‘Get a life’

Published 7:09 pm Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The day went by in a blur.

It began before dawn with the rain never letting up.

At dusk, I arrived at my destination worn out and soaked to the gills. At 23 miles, it was the longest distance I ever hiked in the mountains in one day. In doing so, I had fallen into the trap that affects many long distance backpackers. It had become about the destination and not the journey.

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There are only two things I remember about that day. I remember the unrelenting rain and I remember sitting exhausted on the floor in the shower at Nantahala Gorge for an hour trying to get the chill out of my bones. In my drive to get to a bunk, shower, and real food, I had completely missed the view.

During the thousand-plus miles I hiked on the Appalachian Trail, I found myself constantly fighting against this habit. After all, what is the purpose of the hike if I don’t enjoy the scenery along the way?

To encourage myself to slow down, I would stop and literally try to smell the flowers. I would put up a hammock during lunch to make myself take a nap.

I would write in my small journal just to make myself look at things all around me rather than pushing ahead for an extra mile or two before dark. Slow down, I would tell myself when I realized I was only watching my feet on the trail.

There have been a lot of high school seniors around my house lately as Mary Lou helped them prepare for their AP exams and their end-of-course tests.

Yesterday, we honored another group at church; young people who have literally grown up right before our eyes. Another 30 high school seniors are employees of our company and will graduate this week.

The advice I would give all of them today is much the same advice I tried to give to myself during my backpacking days 20 years ago. Enjoy the journey along your way to the destination. Look at the view.

Another way of putting it is to get a life.

It is the one thing that you control. A lot of people have a high school diploma just like yours. Many of you will go on to college, more of a requirement than it used to be. Many will have the same dreams you do. You will compete for the same slots in college or the same jobs in a factory.

But the life, it is yours alone.

This week I learned of the deaths of two of my high school classmates. I have seen neither of them in many years but from what I know they lived their lives to the fullest.

As I have gotten older living life to the fullest is the lesson that has become more important to me. My college degree was important in my development but has little to do with my life today. My best friends in high school and then college for the most part are no longer part of my everyday life. However, they were all a part of building the foundation for who I am.

Those friends I have made along the way since then have helped me adapt. My world, goals and ambitions are no longer the same. You too will meet new friends as you move out in the world. Choose them carefully. They will help determine who you will ultimately become.

Work hard but don’t be chained to a job or career. Don’t be afraid to change courses along the way. The average American changes jobs every seven years. I didn’t change careers that often, but the changes I did make made me happier and more successful.

Choose a spouse or partner carefully. The older I get the more I realize that the success of my marriage is due more to my wife than to me. That choice has more to do with any success that I have had than any other.

Take time for your children. As wonderful as mine turned out to be, I still worry if I shortchanged them along the way by working so hard. As wonderful as grandchildren are, it is your children that you get to influence and shape. Nothing you will do in this life is more important.

Life will be more challenging for you than it was for me and your parents. The demands on your time aren’t just your school, job or career. They are the computer on your desk and the smart phone on your hip. They are the television with 150 channels and the iPod with a thousand songs.

Slow down, get a life and smell the flowers. Look at the view all around you. Take time to enjoy the journey. Time passes in an instant and the destination will get here soon enough for all of us.