A 45-year old woman old looks at a photo of herself at 38 and is astonished at how much younger she looked just seven years prior. At 50 she’s chagrined to see how great she looked at 42. At 60 she’d give anything to look as she did when she was only 50.
A man’s early career success begins to cool and he comes to resent merely having steady work. Then he must begin hustling for the steady work while longing for the day when work came to him.
So what’s going on here? What’s not going on is an objective assessment of one’s beauty or career success. “I am ugly” or “I am a failure” are characterizations, as are “I am beautiful” or “I am a success”. They are attempts at finding meaning through storytelling.
When I won the International Jugglers Association’s junior championships, I told myself a story: “I’m going to become the best juggler in the world.” Eight years later, when a head injury cost me the coordination in my right arm, I told myself a different story: “I’m trapped and there’s no escape”.
I had been telling myself this story for years when a friend handed me the abstract into the FAA’s investigation into the fatal crash of Eastern flight 401. The investigation revealed that while captain, first officer and entire crew distracted themselves with a story about how the need to replace a light fuse in the plane’s control panel, they lost sight of their job: monitoring the plane’s altitude. As a result, the plane crashed shortly before midnight into the inky blackness of the Everglades.Stop characterizing, look outward and get to work.