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Gary Horton: The most important rule: No stress

Full Speed to Port!

Posted: June 29, 2010 10:03 p.m.
Updated: June 30, 2010 4:55 a.m.

“Look, kid. The world has been around a long time and nobody’s figured it out yet.”

Sam Danny was in a mentoring mood at Starbucks a few months back, and he’d shared a litany of life virtues with me.

The memory of this event popped back up when I was cleaning out my computer bag and found his handwritten “rules for success” folded and stashed deep inside the case. Somehow, I’d forgotten the list in there — but I never should have. His advice looks more sage as each day passes.

I passed 53 and wonder just how being 54 is possible. My memory remains vibrant enough that teenage days still feel like yesterday. But of course, they’re not, and 5.4 decades of cherished life have indeed been invested, spent or squandered on this tabernacle of flesh.

I’m not a pessimist. Still, at 54, if you’re remotely self-aware, you feel an increasing respect for the idea of a declining number of days ahead, versus the sense of immortality you likely felt when young. True, the respect is both sobering and motivating. With a declining deck, we’ve got to play our cards to the best effect.

I’ve noticed that how I value priorities is shifting quickly. They say time is money — and surely, all our days we make that trade. We trade our time at work for a paycheck. And the opportunity cost of leisure is time we might have spent productively, earning or saving. I used to have a high preference for work. It paid off well in its day, as my family achieved better prospects than I had as a kid.

But now a day spent at work is a day I didn’t get to see my kids. A day at work is a day I didn’t get to putt around the house. It’s a day I couldn’t go out on a boat, or take long walk with my wife, Carrie, or a day I couldn’t curl up with a book.

Days are pretty valuable things when you recognize they’re finite, and you can’t make more of them. So while a day at work is a good day, still, I’m increasingly trading away more for those days at work from the things that I really like.

With the long recession and slow recovery, most of us work more and have less time for ourselves. Many wish we’d done some things differently these past few years. Many wish they could achieve greater control over our lives and destinies.

Well, Sam’s list tucked into my computer bag provides some pretty strong insight for mid-life, mid-course corrections.

The first three rules are baseline for good living: “1. Trust and be trustworthy; 2. Maintain personal discipline; and 3. Be honest and be around honest people.” The benefits of these three are the obvious avoidance of the very serious problems you’d get into if you didn’t. Never short-sell avoidance of misery.

Pertinent to the slow economy, Sam’s item No. 6 advises, “Have confidence in yourself.” So true. These days are time for action, not for self-doubt.

Rule No. 4 you’ve heard before, but it’s also true: “Think positive and learn to laugh. It’s the best medicine there is.”

Maybe that’s why Sam’s a young 80-something and leads the coffee shop mob every morning. Starting your day laughing your head off is a pretty good start to anything.

I envy Sam’s rule No 8: “Retire.” Sam says jokingly, “If I had to go back to work again, I’d lose all my money.”

Sam was often self-employed, and he had some big ups and downs. He timed his retirement with enough “up” so that he just isn’t worrying about money any more. And boy does he like that stress out of his life. “I’ve got no worries,” Sam exclaims, waving his hands and rolling back in his chair.” So, here’s prudence: Plan your retirement for real, and make sure you get it done right. That means saving more now and spending less. Different than before the recession.

Which leads us to Sam’s rule No. 7: “Pay your house off.” That piece of advice would have been thought novel five years ago. Today the wisdom looks pretty strong. No house payment equals fewer worries, and fewer worries leads to Sam’s last rule, the ultimate rule — Rule No. 9: “No stress.”

From honesty, discipline and confidence, to positive thinking, laughter and sound, conservative finances, the fruit of all these things is, “no stress.” Stress is the Grim Reaper of joy and of life itself. If we can put our lives together and achieve “no stress” we’ve achieved perhaps the greater portion of “the good life.”

Which takes me back to the start. Living so as to achieve rule No. 9 might just create more of those elusive extra days I’m valuing so much.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesday in The Signal.


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