March 9, 2009

Glory Days

glory-days

I sat in the back of the room as the keynote speaker talked about his experience as a war veteran. It was a good story for the first five minutes, filled with close calls, bonding with peers, and learning about the outside world.

Then he kept going. He talked for 10, 15, nearly 20 minutes about the war before moving on to the subject he was supposed to speak about.

The war in question (Vietnam) took place more than 30 years ago. Yet to hear him talk, it was as if he had just returned from a tour in Iraq. He told the story as if it had all happened yesterday, and anyone listening could appreciate how the time in the war had made him into the person he was that day.

But it also made me wonder… what has he been doing for the past 30 years?

I looked around the room. The thing about speaking to a crowd of 200 people is that there are always going to be a few people who love everything you say. Aside from this small group that applauded every few minutes, I saw everyone else checking their phones, whispering to their neighbor, or reading through unrelated literature. For the most part, we had stopped paying attention. While our speaker was reliving a war from his youth, we had moved on to the present day.

Back in the Summer of ‘69

Here’s another one: have you ever been around a 50-year old man who continually relives his high-school football days? If you haven’t, I can tell you that it’s a sad experience. I’ve heard the stories over and over, but each year I make the ritualistic visit and end up hearing them again.

“So how are things going now?” I ask after a while, trying to advance the conversation 35 years or so.

“Oh, fine.”

Then I hear more about the people he knew as a teenager, even though he hasn’t been in contact with most of them for decades. It’s not that I don’t care, strictly speaking. If someone wants to relive their youth, good for them. I just think, “Is that all you’ve got?”

The Danger of Success

Glory days are dangerous, and while I wish I was immune, I know I’m not. When I came back from Africa in 2006, I made sure everyone knew where I’d been. If I met you that summer as I began my new life in Seattle, you’d hear about it within a few minutes of our introduction. Yeah, I knew the president of Liberia, and did I mention that Desmond Tutu and I had coffee together one afternoon in Cape Town? That’s right, we split a blueberry muffin, and I made sure to give him the bigger half.

It was my story and my identity. I felt deeply proud of those times.

As the months wore on, though, I found myself continuing to talk about it with every new person I met. Naturally, some of them were interested and wanted to know more. But others, I think, probably cared more about their own life and with what was happening then – just as most of us do.

The four years in West Africa remain an important part of my identity. Much of my formative thinking comes from that challenging and fulfilling experience. But I realized that in a lot of ways, I’d have to leave that time behind.

I began to think about what I was doing next and my goals for the future. Am I going to be talking about West Africa to everyone I meet 30 years from now? If so, how will I be different from someone who’s still reliving the Vietnam War or talking about his high-school football team from 1969?

In short, I’m going to need more than that. And to be honest, so are you.

The Best Days of Our Lives

We all have foundational experiences that shape the rest of our lives and determine our worldview. For many of us, these times come from high-school, college, or university – when we felt the most attached to our peers and to the outside world as we viewed it at the time.

For others of us, the glory days come through an experience with a close-knit group such as a military unit or a sports team. Still others find them from an extended trip abroad, the beginning of a new relationship, or a job we were especially enamored with at the time.

We are rightly proud of our glory days, because they represent a time of rapid discovery and advancement. Those were “the best days of my life,” we sometimes say. We were challenged and we rose to the challenge. When the time came to an end all too soon, we felt an unusual combination of accomplishment and sadness.

But there comes another time, not too long after the glory days have ended, that we need to put them aside and move on to something else. If those life experiences were really so great, shouldn’t they provide the motivation for greater challenges? What could the future be like if we applied the lessons we learned and went on to something else that was even better?

If we believe that our best days are behind us, we’ve lowered expectations on our future. We’ve reached the plateau, and it’s hard to grow after you’ve come down on the other side and look back on it from a long distance.

Alternatively, when we choose to willingly let go of those times, we’re not really saying farewell – we couldn’t forget them if we tried. Instead, we say to ourselves, wow, wasn’t that incredible? I am so fortunate to have had those experiences. Since my glory days were such a transformative experience, I’d better make sure I find a way to have more of them somehow.

I’d better be faithful with everything I’ve been given, damn it. Life is good, and I want the future to be better than the past.

I don’t want to retire from the sense of being alive. I want to have even more Glory Days. How about you?

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40 Responses to “Glory Days”

  1. This reminds me of the Elizabeth Gilbert video on TED. What do you do after your moment of triumph? The fear of never reaching that again leaves you stuck in the past, which makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  2. March 9, 2009

    Nicolai Brown

    Love the article Chris. Right Now is the only time there is and the one we should attend to.

    A fun question to ask yourself in certain situations is, “If my life were a movie, would I want to watch?” It’s a healthy exercise that has helped me a great deal. Try it!

  3. I think a lot of people tend to relive their past because they feel uncertain about their futures. When I moved back to the US from Japan, I also found myself working that story into almost every conversation I had. It didn’t take my friends long to get tired of me starting sentences with “When I lived in Japan…”

    Looking back, I think I was so attached to my Japan experience because I was still seraching for my next move in America. After I settled into a new routine and started doing fulfilling work again, I found that I mentioned Japan less and less. Ironically, I have since returned to Japan, but that’s another story.

    My father was in Thailand during the Vietnam war. In contrast to the speaker in your article, my father never talked about the war. He just always said that it wasn’t much fun and that he’d really rather talk about the things that matter now. He hasn’t changed the world or anything, but I’m glad he’s accomplished a few other things in the past 40 years that he likes to talk about.

    I wonder in 40 years what my “glory days” will be. I hope I can be like my father and keep feeling as if I’m living in them.

  4. There is a small problem if other people keep bringing up one’s glory days. I spent a winter in Antarctica, it was a great experience, we had a very good time, it was formative and all that. But for some people who know me it’s always on the agenda, while I’ve also done important things after that.

  5. I like that Chris,

    I’d better be faithful with everything I’ve been given, damn it. Life is good, and I want the future to be better than the past.

    I think that how it should be. Unfortunately for most people it is not true. It is very important to spend time with people who are moving in a similar direction as you, otherwise it is close to impossible to reach desired outcomes

    Just finish reading Outliers and once more realized how important it is to be around this kind of people

    Also we should grow younger, not older :)

    Great post

  6. Nice Post.

    I guess a related point is that, conversations shouldn’t always be about “you.” Great conversationalists are always great listeners.

    The worst part is when people are overly proud of really mediocre accomplishments. We all want the world to know of our successes and experiences but sometimes it is better just to listen.

  7. I’ll know my “glory days” are behind me when I’ve stopped dancing. So whatever it takes, if I have to be twirling around in a wheelchair, I’ll continue to dance until I’m dead.

    This was a wonderful perspective, Chris.

  8. excellent post Chris. unfortunately the people who should be reading this won’t !

    This reminds of back when I was cycling halfway round the world…….oopps.

    anyway love it.

  9. Good points, and nicely written article.

    I’m most frustrated when I feel I’ve stagnated. I always like to feel like I’m doing new things, having new experiences, and becoming more accomplished.

    I left a secure “good” job I had been doing for several years a few months ago for precisely this reason — I felt I was stagnating. Right now, I’m writing and working on music full-time. My ventures have been wholly unprofitable so far (as intended), but I’m learning a ridiculous amount, and I’m excited about the future. I would hate to find myself bragging about things I did even 5 years ago. I’m much more interested in talking about where I’m going and what I’m doing next than what I’ve already accomplished.

  10. oouch Chris…way to punch me in the gut! Thank you! Perfect timing!

  11. I’ve enjoyed your reading past articles but this one is my favourite, and it inspired me to leave my first comment on this site. The article rings very true…I know someone just like you describe that is stuck in his “glory days.” I, too, had thought, “Is that all you’ve got?”

  12. I’ve enjoyed reading your articles but this one is my favourite, and it inspired me to leave my first comment on this site. The article rings very true…I know someone just like you describe that is stuck in his “glory days.” I, too, had thought, “Is that all you’ve got?”

  13. Chris, I know a lot of people like that in the Army. It doesn’t just happen there either, like you said. People have a tendency to let their current pursuits create their identity, but the problem is that when you remove that objective from their life, they have nothing left.

    I’m convinced that we’ve got to have a higher purpose if we want to stay motivated and feel alive. There has to be more to it than just making x amount of dollars or accomplish a certain task. For one, my family is a huge part of my identity, but aside from that, you’ve got to look at your reason for being alive. I don’t want to get metaphysical here, but purpose is the most important thing we need to feel as humans. Without it, we’ll find our identify wrapped up in projects that leave us empty.

  14. I’m with you Chris. I’ve achieved some pretty incredible things in the past and there was a time I thought ‘maybe that was as good as its going to get’.

    At the age of 18 for instance, I worked with a major international sports team, super star athlete and huge global company when they won the world championship. After you wash the awful smell of champagne out of your drenched clothes you realize things like that can be pretty hard to top. With maybe 60+ years left on earth I really was thinking it was all downhill from there. People spend their whole careers chasing moments and mine came before my career had even really began.

    I was actually a little reluctant even to talk about it afterwards except with close family and friends who were asking about it. I didn’t really bring it up.

    However I realized there was still a lot of other things to achieve (head to my blog and you’ll see my list). Sure I had reached that pinnacle, but there is so many others out there. Be proud of what you have already achieved, but keep moving towards new things.

    Your now moving past the former glory of what you achieved in Africa and moving onwards. Your blog is kicking glorious butt and now that great book waiting inside you – more glory on the horizon.

    Great post Chris, thanks for sharing.

  15. I don’t think I’d ever take anything away from someone’s combat experiences and how they wished to share or not share them. Perhaps a more gifted or accomplished speaker would have woven the life lessons learned under the influence of such constant adrenaline into the current narrative – it’s hard to say. I have heard Marines say they’ve never felt more alive than in combat – meaning the high alert and incomparable stakes. Perhaps that was the underlying message, or not.

    But still – you’re right, an entire generation came home from WWII, my father among them, and never mentioned much, preferring to revel in the now that was hard won on the beaches and battlefields. And other glory days – time spent abroad, or mopping up your intellect after you’ve spilled your guts all over a late night dorm room floor – are fleeting. My dad sent me off to school with the admonition, “These will be the best days of your life.” In a sense he was right, yet it was a bittersweet wistfulness: my father never went to college.

    I heard a young man pass along his grandfather’s advice yesterday: “You will look back and regret not the things you did, but those you didn’t.” Makes sense to me. Good perspective, Chris.

  16. Brilliant insight! We do find comfort in the past because it is certain, the future is uncertain. It is always good to remember that today is the tomorrow that you worried about yesterday.

  17. Chris, reading your article makes me afraid I’ll often start my sentences with, “When I lived in China….”. It has fueled the determination within me not to remain complacent and comfortable in my new comfort zone . I WILL have more glory days. The adventure won’t stop here. That there is more come and the next best thing will be bigger and better.

  18. Some people enjoyed “history” class in school, and others, such as myself, never did. Why should we have to learn about the past?? However, I do enjoy listening to my elderly family members tell the stories of their past. I guess it depends on who and what the stories are about, whether or not we enjoy hearing them over and over again. Life “learning” lessons can come from anyone, not just from our history books. Thank you for your great articles….we all can learn something from them!

  19. Guy is right, the people who should be reading this post probably don’t read your blog. I’ve come across many people who tell the same old stories about some ancient triumph. My take: these are the high points of an otherwise mundane life. They haven’t really achieved anything of note in the time after their accomplishment. I think most people tend to settle into a comfort zone that deters them from reaching their true potential.

  20. March 10, 2009

    Jennifer

    Very true! Although, I wanted to mention a few things. First, perhaps you used the examples that you used simply to make a point but I do want to mention that there is probably a vast psycological difference between a person recollecting memories of war and a person recollecting memories of participating on a sports team or the exploits they had with their friends as an adolecent! While some may simply be living in the past, others may have much deeper reasons for “hanging on” to these memories, especially in regards to war!
    Also, I think you may be suprised by what you want to recall on a regular basis when you are 80! I think the important thing to remember is that “glory day” experiences will always be a part of you and for the people in your life that really matter, they know about them and that should be enough! You’re right, not every Tom, Dick and Harry want to hear about them!

  21. I love the idea of perpetual glory days! You make many sharp observations in this article, and I think it shows a lot of respect to your readers that you are so honest about yourself as well. Although, I have to say, my first reaction was “Wow — sharing a blueberry muffin with Desmond Tutu? That’s pretty nutty.”

    I think it all comes down to striking a balance by fueling your future with positive past experiences.

  22. I’ll just add my ‘ditto’ to everything above. I’ve been talking a lot in the past few months, but once I started to get tired of hearing myself repeat things I had to assume it was time to stop and move on. Focusing on the Now is a challenge, so thanks for encouraging us to do it.

  23. Chris,
    This article has changed my life for ever. Thank you for re-awakening me to this reality. I tell you, our past is an illusion. the present moment is real and let us pay attention to the present only.

  24. Chris,

    A great insight! I have fallen into this trap a few times, my goal has evolved since my first “foundational experience”, it is now to be always looking forward to the next one. I am happy to tell people about my last experience, but I would also like to be able to let them know what my next one is!

    Keep it up,

    Luke

  25. Chris-

    This post resonated with me like no other article you’ve written.

    The best is yet to come.

  26. Failure for me is laying on my deathbed and saying “I wish I would have . . .”

    Great thoughts Chris!!!!

  27. I have a high school reunion coming up and I’m fully expecting to hear from a lot of people who are stuck on their “glory days.” I’m with you, Chris: I want glory days for the rest of my life!

  28. Another good post, and some great comments above.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that “glory days people” tend to see the glass as half empty. Personally I try to be glass half full. There is always something better to look forward to whether it be experience, knowledge, social interaction, reinventing yourself, or whatever rocks your boat.

    I think your picture is apt. By always looking backward you miss out on the opportunities in front of you.

  29. Great post, Chris. I think that the “Glory Days” concept is one that we can all identify with.. in fact, even though I graduated high school in 1999, we chose this Bruce Springsteen song as our senior prom song. I’m fortunate to have had a past filled with amazing experiences and people, and I will treasure them forever, and certainly never disregard them.

    However, at the same time, when I thought that nothing could get better than high school, I had an outstanding collegiate experience, including a semester abroad in Paris which ultimately opened my eyes to many things.. and when college ended, I was sure that life was over.. until I got used to the working world and made a whole new group of great friends whom I’ve shared some incredible personal and professional experiences with.. and even now, as I recently pushed myself to uproot from the east coast and try life out on the west coast, I look forward to all that the future has to offer while still acknowledging, remembering, and honoring my past with pride, dignity, and profound happiness.

  30. March 10, 2009

    Buddy Martell

    Wow. I’ve been a subscriber of yours for a few months now. I read and enjoyed your manifesto for World Domination. Since then, I have read maybe 2/3 of your e-mails and always find them interesting. But this one is the largest, truest nugget of truth that I have garnered from your posts.

    I’m only 28, but I feel that I’ve lived more lives than many people in the world. I lived glory days in High School, then in the military, then in College, and indeed after College in musical, artistic, athletic and career endeavors. I was an all-region soccer player and Drumline leader in High School. I was a Specialist in the US Army reserves. I was in several bands, one of which I toured with nationally as a drummer, and then another as a keyboardist. I completed a triathalon (2, actually). I worked my way up the corporate ladder and am now a sales manager for a large furniture company.

    Now, I’m preparing for my first extended international travel NOT as a tourist (I’ve only been to Montreal, Jamaica, and Mexico previously). I’ll be visiting most of South America in two months, for a duration of 3-4 months. While I completely expect this to be a life changing experience, what’s after that? Like you upon returning from West Africa, I make sure that many of the people I meet know what I’m planning. It has become a part of my identity.

    But will it still be my identity 10 months from now? 2 years? What about 5? Whether it is or not, I think you have struck a nerve of what I have always hoped life would be. Always look forward. Always improve. The past is no place to place your better days.

    I rarely ever tell my stories from basic training in the army anymore. Nor do I really talk about having completed 2 triathlons (unless someone comments on my bike, which I ride to work everyday). I still play soccer on a club team, but it’s only a small part of who I am. I think that the point I’m trying to make is that I will never let any ONE thing dictate who I am forever. I am passionate about what I’m into at the time, but a new passion always comes to take the old one over. But the beautiful thing is that while my primary passion changes, none of them ever, ever go away.

    It’s all of these things together that make me who I am and who I will be. When we are old, I have always felt, that we will inevitably regret at least of the few things that we did. I have always strived to never have to say “I wish I had done x”. In my opinion, if you live life in this way, every day will be a glorious glory day.

    Thank you for this post. Be Extraordinary.

  31. Reliving your glory days is definitely something that can be nice on rare occasions with old friends, but it is so much nicer to live the day as it unfolds.

    I just recently wrote about a post about being engaged in life and one of the most important parts of that is living now. It can be so easy to slip into reminiscing of the past whether it haunts you or energizes you, but it never ceases to amaze me how much living at this moment enriches my life so much more.

    This quote that I’m pulling out is really great: “I’d better be faithful with everything I’ve been given, damn it. Life is good, and I want the future to be better than the past.”

    When I feel that urge to reminisce (or mope about the past) I work to break out of it often by performing a physical activity that takes me out of my head, my favorite these days is calligraphy. The diligence and mindfulness it takes to scribe the letters over and over again ends in a nice flow where I come out feeling energized and extremely present.

  32. I agree that we need to dream and talk of the present and future . I also think there is nothing wrong with reminiscing of the great events of the past. If we are good listener’s the other person may ask about your past and want to hear about it.

    Chris, I wish you would write a book or series of reports about your African experience. It would be helpful in knowing what to do to help Africa now. That is the value of lessons of the past.

  33. I read this post a few days ago and have been thinking about my own behaviors and those of people close to me. I’ve been fortunate (and I don’t say lucky because these opportunities did not fall into my lap – I had to work hard for them) to go through several “Glory Days” in my relatively short life. In retrospect, I realize that each time one of these experiences ended I spoke about them in a disproportionate amount – it’s the fear that you’ll never have as exciting a time again and insecurity in the present.

    I’ve started noticing this behavior in other people during a recent visit home to the States. It gave my husband and I pause because we recognized similar habit in ourselves and we realized that we never want to be “done”. People talk about retiring and delaying “glory days” until retirement, but we want to continually push new limits throughout our days. And, if the present isn’t exciting enough that you always have to look to the past then it’s time to make some changes.

    Perhaps the best example of this is an 84-year old woman who just joined the Peace Corps. She talked about her application process helping to reevaluate her life and set future life goals. I want that to be me.

  34. March 12, 2009

    Summer Foovay

    As always, your post made me think. I don’t really have what I would consider “glory days” – but then again, there was a time in my life when I was highly respected and in demand in my work – not to mention making considerably more than I am now. I miss being that person. But it also got me to thinking. Those days came to me as a gift, based on a talent that I had always considered little more than a hobby. Today I am working on creating new glory days based on a talent that I’ve always believed had the potential to be a living. The article brought a new perspective, and a new hope. Thank you.

  35. Hmm… I read this when you first sent it out in your newsletter (great value by the way- I always enjoy getting it!)

    I wanted a bit of time to think about it, because I agree with what you’re saying, but I have a few comments to make.

    1. I had the pleasure of listening to an american soldier of some kind (not sure) talk about the sacrifices he’d made for his country and how his son had followed in his footsteps. He had both my friend and I in tears by the end of our dinner (a random pairing on a train car). So your introduction brought up this memory for me and so I felt a little perturbed. I think people who’ve been through the trauma of war have been through so much that to use them as an object lesson for glory days trivializes that experience more than I am comfortable with. I think I may be making more of this than it warrants, but I wanted to point that out.

    2. Glory Days is an extreme form of something that most people have even if they’ve accomplished nothing: always preferring to talk about themselves. I like how you keep a focus on your writing, always encouraging us to get up and get going!

    Thanks for always thoughtful and encouraging posts!

  36. June 2, 2009

    Rossi Stoyanova

    I wouldn’t call it exactly “glory days” but I was an exchange student and lived for 6 months abroad. When I came back that was pretty much all I was talking about and I was surprised and a little sad when I found out that most people, including very close friends, didn’t care to listen or understand me. It was also hard to accpet that I may never see again some of the wonderful people I met there. I think that putting all my thoughts and feeling in writing is what helped me. I realised that there are still so many great places to discover and so many people to meet. I started searching for new possibilities and found new things to focus on, which really matter for me and I’m excited about.

  37. Hi Chris… I just stumbled upon this post.

    By far, among the best blog entries I have ever read on your site!

    Thank you for this insight. You have no idea how much I needed it.

    Carpe diem!~

  38. I think it is important to look for new challenges and keep raising the bar.

    Moment you stop doing that, you start looking back to find your best.

    After the celebrations of achievement are over, a new journey must begin.

  39. February 23, 2010

    Mark Dowdell

    I’m just starting to realize this day by day. As inspired you may feel about the great times you’ve had doing something (for me it was a recent year living in Germany), no one else can relate 100%. But we talk about it to others as if they would. I caught myself doing it a few days ago, while the guy stared at me with the most bored look on his face.

    It’s scary to think that I could become one of those 50 year old guys talking about his good ol’ high school football days. I guess it’s about time to move onto something else, huh?

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