My grandfather has served many roles in my life so far: role model, mentor, friend, family patriarch, coach, teacher, and probably a few others that I can’t think of currently. Out of all my family members, he has my utmost respect.
He’s from a vastly different generation than my own. I wouldn’t necessarily call him “old-fashioned” — he’s very open-minded, a trait I admire — but because of his age and his life experience, his take on many things is usually quite different from my own. As you can imagine, I’ve learned a lot from him in the 23 years we’ve known each other.
In honor of my grandfather, and in honor of finding common ground with various generations, I’d like to discuss some of the more significant lessons I’ve learned from him.
Time goes fast, so take it as slow as you can.
Whenever I’ve been faced with stressful times in my life — important tests, college admissions, job applications — my grandfather would always make time to pull me aside for a discussion. Regardless of what was said in those many discussions, there was one point of emphasis he would be sure to circle back to: time goes fast.
“It goes fast, Zachary. Too fast. Remember that. Try not to worry so much.” This was always said near the end of the discussions we had. I think he did that strategically, to emphasize the point and its importance.
My grandfather has been alive for 70-plus years, so I certainly trust his assessment of how fast time goes. I’ve asked him about it during some of those discussions. He always says that it seems like he was in his 20s just yesterday. Of course, his 20s were a bit different from mine — at my age, he was already a homeowner, had served in the military, and was married. Regardless of the differences in our life paths, he remembers what it was like to be young. He remembers it fondly and clearly.
That’s always been somewhat concerning to me, the fact that my grandfather and other, older folks I know were once in my shoes. They were once my age. They were young, and they felt, in some sense, that they’d be like that forever. I will be as old as them one day, and to be honest, it does frighten me. I constantly worry that I’ll miss out on enjoying my youth — that all that time will pass me by.
Time is Precious: Challenge Yourself
I’ve talked candidly with my grandfather about this. I’ve asked him how he came to accept that time moves much too fast, how he reconciled himself with that fact and learned to embrace the present.
The only thing we can control is the day at hand, so that’s where our focus needs to be.Tweet
Of course, a person will not always have the physical or mental energy to make the most of each day, and my grandfather has a metaphor for that, too. “It’s like baseball, mijo. Even the best teams won’t win every game every day. But, over the course of the season, the best teams will have quite a few more wins than losses.”
That’s how I try to approach each day — I try to make it a win, but I don’t let setbacks or bad days discourage me too much. The only thing we can control is the day at hand, so that’s where a lot of our focus needs to be.
Be wise with your money; focus on the long-term, but don’t make it the only focus.
It’s not always easy to talk to my grandfather about money, mainly because the economy of his youth was much different than the economy of mine. When he was my age, he already had a house, a wife, a car, and a solid career. While he’s aware of and sympathetic to the financial struggles my generation faces, he doesn’t 100% understand what it’s like to be a young professional in today’s world.
Regardless of our differences in knowledge and experience, he’s always had some solid advice to share with me when it comes to managing money.
Ever since my early teenage years, long before I gave any thought at all to work, he’d always remind me that the long-term was what mattered the most for one’s financial health. “Save your money, mijo,” he’d say. “You know what a 401k is, right?” I didn’t at the time. “Well, you’ll know someday. Just remember: You don’t want to be broke when you’re my age.”
Plan for the Future and Live in the Now
He was right; I don’t want to be “broke” when I’m his age. I don’t want to have to worry about where my next meal is coming from, if I can afford my insurance, if I can afford to do anything more than just sit around and get older. In numerous conversations, he’s told me that saving my money, investing it, and not touching are the most important things I can do to set myself up for a more comfortable elder life.
While my grandfather’s financial wisdom is very focused on the long game, I don’t want to mislead anyone: He has lived a fulfilling life, one I envy. He’s had nice cars. He’s traveled all over Europe (and he has many photos and mementos of his experiences). He’s never strictly told me that a happy life requires balance — a balance of financial prudence and occasional indulgences for fun stuff — but when I look at his life, I think it’s a testament to it.
As I said earlier, he’s always taught me about the value of the day at hand, about the opportunities it can offer you. As far as I can tell, my grandfather’s philosophy on both finances and life, in general, is as follows: Enjoy the present, but not at the expense of your future; ensure you’re healthy (physically, mentally, and financially) in old age, but not at the expense of your youth.
Curiosity and learning are lifelong endeavors.
For 40-plus years, my grandfather worked as a general engineer at a very large telecommunications company. By the time I was born, he was already happily retired, but he always stayed tinkering.
My cousins and I used to call his garage “the workshop.” While “the workshop” has been cleaned out a bit in recent years, it used to be filled with all sorts of knick-knacks and curiosities: wires, old motors, radios (two-way and Ham radios), various car parts, tools, meters, and so much more. As a young boy, “the workshop” was an absolute obsession of mine. On summer afternoons when I didn’t have any school, I’d spend hours out there with him while he tinkered and deconstructed things. To this day, I don’t think he ever actually fixed anything (and I don’t think there was anything there worth fixing).
I always wondered what the goal of his tinkering was. If not fixing things, making them better in some way, then what?
I realize now that there was a goal to everything he was doing. There was a purpose behind what, at the time, appeared to be just taking things apart and putting them back together. The goal was to learn, to make mistakes without terrible consequences, to get to the bottom of things. His goal was to satisfy his curiosity and become better because of it.
Please keep in mind that he was doing this as a man in his late 60s. As a kid, I assumed that my grandfather already knew everything there was to know. He knew the answers to life’s secrets, and he knew how to fix all the little gadgets in his “workshop.”
The truth is that he didn’t know all the answers, and most of the time, he didn’t know how the stuff in his “workshop” functioned. But he wasn’t discouraged by his ignorance — indeed, it was his ignorance that motivated him. The message I took away from all his work, the message I now admire and attempt to follow in my own life, is that you should never stop learning. You should never be satisfied with your current base of knowledge, your current life outlook, the current “answers” you think you have.
You can always make more mistakes. You can always explore some concept, idea, or object with no definite goal in mind. The only goal that matters, I’ve learned from my grandfather, is to be a little bit wiser and a little bit more open-minded than you were yesterday.