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The Flatlander

Fifty-six: Not Just A Town

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Welcome to this special birthday edition of The Flatlander.

This week we celebrate the 56th birthday/anniversaries of the Toyota Corolla, Doritos, Superbowl LVI, and yours truly.

To recognize the event, I’ll take a few questions from our readers (Not really. I totally made up the questions, but if you asked me these questions, my answers would be as follows.)

Q: What’s the biggest mistake, and the biggest lesson you’ve learned in 56 years?

A: It’s so difficult pinpointing the “biggest” mistake. Like many people, there was a time in life when I was more focused on work and success than family and friends. I still work hard, but for a different reason. Not for the image of success, but because I feel a responsibility to use my gifts and abilities for the greater good, and to make a difference. And I no longer let any of that get in the way of family. Maybe this is just part of a cycle of life that most folks experience.

Q: If you could offer a thought or two to your 17-year-old self, what would you say?

A: Don’t be in such a hurry with all the monumental and milestone things in life. They will come at the right time. Relax, breathe, and go with the flow. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set goals and pursue them, eliminate the misconceived pressure of time. That is exactly what I’d say.

Q: What’s your advice for high school and college-aged young adults today?

A: Especially for those of us with a rural upbringing, two words: Get away! For a bit of insight on this, read today’s front-page feature story on Judi Munn. Judi learned invaluable lessons by deciding to push her comfort zones and understand a bigger world. My advice? Home is great, and you can come home again. But go!

Q: What have you enjoyed most about living in Stone County during the last 18 months?

A: For one, this place is just beautiful. I’ve also made some good friends here and I appreciate the rural, Ozarkian culture where people are generally friendly and helpful toward one another. If we could only lose social media’s (and other media’s) manipulation and how it divides us, this would be an absolutely perfect place. We are far more divided here than we are willing to admit. I live in the area known as Round Bottom, and it’s hard expressing how much I truly love that place. I can see God in that valley.

Q: What was your toughest day in the last year?

A: I remember it was a day in late April. So many things finally caught up with me. I was working on a website, managing my work at the newspaper, trying to write a new book proposal, arranging a surprise visit from my wife’s brother and his family, getting accustomed to the schedule of managing a 6-acre property that is now 20 acres, and there must have been another dozen things going on in my life. I came home one day and just started crying I felt so empty and depleted from doing so much. Since that time, I’ve worked really hard to bring a greater balance to my life, and I believe I’ve found a sort of a formula for doing so.

Q: What was your best day in the last year?

A: Two weeks before Thanksgiving, I had my entire family here for a weekend. Spoiled them rotten. One of my best weekends ever.

Q: I have a son, and we’ve prepared him his whole life for college, but now he doesn’t want to go. What should I do?

A: First of all, I think we expect kids to know far too early what they want to do with the rest of their lives. College is not for everyone, and I don’t mean that in some exclusive sort of way. Some of the shallowest people I know went to college. And Lord knows we need more skilled tradesmen/women in the world today. Have you seen what plumbers and electricians make? And they can set their own hours and lead their own lives. You can always go to college. I’d say do your best to guide your son while at the same time giving him some room to find his own direction.

Q: I’m 30-something or 40-something years old, and I really don’t feel like I have much direction with my life. What am I doing wrong?

A: Here’s a couple of rough statistics of which you should be aware. The typical American consumer hears and/or sees about 5,000 advertising messages per day. And when it comes to our personal cell phones, we check them an average of 96 times per day. Without awareness of this and how it affects us, we’ll never find our direction. We must be more disciplined in how we spend our time and what we think about before we can ever arrive at the bigger conclusion. So much of life today is about being in the moment. The first step is managing the “noise in your life.”

Q: Why does it seem people are so mean to one another these days? And can we change that?

A: Of course, we can change it, but not until we conclude how meaningless society’s labels are to our lives. I’m talking about labels like Democrat, Republican, Baptist, Methodist, Muslim, Caucasian, Hispanic and so many others. As Ram Daas said so beautifully, “We’re all just walking each other home.” That’s true enough.

See you in next week’s newspaper.

(Steve Watkins is a reporter/columnist for the Stone County Leader. Write him at steve@stonecountyleader.com)

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