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Superficially Substantial

There are times in your life when you have to step back and look at your life in a critical way. When you look at where you've been, where you are and where you are going, you might see things you don't want to see.

When I was younger and deciding on what I wanted to do with my life, it never occurred to me that there would be many opportunities to revise and refine goals and to change directions. I wanted it all planned out so that, what? I could not have go through the planning again. I couldn't know when I was 23 what I would know at 38 or 50. You can't know what the future holds because there will always be things influencing and directing and misdirecting your life. It may be the loss of a job or the loss of a loved one. It may be a sudden unexpected illness or some personal tragedy that you couldn't foresee that turns your life upside down and forces you down an unknown path, full of dangers, problems and opportunities.

When I was younger it was money and success that seemed to me to be the most important goals. Acquiring "things" was a passion and having more than I needed and wanting more than I could afford were, as I see it now, ill-conceived dreams born from a youthful, impressionable mind that was being fed by the constant barrage from a culture that seemed - and seems - so much more intrigued with image than substance. I longed for the image of success and not for the substance of life. I yearned for the superficial and not the meaningful - yet I never felt a bit superficial when I was a younger man wallowing in his own superficiality. To be honest, I actually remember enjoying it.

Today, older and a little wiser, I find myself questioning myself, my goals and my society. I find no joy anymore in acquiring things. I'm faced with a very real probability that I'm soon going to forced to learn to live on less. I would be considered successful by some. I thought myself successful at times. I based my success on the size of my house, the number and kind of cars in my driveway, the neighborhood in which I live, and most of all by the number of things I had acquired.

What is success? Is it having a lot of money and things? Is it having the admiration of peers? Is it the size of a bank account or the number of investments in your portfolio? At what point does success become self-defining and all-consuming? At what point does success start stealing my life away and become an end to any means? Why is being successful so important? Why couldn't I have seen that blind ambition can make you blind to things that really matter - the simple things like love, family, tradition, and the other things substantial that get lost on the road to success. Did perceived success drive me to the superficial and away from the substantial? Looking at my life from here, I think it's true. Sadly true.

I think back to Christmases when gifts were few but love was great. Times were tough but I never noticed. I think back to Christmases where gifts were plenty, and love took a back seat to the festivities and the opulent trappings of "success". It makes me hurt to know that the Christmases where gifts were rare and love was plenty were the best ones of all.

I look at our society where it seems everyone wants everything instantly. A pill for this, a pill for that, a gadget for this a gadget for that. Instant cures for everything. Instantaneous cures for loneliness are just a click away - they're called "Dating Sites" or social networking sites - where lonely people mix with predator and game-players and be whatever they want to be. Predators, charlatans, and real lonely women and lonely men all mixed together in an instant stew of humanity - all looking for instant relief from the pain of loneliness or a quick ego boost. A decade ago these types of sites would have been called "bars" or "singles' bars".

There is instant relief for trouble marriages; it can be found in the Yellow Pages under "Divorce Lawyers". There are instant cures for aging and perceived unattractiveness --these are listed under "Plastic Surgeons". You can instantly communicate with anyone, anywhere, for any reason. Instant is in and the more instant we become the more shallow and superficial we become. We think we have instantly cured yearning - now we don't have to yearn for things anymore. We don't need patience and sometimes we don't have to work hard for some things anymore. We want things to come cheaply and instantly, so we just flip a switch or click a link or fill in a form and instantly we've found a pill for a pain or companion for the moment.

I have been in some of this instant mess and I'm sure many others have as well.

I see a society more concerned with quantity and less concerned with quality. We instantly connect but never really connect with anyone. We instantly remove any pain or guilt with the right combination of doctors and drugs. We don't want to wait for love, we want to find it instantly - loneliness hurts and anything is better than nothing.

I am a hypocrite because I too am a part of this instant generation. I've missed so much in pursuit of success. I've become superficial and shallow. Whatever success I've achieved wasn't instant, but many of the things it has enabled me to do are..

I'm a shallow man who is starting to yearn to go back to a simpler time where real things mattered; where things took time and important things like love and friends and family and soft summer nights and winter landscapes and waterfalls and undiscovered forests and watching a child ride down the street on a tricycle mattered. A time when sitting on the porch swing at night with someone I loved and pondering the stars and wondering what is out there mattered. Happiness and peacefulness and love should matter - they are all successes. Waking up with nowhere to go and nothing to do; yearning for someone I love to return; waiting for the good things in life to find me - these are all successes.

What I can't figure out is why did I ever want to click a button and have it all happen right now? Things that come cheaply are worth what you pay for them. Things that come only after sacrifice, time, and hard work cost much and are worth much.

The more instant our lives become the more shallow we become. Instant gratification only makes us weaker and more superficial. I can only imagine how shallow our society will be ten years from now.

I yearn for a simpler time when I had the time and opportunity to yearn - and the patience to wait for them to come to me.


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