Wednesday, May 16, 2012

On Time Passing

I had a bit of an epiphany a few weeks ago when I saw that a student in the very first class I ever taught, lo those many years ago at San Jose State, was celebrating a birthday that put them at exactly the same age I was when I'd taught them. It's funny how a milestone that's seemingly so arbitrary can end up becoming the cue ball that sends a whole mess of thoughts about age, personal growth, and professional goals caroming around your head.

Those thoughts continued to ferment this past week during the course of a conversation with a friend, when this friend asked whether I look back on my life and feel unhappy at the choices I've made. For some reason, I had a rough time working my way through an answer. Not because I have any regrets -- because I really don't -- but more because that process of self-reflection (not something I do very often) made me suddenly, acutely aware of the passage of time.

It just sort of sneaks up on you. Five years ago next month, I completed grad school at San Jose. Ten years ago next month, I finished my undergrad at Columbia College Chicago. Fifteen years ago next month I graduated from Glenbard North High School. Twenty years ago next month I moved back to the States after ten years living in Saudi Arabia. Those milestones start piling up, and before you know it, two decades are gone in what feels like the fluttering of an eyelid. And during that span I've accrued a fair number of personal and professional achievements -- things I never would have dreamed possible at one time or another -- that make any notions of regret the height of ingratitude.

But I also can't help but think -- every once in awhile -- about those opportunities I didn't jump on. Or, for that matter, those opportunities that didn't even manifest because at some prior fork in the road I went right instead of left. It's a reality of existence that the further along we get on this journey, as the paths behind us recede further and further into the distance, the ones in front of us start getting narrower and narrower. So, no regrets, but recognition. It can be either sobering -- paralysis-inducing, even -- or galvanizing. I'll be honest and say that sometimes it's a coin toss which side of that divide I'm on from day to day.

Anyway, it was with this rather sizable swirl of contradictory thoughts cascading through my brainpan that I watched the following commencement address given by one of my professional idols, the great Aaron Sorkin, creator of one of the greatest TV shows of all time, at Syracuse University last weekend. Now, I'm ten years removed from being the specific target audience for this address, but that made it no less meaningful and affecting, perfectly putting a bow on everything that's been going through my mind of late.

I especially like how he weaves in the bit about decisions being made by those who show up, a refrain said by President Bartlet on The West Wing that should be familiar to anyone who reads this site, as I tend to drag it out whenever an election day dawns. With three kids of my own, the stuff about time shifting gears and speeding up really landed with me, as did this: "How you live matters. You’re going to fall down, but the world doesn’t care how many times you fall down, as long as it’s one fewer than the number of times you get back up."

Sure, it can seem like a cliché, but the personal and professional highs and lows that Sorkin has experienced during his career (neither of which I've experienced anything close to) certainly attest to the underlying truth of his words. If you're unable to watch the vid (and even if you are) I recommend jumping over here to read the complete transcript of the speech. It manages to be at once thought-provoking, humorous, depressing, and uplifiting. In other words: Classic Sorkin. And my takeaway from this, in Classic Sorkin tradition, is that break's over. What next?

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