I recently took a five-month sabbatical from writing of any kind and refrained from involvement in the social media scene. It was a time of reflection, soul-searching and coming to grips with the person I had become – or had not become, depending on how you look at it. A truly revealing and rather humbling exercise, to say the least. It is a process that some of us engage in with more intensity than others.
It has been said that the transition to true adulthood occurs when you recognize that you won't get most of what you dreamed about in childhood. Childish dreams are always lofty -- every child imagines themselves climbing to the top of society's hierarchy, usually inspired by a particular hero. Almost none of them will make it.
Some will go very far, but still fall short.For the rest of us, peace comes from putting away these childhood fantasies and all the imagined future versions of ourselves that never came to be. We finally accept our place in the world, knowing that we tried our best and did what we could. That is when we truly become an adult. In that context, I cannot help but think that there are some individuals who may never completely achieve adult status per se. It has taken me most of my life to come to that conclusion.
I know people who have clung to youthful dreams and ambitions all their lives. They live out their fantasia by embellishing certain experiences and accomplishments to the degree that they come to believe the embellishments. They will go to their graves convinced that they are legends in their own minds…And God bless them for that! Far be it from me to rain on any parades.
For me, I’m just the opposite, however…I have never tried to fool myself and have bought in to the theory that you can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time. An honest personal appraisal tells me that I have never fully realized the expectations that I had for myself as a young man and I am left having to rationalize the person that I am as I write this on the 20th of May, 2015. The chore is to stop telling myself that I have under-achieved and fallen short. To dwell on this any further would only serve to be unnecessary public self-debilitation and dear knows I have done enough of that when exposing innermost thoughts and feelings in past writings.
I am by no means a perfectionist, suffice to say I concede that there were times along the way when I could have applied myself more to the task at hand and done a better job. That is simply a live-and-learn admission. I regret that in my 78th year, time has just about run out for me and I will never have a chance to do some things over again. That has been the downside to the aforementioned period of self-examination.
Too little, too late, I understand that expectations are meant to be energizing, motivating and serve like a guiding light towards living a purposeful life – very much like a lighthouse is to a ship sailing in dark seas. As people mature from infancy to adulthood, they begin to understand the differences between appetite satiety, and the deeper emotional appreciation of fulfillment, after accomplishing a cherished goal.
I accept too, that goals are based on what is valuable at certain points in life and they vary according to personal priorities, relationships and professional challenges. People change from being self-centered as infants, to meeting needs and expectations from a wider perspective, so much so that family, friends, and work are all factored in as we mature. Far from being static, expectations are ever changing in value, and, should be viewed as being based on a life continuum.
Failing to come to terms with unmet needs or not being able to achieve a goal is the perfect set-up for frustration, anxiety and stress. Whether to raise the expectation bar or lower it a bit for the moment is a personal decision, but it is a choice. All people want to experience their efforts inching towards getting what they desire, the dream, and the expectation. What truly matters is the sense of fulfillment that we receive at the end of the day which reinforces the fact that efforts were not in vain. This also means staying grounded and focused as failures have a way of eroding self-confidence.
I have had to recognize that stress and anxiety are part of the process of attaining any goal and I am trying not to let accumulated pressure erode the sense of inner joy with at least having tried my hand at more than my share of life experiences and challenges. I was going to itemize the things that I have tried with varying degrees of achievement over the years, but the list is far too exhaustive to include in this space.
We all need to forgive ourselves for having some shortcomings. There is no need to beat yourself up or be needlessly embarrassed over a failure or some imagined ill-doing.
The strain of constantly trying to measure up to fit a certain mold, just to get adulation or approval, triggers an uncomfortable feeling that does not go away. This feeling of not measuring up gnaws constantly until some people despise themselves just a little bit, and then, a little bit more. The craving for love, acceptance, belonging and approval is normal, and is ingrained in our psychological makeup, but the cravings may go on overdrive, if we cannot cope or accept our own humanity in a kind, mature, rational manner. Simply put, no one of is perfect!
Certainly not me…I have a record to prove it! And I now accept that fact as I get on with what is left of the “mellowing out” stage of life. After three-quarters of a century of living, none of us are able to go back in time with the hope of doing certain things differently. All we can do is simply be thankful that we made it this far, in spite of circumstances -- and ourselves. That in itself is a major accomplishment.
In the end, leave it to others and our Heavenly maker to pass judgement, as they ultimately will do anyway. That's the way it is with life! Mercifully, we get to leave it all behind. The good, the bad and the ugly.
Thanks for sticking with me dear readers…and for hearing me out. Hopefully, you know some of whereof I speak.