Glory Days, Rear View Mirrors, and Windshields

October 27, 2023

And I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it
But I probably will
Just sitting back, trying to recapture a little of glory, yeah
Well time slips away and leaves you with nothing, mister,
but boring stories of Glory Days

Bruce Springsteen’s Glory Days has always been one of my favorite songs. It’s upbeat, it has a great keyboard riff, it’s fun to sing, and it sure seems happy. But it’s actually a sad song about people who are looking backwards more than forwards; it’s a song about people who Springsteen feels sorry for. I imagine it’s hard to write such a sad song and put the lyrics to a happy up-beat melody. He did the same thing with Born in the USA. And as I was watching the Taylor Swift movie (yes – I saw it and loved it – in my mind, she’s right with The Beatles and Elvis in terms of being a musical force and cultural icon), I saw her do the same thing with positive melodies and sick beats that inspire dancing in movie theaters, contrasted against lyrics about heartache, unfairness, and the strength needed to shake off real world problems.

But I digress, like I always do. I thought of Glory Days while I was listening to an amazing podcast my friend Alex recommended to me. It’s Peter Attia’s 155-minute interview with Lance Armstrong. Mr. Attia does nothing if he can’t use a lot of words. My next post will feature some of his 500-page outstanding new book, Outlive. I’m not a Lance Armstrong hater. I know that one of our national pastimes is to tear down our heroes when they falter. We certainly did that with Lance; however, I remain in awe of what he accomplished and I think we all can learn from his mistakes. One of the many things I learned about Lance during the podcast was that he once posted, “There’s a reason the windshield is bigger than the rear view mirror” on social media. With all he’s gone through, it’s a mantra he has to take to heart.

It’s a great line. Lance’s rear view mirror is crowded with extraordinary highs and crushing lows.  All of us have our version of those ups and downs, though fortunately, most of ours are not as extreme or as public. And even though that mirror is so much smaller than the windshield, it’s still easy to focus too much on the glory days – or on our mistakes or other pain from the past. 

If you know me a little bit, you know that I am a relentless optimist. My focus is on the windshield, and I’m doing all I can to create a present and future full of love, friendship, good health, intellectual growth, and enjoyment of the hobbies I love. But I certainly spend my fair share of time looking in the rear view mirror. While I would never describe my past as my “glory days,” I do have so many happy memories from my childhood and my adult years. And, yes, I’m a storyteller. Like my awesome mother-in-law, I love retelling some of my favorite episodes in my life…..over and over again. And I thank those closest to me for sticking around, even when they are hearing a fun story for the 134th time.

But as I have written, there’s no getting away from the pains of the past. I am often reminded of missed opportunities, missteps, and outright failures in my life. And I miss my son Sean every day.  

But to stare at that small mirror too much is a lost opportunity. My friend Chris is my favorite blogger. For decades, he has shared the highs and tragic lows (he recently lost his wife and oldest son in the same crappy year) in his life through his blog while bringing laughter and witty insights about suburban Los Angeles living. He recently co-authored a great book, What the Bears Know, with Steve Searles, a fairly famous outdoorsman known as the “bear-whisperer.” I learned so much about the beauty of the black bears of Mammoth in the book, but my favorite line is not about the bears at all. It’s a reflection on loss. Chris writes, “The only way I can cope is not to let the totality of the twin tragedies reach me all at once, to accept the situation in increments, to get on with my work, and to dote on my three surviving kids, who need me more than ever with their mother gone.” That right there is a healthy mixture of mirrors and windshields.

I’m spending most of this week back in Little Rock, Arkansas, seeing family, checking in on and connecting with my parents, and enjoying Arkansas in the autumn. Anytime I’m with my family, there’s a lot of collective storytelling – the rearview mirror gets a little bigger. And often with my family, objects in the rear view mirror appear a little larger than they were in real life. Stretching the truth for a good story will be a forgivable sin this week. I’ll enjoy all of it. But I l also look forward to looking through our windshields and talking about what the future holds. Two of my sisters-in-law are embarking on bold new business ventures. My 84-year-old dad and I will be planning our trip to Mission Viejo next August, where we will swim in the largest masters swim meet of the year. I expect my Dad to finish near the top of his age group, and I expect that I will be one of the finishers in my age group! It won’t matter where we finish. And I will love looking through the windshield toward whatever the future holds.

As I finish my fourth month of retirement, I am thankful that I have tried to never define myself by my career. The roles that I want to hold close for all my days are my roles as a friend, a mentor, a son, a father, and a husband. I loved all of my public education jobs, and I’m incredibly proud of what I accomplished. But when I look in the rear view mirror, I try not to define myself by anything I may have done that resembles The Boss’s Glory Days. Yes – those reminiscences make me reflect on all that I have enjoyed and learned along the way. They make me smile, laugh, and sometimes cringe. Those days have shaped me, but they don’t define me. 

How I make the most of today matters more than anything.

That’s why my focus is best placed on the windshield. I will be doing my best to spend my days intentionally focusing on the road I am on and the hopefully long and winding road ahead, enjoying the moments I am living, appreciating the power of now, and looking forward to whatever the future brings.

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  1. Patty Flynn Elliot says:

    This is one of the BEST Michael D.!
    Thank you for sharing your wit and wisdom in an eloquent and entertaining manner. My windshield is a bit bigger today because of you.
    You are loved my friend!

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thank you, Patty! I love staying connected to you this way, even though you’re a thousand miles away.

  2. Beautifully written. I will be focusing on my WINDSHIELD instead of the rearview mirror from now on. I love that analogy. It is such a positive way to live.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thank you, sister! Your art exudes that positive way of living, and I’m grateful for you!

  3. Bill Sampson says:

    Good column Mike. I correspond somewhat regularly with our mutual friend Chris – with my apologies to you considering your great work, Chris is my favorite. I’m looking forward to one of his Happy Hour Hikes so I can get him to sign my copy of What the Bears Know. Maybe we can persuade him to schedule a hike nearby – Sycamore Canyon?

    Thanks as always for your column.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      No apologies necessary. He’s the best. I’m just glad you still make time to read my stuff after reading Chris’s.The nearby hike would be awesome if it happens. Thanks as always.

  4. Kevin Skelly says:

    Love this! I shared this idea with my 86 year old dad whom I am visiting with as he recovers from two recent falls. Not sure he shares your sentiment, but so it goes!

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Love that you shared it. And I won’t hold it against your Dad – he’s earned the right to feel the way he feels. Good fodder for our next conversation.

  5. PB says:

    Thanks Mike.
    Nope. No snark.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Mike liked this message.

  6. Kelli says:

    I love this… just what I needed today. 🩵

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Happy to hear that my friend. Thanks for reading.

  7. Thank you! One of your best! I appreciate the wisdom. And that you weave in your personal stories! The deeply personal is the most universal.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      So good to hear from you. Thanks for letting me know what works for you. I appreciate it.

  8. Seth Finn says:

    I have to agree with what everyone above has said, I always enjoy reading your posts, this one is exceptional. Such a good analogy, you’ve handed us a different, really interesting way to look at what we’re doing with our lives. And you’ve once again given us a bunch of homework, and the tools to be more thoughtful as we take that look. Gotta go now, time to get to work parsing everything in this post, as always, thanks Mike, you’re making a difference.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Such a thoughtful response. I’ll be calling you next week about my next blog post. I want to continue a conversation we started recently.

  9. Pau Grisanti says:

    Hi Mike,
    Thank you for this post.

    I’ve been trying to help a friend who has become fixated on his past mistakes and has been avoiding any action that might help his present situation. It’s so obvious, but he just can’t focus on the windshield as he proceeds through his allotted days on earth getting more and more fixated on the rear-view mirror.
    I will be sharing your post with him and hope he will recognize his error.

    All the best

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Paul. We each have our own journeys. For some, the optimistic, forward-looking journey just does not work. In fact, I know that I sometimes annoy the hell out of people with my optimism. Wishing internal peace for your friend.

  10. Merlin Clarke says:

    Thank you… I’m looking through my windshield now (parked at a charging station) and enjoying a beautiful sunrise. Grateful there aren’t too many bugs on my literal and figurative windshield to see many bright days ahead.
    Enjoy your time with family… please share my love with them.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thanks, Merlin. You always find a way to see through those bugs. But for those days when you can’t, maybe I can be your personal old-fashioned full serve service station clean off your windshield with politeness and a smile guy. Just like Navin R. Johnson in The Jerk.

  11. Sylvia Hill says:

    Thank you Mike for your insight! It got me thinking of all the memories in my rear view, But also my windshield and how I will embrace whatever comes down the road, I just need to keep my windshield clean!

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thanks, Sylvia. You’ve always been someone who faces the challenge head on. I now have two friends using the “keep the windshield clean” idea. I like it. I just have to think about what that means, but I know sometimes, it’s downright impossible. Thanks for reading and responding!

  12. Michelle Krzmarzick says:

    Perspective is everything, right? Thanks for the reminder, Mike. I’ll remember this when my view seems to be a little bit too much of the rear view mirror.

  13. Mikke Pierson says:

    Another great posting, Mike. I look into my rearview mirror quite often, especially with my clients. The stories the rearview mirror tells of successes and failures are very worth retelling briefly as a guide to what to look for in the front windshield. Well done.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thanks, Mikke. Yes – a common theme (I even heard it from my Dad after he read the post) is that the rear view mirror holds all kinds of wisdom for us to use as we look in the windshield. You’re absolutely right, and thank you.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thanks, Ben. I had not heard that one. There’s another country song called “Looking through a cracked rear view mirror,” or something like that. Thanks for introduction to a new band.

  14. Betty Glass says:

    Mike, thanks for your insights!! How true – we often spend too much of our valuable time left looking through that rear view. Your blog is terrific, insightful, made me think; now on to bigger and better things to make happen
    in the windshield!! THANKS!! bg

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Betty! You’ve always been a bright side forward thinker who brightens every room.

  15. Richard S. says:

    I reconnected with some high school friends earlier this year and just stumbled upon your blog after going down a MHS rabbit hole.

    I wanted to let you know that I really admired you as an educator and a charismatic leader. I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to be taught by you. Congrats on your well deserved retirement after a wonderful career!

    Richard S.
    MHS 2003

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Good to hear from you, Richard. Those were great days my friend. I look back on my days with you and your classmates, and I feel so fortunate to have experienced all that I did. Thank you for remembering and reaching out.

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