Like most bright, middle-class school children, I have been expected to grow up and have the typical “great life” practically since I was born. Parents and teachers reminded me of the importance of doing well in school so that I would get into a good college, allowing me to score that big-bucks job so I could afford the picket fence house, then retire early in the Caribbean. I bought into the idea blindly and completely. What they never mention is that all of these great accomplishments mean nothing at all without great people and memorable experiences along the way.
In high school I twisted and bent myself into the mold of a “great student.” I passed up Wednesday night dinners with friends or Sunday afternoons at the river because I felt I didn’t have time. It was as though I couldn’t relax enough to enjoy those things when there was always so much work to do. And if I didn’t turn in every homework assignment or get an “A” on every test, I was sure the rest of my life would be ruined. I would end up unemployed, broke, and unhappy. If I’d been honest with myself, I would have realized that I was already unhappy.
College changed my entire outlook. There wasn’t a particular event when I was struck with the light bulb “ah-hah!” moment. As I met so many new people and finally realized what it was like to live away from the pressures of home, achieving those perfect grades in school didn’t seem so important. It’s not like I’ve stopped doing my work altogether. I still turn in all my assignments and study for my tests, but I don’t stress about it. Just yesterday a neighbor knocked on my door to introduce herself, and we sat on the living room couch for two hours talking about everything and nothing. True, I should have been reading Beowulf or taking notes on chapter two of my psychology textbook, but it was more important for me to make that connection with another person, even if it meant getting an hour less sleep to finish my work that night.
I believe that life is just a long sequence of experiences and relationships. So the way to lead the most fulfilling life is for me to collect the most experiences and invest myself in the closest friendships I can. I am just grateful I learned this long before I turned into a workaholic who spends 90-hours a week behind a desk, and ends up wealthy but alone. Now you’d be hard-pressed to catch me saying no to any invitation to do anything. I know I’ll find time for everything one way or another; I don’t want anything to pass me by.
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