Saturday, June 06, 2009

Canoelover's "Approaching 40 Matrix of Life Change"

I didn't name it. My friend Andrew Luter did. Thanks, Andrew.

The back story is this.

I used to work as a statistician, specifically in epidemiology for the Department of Health. Since a lot of epi involves 2x2 tables, I tend to think about life in terms of exposure vs. outcome. This is usually a simple model in disease surveillance. That is, did Person A get exposed to [X], and did Person A show a resulting behavior or symptom. Do that for a few hundred people and you start to see the link between exposure to [X] and the outcome.

You can see links between lots of things - eating potato salad and getting food poisoning at a church picnic. Exposure to infomercials and likelihood of massive credit card debt. Eating Pop Tarts and mental retardation. Drinking 9 PBRs and likelihood of getting arrested for public urination. In this case, it's the relationship between laryngectomy and smoking. Guess what? you're more likely to have to talk like a Cylon the rest of your life if you smoke. So unless you're a Battlestar Galactica fan, lay off the Marlboros.

But this isn't always about disease. For example, you could look at exposure to a positive thing and the outcomes of that. Example: exposure to bicycling in childhood vs. adult obesity. Don't know if this has been studied, but it makes sense that exposure to a healthy lifestyle early leads to healthy habits later in life.

Enough back story, although it is fascinating.

As I approached 40, I started thinking about my life. Actuaries would tell me I would be about half done (80's a good number), and my brain turned to the two-by-two table model. Seems like there were two variables...the timeline (past and future) and the relative value of the experience (positive or negative). So I build this table:

So basically you can divide past experiences into positive and negative ones. I'll leave out neutral experiences as they seem to be a part of life that is constant, and over which we have little control. They just happen.

You can also divide future events into positive and negative ones, based on your choices. So to fill in the table, I wrote these words:

So step by step:
  • Positive/Past - Remember the experiences. They are both a gift as well as the fruits of your labors.
  • Positive/Future - Enhance these experiences. Make up your mind to create more of them, and do the work that is necessary for this to happen.
  • Negative/Past - Repent of them. This may or may not have a religious connotation, depending on your world view. In this case I look at it as a literal interpretation of the process of repentance - to rethink what went wrong and change.
  • Negative/Future - Eliminate these things as much as you possibly can. A lot of this will be based on your ability to repent of past mistakes and decide to move as many experiences as you can into the Future/Positive cell.
Anyway...I made up this table in my mind, and started mentally filling the cells. Here's what I came up with:
  • Positive/Past
  1. Amazing wife who loves me unconditionally. A huge blessing.
  2. Wonderful children who love me and I love them.
  3. Enough financial means to live comfortably though not extravagantly.
  4. An understanding of what brought me to this point in life.
  • Positive / Future
  1. Keep working on building a strong relationship with spouse. Make it a priority.
  2. Invest time in relationships with kids. Enjoy their uniqueness and love of life.
  3. Keep wants under control and live more frugally if possible. Donate so others may be comfortable and have what they need.
  4. Remember the people who brought me to this point, including God. Be grateful for all of them.
  • Negative / Past
  1. I don't want to work for a crazy person anymore.
  2. I don't want to have to compare myself to anyone to be happy.
  3. I don't want to be negative or critical of myself or others.
  4. I don't want to be unhappy.
As far as Negative/Future, it's an unneccessary cell for me as the goal is to eliminate them.

This was, I must admit, an illuminating exercise. This is not the complete list, of course, as some of these things are highly personal and not for public consumption. But you can get the idea.

The Powerful Idea here is that you can direct the future of your life. The reason I feel people get stuck is that they can't get their heads wrapped around this simple are the director of the film called "My Life." Not your spouse, your boss, your pastor, bishop, or priest, or the President of the United States. No one can tell you what you must do. You may choose to take advice from some of these people, but ultimately, it's your call.

The caveat of the Powerful Idea is that whatever you choose to do will have consequences. This is the part that many middle-aged men forget when they decide they hate their lives, leave their wives and kids and move to Mexico with their 27 year-old secretary (ex-friend of mine did just so). The consequences are that you reap the Karma you sow.

What happened from this examination of my life is that I informed the person I was working for (who was indeed mentally unstable) that I was either quitting or buying him out, the ultimate Texas Put. He at first stated the business wasn't for sale, so I started job hunting. The business suddenly became available for sale. Surprising how that works.

I also realized that I needed to spend more time with my wife and kids, and to invest more in those relationships. Still working on that one, but I am getting better. My wife thinks so anyway, and it's her opinion that matters.

I am more grateful, and a lot less negative and less hard on myself, habits that come from past experience of which I have and continue to repent. Through the help of antidepressants I find it much easier to be happy. My brain works better now.

I still struggle with wants vs. needs. but so does everyone. I just need to be aware of it.

Seven years after this little exercise, I find myself in an enviable position. My life is better, and I am grateful to those who have helped me along this path.

The best part - it looks like it's only going to get better, as long as I keep the matrix in mind.

Respectfully submitted,



Sara Lingafelter said...

This is incredibly well timed, friend. Perhaps I'll make some time for myself today to sit down with a pencil and paper...

Kristine said...

What a great post. I just turned 40 in February and started reevaluating my life as well. Wish I'd had this post at that time, but better later than never. There's a lot to think about here. Thanks for sharing this.

Kris said...

Well reasoned and insightful Mr. Canoelover. I am building my own table tonight!

Mark Ritz said...

Thank you for one of the best blog posts I have ever read! It gives me much to think about.

JohnB said...

Great post indeed! I just turned 60 (feel like I'm 30, for the most part, and according to some I act like it--hmmmm good thing???).

Not too late to make a "matrix of life change". Thanks!