You don’t have to be a certain age to heed the wisdom of John Stalick. At 79, he’s got a gift of making a difference in life through mindfulness, healing, and growth.
“The first thing I do I the morning,” he says, “is make my bed. Start your day organized.” He recommends reading a short book on the subject by Admiral William McRaven. “He is right on the money.”
Stalick’s daily routine includes fixing a hearty breakfast that typically features bacon, onions, and bell peppers fried in real butter. “This morning, I had a big old piece of honeydew and a bunch of blueberries with granola and milk. Then I brewed up my water and collagen (powder) mix. Keeps everything connected.”
Stalick was one of the first people I met after moving here in June. His was the voice that wafted through the iron gates of our apartment complex. There I sat, luxuriating in the hot tub, when I heard a friendly voice. “Where are you from?” he asked.
“I’m from DC,” I answered, looking at him through chlorine-drenched eyes, wondering if he was peddling Scientology snake oil.
“Oh, I feel sorry for you!” he said, the theatrics kicking in. Secretly, I didn’t like anyone disparaging my hometown – only I was permitted to do that. Then the payoff. It turns out he was from there, too. It broke the ice, two easterners trying to find meaning on the Continental Divide.
In the intervening months, we’ve forged a strong friendship over countless cups of coffee as we compare notes about DC life, and never sugarcoating it. Agreed: The Beltway is beyond belief. Agreed: The cost of living is through the roof. And unlike here in God’s country, don’t expect strangers in line at CVS to strike up random conversations with you.
When John talks, I turn off my ADD-addled brain and focus, really tune in to his views. And why not? Here’s a guy who rode the crest of the computer age in the early 1970s, he recalled, when he bought a computer “that was as big as a dining-room table.” That was the foundation of a company he started that helped big and small clients keep track of their financial affairs.
But it wasn’t a cakewalk. “I worked 60 to 80 hours a week. There were years I’d go home and change, sleep three or four hours, and go back to work.” And cocktail hour, at times, began at 5 PM and occasionally didn’t end until 5 AM.
Before starting his own business, he said he worked so hard he actually collapsed on the job. When his boss called him in the hospital, the only thing he wanted to know was when he would be returning to work.
His success enabled him to enjoy some of the finer pleasures in life: his own private plane and hangar, numerous motorcycles, which he’s used to crisscross the Peloponnese, a home in the highbrow DC suburb of Potomac, MD, and the means to travel the world. This fall, he’s taking a cruise to Budapest and Slovenia, his ancestral home. “I’m going with my old high-school girlfriend,” circa 1960, in Casper, WY. Former Vice President Dick Cheney was a year ahead of him at the same school. (He remembered the family as being pompous.) Besides working out daily at a gym with his teenage grandson, he’s a certified scuba diver.
Nowadays, Stalick mixes money and health and argues that they are mirror images of each other. If you’re in your 50s or 60s and you haven’t socked money away for retirement, he doesn’t mince words. “Then you’re screwed.”
Then come the excuses, he says. “People will say, `well, yeah, but we had a boat, a trailer, grandkids’ tuitions.’ Now it’s coming home to roost.” And don’t make the mistake of thinking Social Security is the answer. “It’s a supplement,” he emphasizes, and not designed to be your primary retirement income. If all else fails, he quips, “they used to have greeters at Wal Mart.”
If you’ve had your fill of Afghanistan and the lingering pandemic, Stalick is a big fan of turning off the TV. “It feeds the loneliness and the fear. You’re going to die. The sky’s falling! It’s Chicken Little. We’ve stressed the hell out of oldsters.” Instead, he says get up and takes a walk. “And put a smile on your face.” As for what’s left on your bucket list, don’t limit it to dreamscape locales like Cancun. “It’s overrated anyway.”
But, my new pal’s also a realist. If you’re of a certain age, he suggests, get into a sports mindset. “I’m in the fourth quarter, coach!” he rhapsodizes, riding a metaphor. “I’m going to kick their a – – and finish the game in style.”