About two months ago I wrote a post entitled The Haimish Line based on a New York Times op-ed article by David Brooks. His essay touched me so deeply that I wrote a blog entry to express my enthusiasm and support.
Well, he’s done it again. On October 28th Brooks authored an op-ed piece entitled The Life Report that hit so close to home it felt like it was written just for me. His ruminations on why people choose to follow, or not to follow, their dreams addresses the central theme of this blog and could not be a more apt topic for discussion. So, for a second time, I offer a post based on his writings; let’s call it “David Brooks, Redux!”
Brooks describes a collection of reminiscences written for the 50th reunion of the Yale class of 1942. While a few stories were inspiring and spoke of years enjoyed to the fullest, the majority lamented a rather mundane and pedestrian life that was endured not enjoyed; a passive existence in which events happened to them rather than a life aggressively forged to match their hopes and dreams. For example, Brooks tells how one man looked back on an uneventful career at an insurance company and concluded “Wish my self-profile was more exciting, but its a little late now.” He relates the bittersweet memories of those who lament the path not taken. “I deeply regret not moving to Australia when I was married there 25 years ago.”
Those who did have a fulfilling and satisfying fifty years describe the role that chance played in enriching their lives–”a pivotal and thoroughly unexpected moment that changed everything and took their life in a new direction mid-course.” As I look back on my own “Life Report” I see exactly that pattern–a pivotal moment that changed my life forever. In this case it was an offer to live and work abroad, an opportunity described in My London Epiphany. Until then I was a conventional, 35-year-old college professor with a good job, great wife, two kids, and house with a picket fence. (Sorry, no dog.) By any measure life was good, but I was in a rut; life was simply happening, not being molded or directed. Without a mid-course correction there is no doubt I would now be writing about my gold watch, grandchildren, and golf game rather than hiking the Himalayas, taking a camel safari in the Gobi, and living on a tropical island paradise.
After receiving that offer I closed my office, rented the house, and moved the family to England for three and a half months. Thank God I was willing to take that initial risk because this working vacation opened my eyes to other opportunities to live in exotic locales, experience new cultures, and have adventures usually seen only in National Geographic. That initial posting was followed by 30 wonderful years of travel and work in such faraway places as Zimbabwe, Kenya, Turkey, Mauritius, Australia, Malaysia, Borneo, Israel, Nepal, Mongolia, and Bhutan–experiences described in my memoir On The Other Guy’s Dime: A Professional’s Guide To Traveling Without Paying.
People tell me that I am lucky to have traveled the world and had so many amazing adventures. I am lucky only in the sense of being given the opportunity to change the direction of my life. However, those opportunities are not unique to me; in fact, you had one yourself when you began reading this blog, which explains how you and your family can have exactly the same type of experiences.
So, it is not a question of having the chance to set sail in a new direction; that chance is out there waiting for you. Instead, it’s a question of what you do with that chance–whether or not you have the gumption and the spirit to take a risk and try something completely new. That risk may pay off; it may not–life does not come with guarantees. However, Brooks ends his essay by saying that in all the reports he read from the class of 1942 “nobody regretted the risks they took and the life changes they made, even when they failed.”