I remember a time in college, I think it was the summer of 1996, when the entire world was at my feet. I was brilliant and the world was mine for the taking, as they say. Great Things were surely in store for me.
There are a few things that strike me about the memory of this feeling. For one, I’m surprised at just how optimistic I was. Another striking thing is that I didn’t realize this feeling had been fading until just recently when I realized that it’s just kind of gone. It’s replaced with a sense that, while great things could still happen to me, they are largely outside of my control, and that my time for greatness has passed.
Thirty-four seems a little young to have the sense that one has missed out on the potential to do Great Things. I think about the founders of our country. These guys (and their wives) were largely over thirty, many were over forty, and they formed a new country and a new form of government. Jefferson and Adams are the fathers of partisan politics, and where would we be without that? I think thirty-to-forty is about the perfect age to accomplish Great Things. One has much of the energy of youth tempered with the wisdom of age (but not so much wisdom to prevent one from trying out seemingly harebrained ideas, which is really the only way to accomplish revolutionary things).
I no longer have the sense that good things are ahead of me, but on the other hand, I have a sense of urgency: if I’m going to do Great Things, now’s the time for it. Of course, I got up this morning with the lofty goal of taking a jog at the park before making Christmas Eve dinner, and it quickly became apparent that I needed to lower my expectations because one of those things just wasn’t gonna happen.
But there’s safety in lowered expectations, too. When I was twelve and finally figured out that I’d been willingly duped by my parents into believing that Santa Claus wasn’t just a legend, Christmas suddenly, well, sucked. The expectation was too far beyond reality to reconcile in any way that would leave me anything but depressed. In the twenty-two intervening years, I’ve gradually adjusted my expectations. I still feel down around Christmas, but it’s not the dramatic and all-consuming disappointment that I felt during my teen years. The kids’ excitement goes a long way to help this.
A snifter of brandy and a cat don’t hurt, either.