Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Fear and Optimism

One of my best friends is having her first child today. In my excitement about this fantastic new person we're all going to get to meet in a few hours, I've done a little reflecting. It's been a big year for a lot of people I'm close to. Some people are getting married and some people are starting over. Some people are starting new careers making more money than they've ever made and some people are walking away from it all. So many of us are moving to new places, and some people are moving back to the familiarity of home. I joke that the exodus from DC has begun, but the joke isn't so funny anymore when it's actually happening before my eyes.

When I first graduated from college and found myself naked and cold in the middle of reality, I thought I'd adapt eventually and my fear of the future and the unknown would fade away. I wish someone would have told me the truth. Now I'm realizing everything will just be sort of scary all of the time. Fear is an incredible motivator. Sometimes it gives us the intestinal fortitude to do things we never thought we were able to do, and sometimes it turns us into the biggest cowards we never thought we'd be. It's hard not to get bogged down in the emotional minutia and find the happy medium between moving a direction (even if it might not be the ideal direction) and not moving at all.

Fortunately, we all have those little moments of clarity that come to us in the middle of the shit show we call life. We catch a break. We get a raise. We meet that person. We meet ourselves. Babies are born. Houses are sold. And as scared as we might be, we remember why we've made all the sacrifices and put up with all of the hassle when it would have just been easier to walk away. There's a fortune taped to my computer monitor from an otherwise unmemorable chinese lunch I had two months into my current job. It had been a long two months. I had just decided to put off applying to law school for the 2nd year in a row. I was in a relationship that was crashing and burning quickly, and I knew I needed to get out but didn't know how. My checkbook wasn't balanced. I was working 75 hour weeks with minimal interaction with other human beings and didn't really like my life right that second. After my lunch that I probably didn't chew properly, I opened my fortune cookie. It told me "All the effort you are making will ultimately pay off." Desperately wanting to believe that was true, I saved the fortune. Two and a half years and a few bad days later, I still have it, and I'm more convinced than ever that hard work and a little faith go a long way.

My roommate forwarded me this link the other day, and it touched me to the point of making me cry at work. As you'll see in the video, it is a lecture that was originally given at Carnegie Mellon last September by a professor suffering from pancreatic cancer. His doctors have told him that he only has months to live. Despite the tragic state of his life around him, he stands as one of the most inspiring testaments of what life can be like with some work, persistance and optimism. You don't have to look very far to know that life just isn't easy. The pessimist in all of us can point to examples in our lives that prove that nothing can be absolutely perfect for more than about 4 hours every 6 years. The key is getting the optimist in us to appreciate those 4 hours and tide us over to the next perfect moment.

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