Lessons From a 40-Year-Old

Guys are idiots, till they’re what, 40 years old.

– Wes Borland

As I write this, I have been a 40-year-old for a few days. During this time, most of my thoughts have been on Auburn’s big win over Texas A&M, the insane amounts of pork in my freezer, and the fun weekend I had with friends and family from near and far.

I’ve also spent a considerable amount of time thinking my first four decades. I’ve thought my early memories in Cleveland and Starkville, my more recent memories in Clarksdale, and every stop I’ve made along the way. There have been many successes and failures, good decisions and “Boy, what were you thinking?!?” bad decisions.

I’ve seen several posts and speeches over the years from people wanting to go back in time and drop knowledge on their former selves. I thought it might be fun to go back and think about the person I was through the decades.

Join me on a little trip in my imaginary time machine!

Sanford, Newborn

Friday, September 21, 1979 – Bolivar County Hospital – Cleveland, MS

Oh look how adorable I was…I mean HOW ADORABLE YOU ARE!

I’m gonna keep this fairly brief, because you can’t hear any of it. But I want you to know two things. First, know that you hit the family jackpot! Your mom and dad will work hard to provide opportunities for you and your brother – oops, probably shouldn’t have said that, but you’re a baby, so whatever…

Anyway, the second thing you need to know is that you’re gonna have the nicest afro at your daycare. No other baby will match your fluffiness.

I’m leaving you with the your first college onesie. It’s from Harvard because why not swing for the fences?!? Maybe Mom and Dad can start a collection.

Enjoy the journey!

Sanford, Age 10

Thurday, September 21, 1989 – Sheraton Waikiki Hotel/Resort – Honolulu, HI

Wow! What a great way to spend your 10th Birthday!!

Age 10

Not only is your mom amazing, but she’s a member of organizations that hold THE BEST annual conventions. Looking back, I can tell you that this is easily a Top 5 birthday! Be sure to give your mom a hug, and acknowledge the fact that she’s usually stuck in meetings and isn’t able to enjoy all the fun during the day.

The on-campus housing your family moved into last year is very close to to Mississippi State’s School of Architecture. All the time you and your friends are spending in the building has you thinking of being an architect, which looks pretty cool! There aren’t many 4th graders who are drawing football stadiums in the Trapper Keepers!

You’ve also picked up on the fact that you really enjoy talking to people, and moving from the Delta to a college town has given you the chance to make a very diverse group of close friends. You’ll easily go back-and-forth from jokes at recess with your Black friends to songs on the bus with your white friends. This will confuse some classmates who may ask why you’re sitting/playing/talking with them and not with us. Trust me when I tell you that your ability to be comfortable in nearly any environment will serve you well in the future. Never stop being yourself!

Now for some tough love. You know the work folder that Mrs. Miller sends home each week for your parents to sign? There was a bad grade on a worksheet in the last folder (you didn’t follow directions) and you took it out of the folder and hid it in the green chest where your mom keeps all of her sewing stuff.

A couple of questions:

  • Are you gonna do this every week you get a bad grade?
  • How likely is it that YOUR MOTHER is gonna wanna sew something in the coming weeks?
  • If your parents find a whole-ass stack of of bad grades that you’ve hidden from them over several weeks, instead of one bad grade in a folder full of better work, do you think you’ll get in more trouble…or less trouble?

See how little thought you’ve put into this? This is still in the Top 5 of the dumbest ideas you’ve ever had. You should come clean and show your parents the worksheet, but at least quit while you’re ahead!

To drive this lesson home, I printed off a old article about the SMU Football team. There’s an excellent documentary about the scandal in the future, but it ain’t on VHS. The key lesson from this article is that it’s usually not the crime that gets your in big trouble, it’s the cover-up. Ask you dad to tell you about Watergate as well.

Now make a list of things you MUST DO in the bathroom every morning before you go to school, and you’ll be all set for a successful 4th grade year!

Sanford, Age 20

Tuesday, September 21, 1999 – CDV Extension On-Campus Apartments – Auburn, AL

Congratulations! You made it to the second year of Auburn’s Architecture program! You had a fairly successful first year, and you’ve noticed that the second year is no joke! Architecture has been your passion for many years, and you’re one step closer to landing your dream job; designing sports venues with HOK Sport!

That’s still your dream, right?

Age 20

I really, really, REALLY wanna tell you if you actually landed that dream job, or if you discovered some other dream along the way. But I’ve decided to keep my mouth shut. You’re gonna learn so much on this journey! The best advice I can give you is follow your heart, and to pursue the doors that open in front of you, whether your hand was on the doorknob or not!

I’m giving you two books that you might find useful. The first book is Fundamentals of Building Construction: Methods and Materials. This will give you a taste of what your typical architect does, and I just saved you $110 next semester! The second book is Coming of Age in Mississippi by Ann Moody. It’s an interesting look at the state you swear you’d never move back to.

Now, let’s talk about dating and relationships. Do you know that there are consequences to risky behavior that go well beyond the pregnancy and STD info you learned in 9th grade health? Some people- especially young men – are also at risk of becoming…assholes.

Did you know that 87% of young men on college campuses engage in assholic behaviors at some point during their college careers?

OK, I made that stat up for effect, but trust me when I tell you that college campuses are breeding grounds for assholery. And unfortunately, you’re showing some of the early symptoms. You’re failing to treat each young lady with respect and you’re making some reckless decisions. It’s not a good look.

You’re getting by right now with thoughts and comments like “I’m not doing X”, or “I’m not as bad as Y”, which is pretty pathetic. If you don’t check yourself, you’ll end up with looking back on this time with several regrets. You’ll also have to work harder in the future to earn trust when your reputation precedes you.

Do better.

Lastly, now that you’re officially an Auburn fan, there are some things you’ll have to understand. You’ll notice that this football season has its highs and lows, even though things are going much better than last year. But just you wait, because next year is gonna be AWESOME! Be prepared for things to quickly fall apart soon after, but that will just set the stage for a new offense and a dramatic bounce back!

Such is life as an Auburn football fan. Pull that harness down and buckle up!

Sanford, Age 30

Monday, September 21, 2009 – House on Porter Street – Helena, AR

So…you didn’t end up building the ballpark for the Atlanta Braves or the practice facility for the Toronto Raptors? Interesting (LOL).

Age 30

In the last ten years, you switched to Political Science and History, shifted your dream job to working on Capitol Hill, then turned down the dream job to teach high school in the Mississippi Delta! THE MISSISSIPPI DELTA!! And now you’re a co-founder of an education policy organization! You didn’t even know that this destination was even an option ten years ago, but I can tell that you’ve followed your heart.

Speaking of heart, you certainly married up! Damn, kid!

Once again, I’m not gonna tell you what you’ll be doing a decade from now, because you’re gonna learn and grow so much from all the steps (and missteps) you’re gonna take along the way. I will advise you to take plenty of time to reflect on each experience that’s coming. Also find some mentors that you can reach out to when necessary. In the years ahead, you’ll get to do a lot of different things and you’ll eventually get to be good (or at least decent) at a lot of different things.

I’m challenging you figure out what you wanna be great at! Is there a specific part of your work that you’re really passionate about, would like to learn more about, and would really like to dive into? If you don’t take the time to do this reflection, you’ll find yourself in a constant struggle between what you want to do and what you’re getting paid to do.

I’m also leaving you with a few numbers for counselors and therapists. Just like you go to doctor periodically to preserve your physical health, you should do the same thing for your mental health. Not only will this prepare you for the challenges ahead, but you might be surprised by what you’re able to unpack.

Lastly, as an Auburn fan, you’re noticing that this football season has its highs and lows, even though things are going much better than last year. But just you wait, because next year is gonna be EPIC! Be prepared for things to quickly fall apart soon after, but that will just set the stage for a new offense and an epic bounce back!

Such is life as an Auburn fan. Pull that harness down and buckle up!

On Friday, September 21, 2029, I’ll turn 50 years old. I can’t help but wonder where this journey will take me by then. I don’t know what I’ll be doing, or where I’ll be doing it, but I’m sure the journey will be exciting! My oldest daughter will have graduated from high school, so what college outside of Tuscaloosa will she be attending? Will my wife still be a school leader, or will she be leading from a different role? And is the world ready for 15-year-old Ava?

Here’s to 40!

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