Get good grades, go to college, get married soon after you graduate, get a good job (preferably with a BIG company), work hard, climb the ladder, buy a house, buy another car (finally, a NEW one this time), brag about how much you’re working (aren’t you ambitious!), start a family (or not – too busy), put on a few pounds, stay at the office a few more hours, worry about the job even when not working, start to dread Sunday night (another week ahead), look forward to vacation (then not want to come back to the grind), more work, more stuff, more bills, more work, more stuff, more bills, more happiness . . . wait . . . what? Happiness? Well, that comes automatically when you do all the right things, follow the rules, play the role, become “successful.” Right?
Maybe. Or maybe not.
Like a lot of my friends, I grew up with a certain set of expectations. I was placed on the path that my well-meaning parents thought was best. I learned what I was supposed to do and tried to do it. All along the way there was constant reinforcement of the proper steps for a young man to take. I took them. Do these things and you’ll be considered successful. Being considered successful was good. No, it was great. No, it was really all that mattered.
After spending a little time on the island, I’m learning to question what it means to be successful. I’m reconsidering how wise it was to automatically accept what I was told about how life should be lived, what I should do, who I should be, how I should think.
Maybe this comes with the territory, this foreign land of “mid-life” that I suddenly find myself occupying. How did I get here? Did I plan all of this? ANY of this? Or did I just kind of fall into a particular career, job(s), community and way of life because it all happened to appear in front of me along the way? When did I decide what I wanted to be when I grew up? Who is in charge here anyway?
Maybe all these strange, questioning thoughts will soon fade away and I’ll get back on the old familiar path of going along with the standard, expected, common existence. I just need to get it out of my system, it’s just the M-L crisis. It’ll be over soon, don’t worry.
I hope not.
In exploring the island, I’ve discovered a new trail that is turning out to be much more interesting, exciting, rewarding. A little uncertain, but somehow fundamental and essential. It’s the journey that has been lurking around inside of me for a big part of my adulthood – that vague feeling that I was missing something in an otherwise perfectly acceptable life. It’s not that I’ve been unhappy. In fact, I’ve had a pretty great time along the way. Done some pretty cool things. Have a great wife, kids, friends, dog. As Mr. Walsh says, life’s been good to me so far.
Still . . . is there something more?
Maybe. And I intend to find out.
It seems to me that a good way to begin is to ask more questions. However, it seems at this point that the more questions I ask . . . well . . . the more questions I have. Now, understand that these are primarily questions I’m asking myself. And I’m finding that I tend to question a lot of things – things I thought I knew and never really thought to question in the past. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I now think differently about certain things, just that I am open to reconsidering how I do feel. Like: What does it mean to be successful? What does it mean to have security? What does it mean to be happy? How do I want to live my life? What do I really want to be when I grow up?
Sometimes I find that I feel the same way about certain things that I’ve always felt. Sometimes even more strongly than before. But other times I discover that what I thought I thought was really, well, a little absurd when observed from a different perspective.
Sometimes on this journey, every now and then, I can even almost make out the faint outline of an answer. Sort of like the swirling mist momentarily blows away and I catch a glimpse of clarity. Maybe someday some answers will be a little clearer.
But the point is, for now, I’m open to the questions. I’m open to examining my thoughts – what I thought I believed, what I thought I knew. I’m open to at least the possibility that maybe there are other ways to think, to be, to live.
I’m open to putting it on the table.