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Life Events to Reflect On, Learn From and Celebrate

By Terrance Malkinson

Every person’s life is unique. The experiences we have during our life’s journey shape us; and give our lives meaning and purpose.  As we journey through the stages of life, from infancy to seniority, significant life-changing events (milestones) occur.

Some people believe they have no control over what happens to them. They wait passively hoping for the best. Others are proactive, realizing that there are opportunities for learning and achieving their potential. They identify goals and work passionately to achieve results that can be reflected upon with pride. They learn, as they embrace actions, to realize their vision, often overcoming seemingly insurmountable challenges. They emerge wiser, stronger and more self-confident — to face whatever lies ahead. We often postpone our goals until “someday.” We are encouraged not only to conform, but also to increase our financial wealth. However, when we reach the end, the number one regret of the dying is not about money; it is about experiences they missed — and not living an authentic life.

There are many things I wish I had known while I was young. Wisdom and emotional growth take time. We can learn from others, and others can benefit from our experiences. Life is a continuous learning experience. With each success and failure, we learn about ourselves. As I approached my 75th birthday I became increasingly occupied with reflecting on my life. What am I most proud of? And yes, what am I not so proud of? I have reflected on choices made — and the mental processes of creating, analyzing and selecting a specific course of action. This deep reflection revealed underlying truths.

The generational cohort group we are born into influences us — as do new generational cohort groups, as they emerge. The world has undergone many changes in the 75 years of my life. IEEE members have been the visionaries, creators, innovators and even disrupters who have led many of these changes that have benefited mankind.

This article’s goal is to briefly share my life’s journey with readers, followed by my most important lessons learned during the past 75 years. For each of us, the best legacy is to have made the world a better place, because of our contributions.

“Each time a man stands up for an idea, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope. And crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.  Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, and the wrath of their society.  Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence.  Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change.”

— Robert Kennedy

My 75-Year Life’s Journey

I would like to begin by briefly sharing with you highlights from my life that form the basis of my reflections on strategies for success. Born into the “boomer” generation, we were confident that the future would be one of comfort and prosperity. In many ways, that philosophy was true; in other ways, it was not. During my formative years, new technology, engineering and scientific advancements occurred that brought about continuous improvement to our lives. We embraced these changes; and many of us pursued professional education paths in science — in part, motivated by the developing space exploration program President John F. Kennedy championed.  Apollo 11 fulfilled his ambitious goal of “landing a man on the moon, and returning him safely to the Earth,” on 20 July 1969.

I took on post-secondary education, majoring in the biological and engineering sciences, financed my classes with summer employment as a groundskeeper at a nearby golf course. I broadened my horizons with annual “vagabond” travel to Europe in the summers for a month, experiencing other nations, peoples and cultures. Upon university graduation, my alma mater recruited me, and I enjoyed a 26-year career in medical research, advancing up the technical ladder by merit, to the most senior level. It was an incredible career, with contributions to new advances in science and engineering knowledge. I earned the respect of my peers nationally and internationally.

In the 1980s, major changes in our society and the workplace regrettably occurred. The philosophy of professionalism, a respectful employee-employer relationship, civility, reasonable post-secondary tuition fees, and statesmanship declined. Meaningful employment became difficult for many — regardless of an individual’s abilities, as executives embraced just-in-time contract employment for their staff. For me, this shift resulted in termination of my position; and a series of short-term, under-employment contracts followed. I came to realize that this career path was not what I really wanted to do; and more importantly, it contravened my value system. I withdrew from compensable organizational employment, “retired” early, and pursued activities that were more important to me.

As it turns out, this significant life change was an excellent decision, and the start of real personal growth and achievement. I participated in five Outward Bound International adventure education experiences; continued self-funded basic and applied research; and became an active volunteer with IEEE, participating in numerous region and society governing councils and their conferences. I trained for, and successfully finished, eleven Ironman Triathlons — as well as numerous fund-raising, multi-sport activities. Writing professional articles on emerging technologies and career management, as well as engaging in basic and applied research, (was and continues to be) major foci for me — as is mentoring the next generation.

During my transition years, to now being a senior citizen — the internet, powerful personal computing, smartphones, social media, innovative medical technology, and streaming entertainment emerged. Today, over-population, climate change, obesity, new viral diseases, economic inflation, artificial intelligence, and under-employment are some of the new challenges facing humanity. As our predecessors did, we will overcome these challenges.

Become Indispensable

Develop an obsolescence-resistant expertise that distinguishes you from others. Find skills that are missing in the organization, and needed geo-social changes in our world. Become the “go-to” person for providing what is missing. The more others rely on you, the more indispensable you will become to your current and future employers. Become a student for life — learn, question, evolve, and expand your mind. Analyze, value, adapt, and retain the lessons in everything you do and experience. Do not allow other people to influence or change you. Walk your own path with courage. It is your life — you know what is best for you.

Progress with Purpose

Important contributions require a prepared mind, time to grow, and a long-term commitment. Take small purposeful steps every day that move you toward where you want to be. There are no shortcuts; only dedicated, progressive work, resolve and (likely) sacrifices.  Your experiences will get you to where you want to be on your self-actualization journey.  Be impatient with your actions — but be patient with your results.

Strive for Excellence

Always strive for excellence, not perfection. Excellence comes from high standards. Determine where you truly need to be the best and where you can settle for good enough. If you want something, ask for it. Take action. When one door closes, other doors will open. Speak up, assert yourself, demand respect, and stay true to your values.

Beware of Detractors

Ask for advice, but be wise enough to know who to seek it from. It is your responsibility to manage your life on your terms. Even though it is normal to want to belong, to please everyone, and to be liked, respected and valued — you do not need everyone to agree with you, or even to like you. Validation comes from inside. There will always be people who will judge you unfavorably; those who will try to make you feel less worthy of who you are. Do not judge them, rather, reach out and help them understand. Do not allow temptations, grudges and grievances to interfere with your success. Forgive, and move on. Release the hurt, anger and frustration others cause, and you will find true joy, inner peace and happiness.

Family and Friends

Your family and friends want the best for you; however, they may be afraid of losing you, if you are successful. They want you to stay safe and live in your comfort zone. They do not want you to do independent or risky things. Do not accept any labels others assign to you. You must do what you want without the distraction of what other people think. Build respectful relationships with everyone.

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Getting out of your comfort zone may be necessary. Once you do something that scares you, it becomes easier the next time; and it puts you in control of your destiny. The more wins with fear you accumulate, the more fearless you will become. You never really lose until you stop trying. Never doubt your ability to bring about change. Don’t take the easy way out — it is the path to failure.

Life is Precious

Your entire life can change in an instant. Acute or chronic illness; and even death, are ever-present. Do not wait for retirement to do the things that are important to you. If you delay, you will most certainly regret that you did not do it sooner. Never take what you have for granted. Be grateful; make the most of your health, family, friends, jobs, and money.  Good health is a most valuable asset; often not appreciated until it is gone. Stress, poor nutrition, and lack of exercise are sources of mental and physical illness. Hesitation keeps us from moving forward; and we wonder for the rest of our life, what might have been. “Carpe diem” — “Seize the day.”


Failure and adversity are the greatest teachers, building strength, courage, character, resilience, and wisdom. Failure is proof that you are willing to take the risk for a better outcome. Respond to failure and adversity with positive enthusiasm, you will be a better person. When you fail, change your approach until you achieve your objectives. Focus on what you can control and ignore what you cannot.


Self-sabotage occurs because you are trying to protect a false image that is based on perfection. You mask your inner pain, and sabotage your growth by not having the courage to explore who you authentically are. Once you accept yourself as you are, you become the person you genuinely want to be. There is nothing wrong in saying “I don’t know” or admitting your limitations.

Money is Not the Main Objective

Choose a career that gives you a sense of purpose and ignites your passion. Many people are drawn to a career because of the prestige, or the remuneration. Life gets out of balance when financial wealth becomes the primary focus. Become financially literate, make good decisions, and start investing early — allowing your money to work for you in the market.


Translating your thoughts into words can have a positive impact on all areas of your life.  Journaling is a process that will help you think clearly, develop a deep level of self-awareness, and make sense of the world. Write down the ideas you have as they emerge before you forget.


Regardless of what you have achieved, there will always be someone better than you. Your objective is to not be in competition with others; rather, it is about reaching your own potential. It is easy to let peer pressure make you stray from your chosen path. Avoid the temptation to conform. Always remain open to learning from other people — optimistic people who raise you up. Focus on the things you do best; and outsource tasks that you cannot do well. Treat others the way you would like to be treated. Do not force your ideas onto others. Let those who want your help and guidance seek you out.

Enjoy the Moment

When you chase the dream of a distant happy future, you will never experience the contentment that can be found in the moment. Allow yourself time to let your life unfold. Slow living shifts the focus away from speed and efficiency to doing it well. You do not need perfection to act. You may not be able to control your circumstances and environment. How you respond is always within your control. De-clutter and remove the excesses in your life. With patience, you will achieve your biggest goals and experience true happiness. Work smarter, instead of harder.


People often fail to take action due to a lack of courage or confidence. Hesitation after making a decision is counter productive. People who have regrets are those who hesitated; or they quit, when success was within reach. There will be times when you will take action and find that you were wrong. Admit and analyze why you were wrong. Depression revolves around living in the past. Anxiety is caused by spending a lot of time worrying about the future.

Getting the Break

You may not get the breaks that you think you deserve. Do not insist that you are right. Be kind instead. Kindness will bring people together and is rewarding. Always look for something to be grateful about. There is always an opportunity to turn misfortune into something positive. Gratitude helps us in many ways. Gratitude reduces stress and anxiety; it makes us healthier and happier.

Change of Plan

Sometimes things just do not work out the way you want them to. Learn to adapt; and go with the flow, by being open-minded and flexible. We all have expectations of what our “ideal” life will look like; but often, it is not the reality we end up with. Dreams can fail. We change our minds. Unforeseen events interfere. If you do not find the best solution right away, do not give up — try other approaches.

The Self-Made Person

Success is not achieved by your solitary effort. Express gratitude and acknowledge those who helped you to achieve success. You gain by observing others, listening and allowing others to speak. There is power in silence. It is most likely that others will have given you breaks, perhaps unknown to you, that enabled your success. Stay loyal to the people who helped you on the way up. Allow others the opportunity to prove themselves to you, even after they failed. Show them that they matter to you. You will never miss a place more than you will miss the friendships you have made. Always respect your predecessors, on whose shoulders you stand.

Express Your Feelings

If something upsets you, learn to assert yourself without being aggressive. There is no benefit from internalizing your emotions. Not everyone will like you, and that is okay. Never engage in organizational politics or gossip. Keep being awesome anyway. Many people live their lives according to what society expects of them. Such expectations prevent them from expressing their true selves. Embrace your quirks and uniqueness. Today, there is an increasing understanding of the medical concept of neurodiversity. Neurodiversity embraces differences in brain function and behavior as a natural manifestation of humanity’s variety. I was diagnosed as a high-level autistic person several years ago. Learning this diagnosis has been life changing in a positive way.

See more details in my seven-minute YouTube video:

Concluding Remarks

The greatest challenge in life is discovering who you are. The second greatest is being happy with what you find. Most people accept mediocrity. Rise above it. Your reputation is built on the foundation of your character; it entails the words you speak and the actions you take. Humility will keep you teachable, regardless of how much you think you know.

People who fail at life move away from action and change. They end up regretting not having had the courage to live a life that was true to them. People who succeed at life do what makes them feel alive, and they bring everything to the table. They are bold, knowing that they will make mistakes along the way.

Influential people who have mentored me, and shaped my life I would like to acknowledge with gratitude include: William Matheson, Emerson Borgal, Tom Stephens, Keith Cooper, Warren Veale, Debbie Lofton, Terry Fox, Tom Daley, Ken Babey, Hans Selye, Ron Blicq, Irving Engelson, and my parents and grandparents.

You matter. Always believe in yourself. Always be optimistic.

Advance in age, but stay young in spirit.

How do you want to be remembered?


Terrance Malkinson

Terrance Malkinson, the author of more than 600 peer- and editorially reviewed, earned, well-read and cited publications, is now retired. His diverse career path includes 26 years in medical research at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Calgary; a three-year appointment as a business manager with the General Electric Company; followed by a one-year applied research appointment with SAIT Polytechnic. During his career, Malkinson has advanced both basic and applied medical, health and wellness, scientific, and engineering knowledge. In addition, he has trained and mentored undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral students, as well as staff in the business sector and government. Malkinson is a Life Senior Member of the IEEE. He has served in many professional, public, and private governance, and publication roles. Malkinson is the recipient of peer-selected earned awards. In retirement he vigorously continues basic and applied research with an extensive portfolio of basic and applied research projects. Other passions include communicating emerging technologies to the public, investigative journalism, philanthropy, and mentorship. His professional profile is maintained on Academia.

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