I started my midlife crisis early, and since I started early, I've been worrying about things I haven't achieved and may never achieve because time is running out. As I re-examine my life during this crisis, I recall that I have been accused of being an "underachiever." I remember purposely flunking the eighth-grade math test because I didn't want to go into that scary big building up the hill called high school. I can never forget the final SAT test I took, where after becoming so jaded from taking the PSAT's and its many courses that I spent my time filling out circles with my number-two pencil to create happy face designs on the answer sheet. My mother was a publisher, and my father was a journalist, and I still write run-on sentences. (Sorry mom. Sorry dad. I won't do it anymore I promise.)
I am a grown woman now with my own under-achieving sons who'd rather collect NFL cards than study their match assignments from the schools "talented and gifted" program (TAG for short — tag you're it?). I went to graduate school (finally) to become a social worker at the age of 38. I write brilliant research papers and federal grants while making bologna sandwiches for the boys with happy faces drizzled out in mustard (it makes them laugh).
But during my second year — after working in a small non-profit, answering the help-line, and running the clothes drive — I switched to policy and administration. Higher salary, more prestige, less women in the field. No under achiever was I. I graduated with a 3.9. (What? no 4.0? Sorry, mom, sorry dad. I won't do it again. I promise.) Now poised to take the fast track in a career suiting my intellect, I miss goofing around. I miss making happy faces on official looking documents. Well, I only did it once, for old times sake. (Sorry, Mr. Boss. I won't do it again. I promise.)
Then I saw an article in a magazine promising how to live life to your fullest potential. It had a quiz (I love taking magazine quizzes). There was an exercise called "The Six Months to Live Fantasy." I took it, and not only was it an eye-opener, I came to the conclusion that perhaps I am better off NOT living up to my fullest potential. The question is simply: What would you do if you were told you had only six months left to live?
Here is what I wrote:
"I'm going to die in six months. Once I get through the classic “shock, anger, denial, acceptance” phase, I know now that nothing else is more important in the world except that I am dying. I don't have to worry about debt; I won't be here to pay if off. On the other hand, I don't need material things because let’s face it — you can't take them with you. Before my approaching death, I worried about AIDS, world hunger, pollution. If I were to live, there might be something I could do even if in a small way to help heal the world’s problems. But now I don't care because I, too, am dying. The knowledge of my death makes me selfish.
Being what I consider a caring person, I have always been concerned about others. Not now. Their struggles are nothing compared to mine. In fact, I have little, if no, compassion for my fellow human beings. What problem could be more paramount than mine, facing my own death? I would like to think of myself as a heroine, selflessly thinking of others right down to my last breath, but I know this is not so. I am consumed with my own pain. I want to write my novel, run-on sentences and all. (Will someone publish this just because I am dying?) I spend all my time at the computer and ignore my boys’ pleas for me to draw silly happy faces on their math homework. I am living only for the moment."
I was totally honest with myself when I wrote that answer. But what was this exercise trying to prove? I read on. The book showed other people's examples of what they would do with their last six months: "I would travel," "I would learn a foreign language," and "I would learn to play the piano." Go ahead. Take this quiz. See what you really write. Ask your friends. I did and what they wrote wasn't much different than what I wrote.