“I’m getting old,” Shelley said as we started our coaching session.
“Aren’t we all?” I said smiling. “What’s prompting these feelings?”
“I don’t usually dwell on my age, but the other day when I got an invitation to my 20th high school reunion, I felt old. ‘How could this happen?’ I asked myself. And then I realize that my kids are almost in high school. Even though I don’t feel like I’m twenty years past high school, I know that I am. Where did the time go?” Shelley’s voice was full of concern.
“It sounds like a case of Reunion Blues,” I said and the corners of Shelley’s lips turned up slightly.
“So what do I do about this, doctor?” she joked, as though what she was describing were some kind of an ailment.
“In my professional opinion,” I began in my best impersonation of a doctor’s voice, “it’s important to identify the symptoms and determine the cause.” We had slipped into an easy space with the joking, but I knew that this was important to Shelley.
“What is it like to be old?” I asked.
“Old means time has slipped away, life is speeding by, and time may have been wasted,” Shelley said.
“Tell me about ‘time slipping away,'” I said.
“I’m 38 years old and don’t know what I have done with my life. I can talk about the big things – college graduation, my first job, getting married, having kids – but isn’t that what everyone does? What have I done that is special? What will I write for my ‘Reunion Update’ and what will I talk about?”
“What has your life been about over the past twenty years – deeper than the milestones you just mentioned?” I asked.
“I feel like I haven’t lived up to my potential. I hear about classmates who have these great careers and I wonder what happened to mine. I have an accounting degree, but am I doing accounting or am I a CPA? No. I am a part-time reading assistant in an elementary school. The only accounting I do is when I am figuring out which portrait packages to choose for school photos.”
Shelley hadn’t lost her sense of humor. Her sarcasm came out most when we were getting close to her real feelings.
“At our 15th reunion, I discovered one of my classmates was the manager for Jimmy Buffet. Of course, he won the award for the most unique career,” she said. “I can’t imagine what I will talk about that will be of any interest. I’ve had thoughts of not going to the reunion at all.”
“You could do that, but I am not sure that’s what you really want,” I said.
“I want to go. I enjoy catching up with my friends. I love walking into the room and seeing how another five years looks on the people I grew up with.”
“Besides Jimmy Buffet’s Manager, what were some of the other stories at your 15th reunion?” I asked.
She replied, “Most were pretty normal. Their lives had been messy at times, exciting, sad, and thrilling. It kind of depended where they were in their own personal cycle when the reunion had happened.”
I paused for a second, allowing the wisdom of what she had just said to sink in.
“That’s it, isn’t it?” she said. “It’s not that I am a failure. This is just a part of where I am in my life. Plus, it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks – including my high school classmates. What matters is what I think about my life. And I like my life. Why would I feel embarrassed for putting my family priorities first?”
Shelley left that day with a little more hop in her step with feeling “old” the least of her worries.
When you find yourself comparing where you are in life to others and possibly feel inadequate, see if you recognize any cycles in your life. Where are you in the cycle? What are the benefits of where you are and what are the costs? Expanding beyond where you are today can help you gain perspective. This is also a great time to envision where you want to go.