November 30, 2011

A life's report card


Growing up, society tells us to dream big dreams, believe in the impossible, and work until we've "made it." The reality of it is that we all manage to "make it" at least somewhere, but often the destination is more tarnished and average than expected. No one really wants to believe that though, not even the people who know better.

Last month, David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times, posed a challenge to his readers over the age of 70 to evaluate their lives. People could express themselves however they wished, but ultimately Brooks was searching for a brutally honest report card on how people felt they lived in career, family, faith, community, and self-knowledge. (Read Brooks' column here)

For the past week or so, he's been sharing some of what I presume to be 1000s of submissions. The stories are gripping, tragic, and laden with heavy acknowledgement of past decisions. Everyone was successful by some regard, whether it be with their children, their career, or community. Some even achieved the kind of success that allowed them to be immortalized by book or by invention.

Successes aside, everyone was critical and all too aware of the bad or wrong decisions in their life. No, these weren't the kind of decisions that went so epically wrong that they garnered a 60 Minutes special. Nor did any of the decisions leave anyone destitute for a life on the street. They were simply life choices that every single one of us makes, which is what makes these stories so riveting.

The one thing that was missing from most of the posts? Regret. There was a general acceptance that although life didn't turn out to be as expected, every decision -- good or bad -- added character to the journey.

This is an ongoing series, so be sure to check out Brooks' blog through the next few days for new posts.

I want you to meet some of my favorites.

This is B. Clewly Johnson. Born in Shanghai, Mr. Johnson has hopscotched continents picking up and putting down his life contents as he went, and certainly picked up a lot of life lessons along the way.

Meet Gilda Zelin, she lost her husband a few years ago and is still learning how to fully embrace her life without her better half by her side.

And finally, this is Neil Richard Parnes. Admittedly unconfident, Neil has traveled the world as an architect and spent several years in Tokyo and China. Ultimately the differences between east and west drove him back to the US, estranged from his wife. Overall, he gave himself an F. Neil's post is pretty long, but it's worth taking the time to read -- his poem at the end is pretty powerful.

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