This is a very poignant time for me. One of my sibling’s kids has just won a national academic competition. I just got the picture of their team in my email, and it’s great to see them doing so well. Seriously, they’ve done extremely well for themself, despite having been a truly challenged kid who had a lot of problems relating to other kids and family members. They had a lot of health problems when they were young, and they spent much of their time at home in a dark bedroom, crouched over a chess board (playing against a computer) or a with their nose buried in a book.
In so many ways, they reminded me of myself all through my childhood and youth. And when they were about to go into high school, I sat them down one holiday season and told them I really believed they would be alright. I told them I had had a lot of problems when I was young, and I had not had a lot of help getting along. But if they wanted to get into college and go to the school they wanted to attend, they should not expect their parents to help them much. Their parents were like my parents, I told them, and they had made choices in life that caused them to not have much money to pay for college.
So if they wanted to go to school after high school, they should get involved in a variety of activities and become well-rounded. Volunteer. Get involved in band or orchestra, and join clubs. Do things that would make them well-rounded, so colleges would seek them out.
At the time I was talking, I could actually see the concern lifting off this kid. They actually looked lighter — like they were coming back to life — and they apparently followed my advice, because they went on to join different clubs, take up an instrument, play in bands/orchestra, and become a truly well-rounded individual. This involvement really shaped them into an impressive young adult, and the “kid” in the picture in my email doesn’t look anything like that awkward “ugly duckling” I recognized when I talked to them five or six years back.
Pretty amazing. And gratifying. At the same time, seeing all they’ve accomplished has a way of reminding me of what I was unable to achieve, myself. All the false starts and failures. All the poor choices — the drinking, the drugs, the dropping out of, well, just about anything I could drop out of. What a waste, I can’t help but think. Where might I be now, had I just managed to stick with one good thing in my life, when I was their age?
Well, whatever. What’s done is done. I’ve had this life that I’ve got, and I’ve lived it about as well as I could. If nothing else, I’ve done that. The things that I didn’t succeed at — that’s a loss. And I feel that loss keenly. A pang shoots through me, as I sit in front of a public computer at the public library, typing this in. I’m tired, which makes me embarrassingly likely to burst into tears. Not the most distinguished presentation, I know. But emotional lability is one of those things I have had to learn to live with.
On the bright side, I’ve picked up some freelance work with people who are genuinely cool folks, and who “get” what I have to offer. They think my varied background is a big plus, in fact, and I’ve been complimented and encouraged more in the past week, than in a long time. I can get used to this. It’s great to interact with folks – brainstorming and “riffing” on intriguing ideas — who are quite brilliant entrepreneurs in their own right.
See, this is the thing – I can’t let the loss of what will never be, blind me to the things that are… and are becoming. We all have countless chances to make our lives the way we want them to be, and we do or do not follow up on them for whatever reason. The thing is to not let the losses get in the way of appreciating the gains.
Partly because I’ve never stuck with any one job longer than several years, I’ve gotten a ton of different experiences — all of which I can use to my benefit, now that I’m old enough to know what to do with them. And I guess even if I had been able to stick with my schoolwork well enough to be the darling of colleges across America, I’m not sure that excelling at a single career would necessarily have suited me.
I am where I am. What happened to me, happened to me. I can get stuck in my losses, mourning for missed chances and what-not. Or I can live my life.
As always, I choose to live.
2 thoughts on “The loss of what will never be”
I do think it is important to mourn what could have been. In my youth, I had someone betray me in a way that was repressed to some degree. But I felt it may have effected important choices in my life. And yet, it may have been a blessing to have avoided those choices based on other factors unrelated. I don’t want to give too many details. People have been through a lot worse. The person didn’t do everything that they wanted to do because I didn’t let them. I was very innocent though and let them do more than I should have because of both my innocence and feeling sorry for them.
And I often wonder what career paths I might have taken were it not for my ocd. But I would still have my shyness and possible learning disabilities.
Yet, I have goals unrelated to my career path that drive me. My goals may seem small to many. But they are important to me. As they involve money that I often don’t have enough to spend, they are a source of stress. And I have plans of reaching goals without having to go in buildings or such and going places is a challenge with my goals.
But I still achieve other goals. With my income taxes, I may be able to make more progress in my additional goals.
How do we define success? That is individual and personal. And we may judge it by how much we expect of ourselves and our potential. But for so many reasons, a person does not live the life that they expect.
You just have to keep on keeping on. And I know that you are doing that.
BB, I have thought a lot about this thread and hope that what I will say will be taken with the right heart. Being succinct is not my style as you have surely noticed by now but I will try to express what I want to say.
First, it is so wonderful that you were an influence for good in the life of your nephew. His success is part of your success and your successes in life are linked to others. Whether it is a parent, doctor, therapist, or neurologist, you are where you are because of them. You also have quite a drive of your own.
As I said, it is important to mourn a loss of what could have been.
But I wonder about the narrative you tell yourself. I have a good memory for some things and think that I recall statements in the time that I have read here that I want to bring out now. You have said how you did not manage to get a degree in four years. Where I live, a lot of people do not graduate in four years.
In age and certainly in past generations, an education or degree was not necessarily needed for success. I have a degree from the local University(changed majors went part-time a lot and it took years). Yet, I have never had a job like you. While my shyness, my shortcomings, and my condition may be a factor, I don’t know if I would ever have the skill set for a job with a lot of responsibility with a company. And I’m okay with that. I like to challenge myself in other ways. In fact, I would prefer to have a paid job where I could never make a mistake.
Winston Churchill would at times feel like a failure in life. I guess it is human nature or he may have been having a depressive episode.
It is important to take stock. When doing so, I think you should see how you have gone on an international trip recently and made the most of that opportunity. You network with a lot of people in your life.
Every day of your life, you work to master yourself. I think self-mastery is the most important measure of success.
I know that you know your success better than me. And maybe I misunderstood what you meant when you think about everything that you could have done as saying that you have not achieved a lot.
Maybe your problems are why you have done what you have done. A lot of very intelligent people do not do well in College or in holding down a good job. Some people burn out. Others are too easily bored. There are a variety of factors.
But you are still improving.
Staying with one company for many years is not really too typical in our day and age. I know in the old days a person tended to work with a company for their career and draw a large pension. Many people today are constantly changing jobs.
Then, there are those who re-invent themselves. The stock broker who decides to make cakes. (I don’t know if I have that one but I have heard things like that).
So if you are telling yourself a bad narrative, please consider what I have said.