much quality time with my sons as possible. My sons and I, in fact, shared some of our happiest memories during that time, and even after their mother moved away, we still talked to each other on the phone every night until I eventually moved to nearby Chicago. So, at the very least, I wasn’t a total douche. I’m merely trying to build context here, so don’t judge me too harshly yet.

In short, this was exactly the kind of life I wanted. When I was a teenager I recall drawing a picture of myself in which I had long curly hair (it was the 80’s) and wore fancy did while leaning against the hood of a Lamborghini (like I said, the 80’s) with an attractive woman in the passenger seat. I literally could visualize how I planned to live one day, but once I achieved it a reoccurring thought ran through my head each morning as I zoomed away from Starbucks with my Venti hazelnut latte: This wouldn’t last forever. Deep inside I knew change was inevitable, yet at the time, though, I couldn’t exactly conceive how.

But it did, and seven years later I now live in a rundown rental house, drive an uninspiring minivan, own no more suits because I gave them all away to a thrift store which is okay because I don’t have a regular job either. And that’s not to mention my waning confidence and ensuing struggles to manage my depression.

By the standards I had set for myself as a teen, life isn’t quite so perfect anymore, something I’m reminded each afternoon I open the mailbox and find another looming bill waiting for me. Even though I couldn’t have predicted the circumstances, things did change for me, and in dramatic fashion.

It’s funny then that, with all this going through my head, my 11 year-old son would ask me what my idea of a perfect day would be. He sat there expectantly, kicking the front of the kitchen bar with his swinging legs. The question made me pause as I was about to load a sauce pan into the dishwasher.

What would be the perfect day?

I had to think about this for a moment. I recalled all the things I once used to do, but they felt off. Even if I did have the means to take a trip with friends or shop for a new suit, the idea seemed out of place and unfulfilling.

“I guess the perfect day for me would be doing something as a family, where we all got along, and we have lots of fun,” I finally answered.

My son’s face lit up. “You mean like the Johnny Appleseed Festival last week? We did something as a family. No one was fighting, and we had lots of fun.”

I shook my head and smiled to myself. “Yeah. Yeah, I guess that was a perfect day.”

What my son didn’t realize was that he had reminded me of a simple truth: A perfect life can only be interpreted within the context of what stage of life you are in now, not the place you used to be or even want to be. It's that whole living in the moment thing. 

If I tried to live the life I once did in my 30’s I wouldn’t be as happy as I might believe. I’m different now (and old), and as I take stock of things so too is my definition of “perfect.” I have a loving wife who supports what I want to do in life. I have five amazing children. I’ve published a book (another dream of mine from those teen years), and, crazy as this sounds, I have a moderately successful blog that has opened up opportunities for me and my family that we might not otherwise have had the chance to enjoy.

Yes there are hardships to overcome, but there were hardships when I thought my life was perfect in my 20’s as a soldier, just as there were in my 30’s when I was a swinging bachelor. It’s easy to dismiss this fact when present hardships are staring you right in the face, but it’s foolish to deny they ever existed.

The ironic part to all of this is that when I’d frequent the clubs during my “perfect” 30’s, I would often see guys in their 40’s out dancing and hitting on girls, and my first thought was always, “How sad is their life. I sure hope I don’t end up like that.” Thankfully, it didn’t. Life may not be perfect per se, but I am in the perfect spot in life and it’s right where I should be. 

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