David Brooks, a New York Times op-ed columnist, called on 70-somethings to send in a “life report” evaluating their mistakes and accomplishments. He got his idea from the alumni life reports published by Yale at 25 and 50 years after graduation. He remarks, “The most common lament in this collection is from people who worked at the same company all their lives and now realize how boring they must seem. These people passively let their lives happen to them.”
I’m not 70 yet, but Brooks’ contempt for ordinary working slobs rankled me. Yes, those of us who have worked for the same company our whole life probably do worry that we seem boring—to people like Brooks. But my steadiness under pressure, even the pressure of boredom, is what I feel proudest of. I took on the scary challenges of adulthood and never (or rarely) backed down. I got up every morning and went to work, even when the job was tedious—or intimidating. I was modest in my consumption, resisting the temptation to splurge on luxuries, and I put away savings for my children’s education. I paid my taxes and never cheated. I bought a home and took good care of it. I helped my friends when they needed it. I tried my best to be a good parent, staying awake worrying so often that my friends mocked me. I handled horrible illnesses—my own and those of relatives—not gladly but with care and concern. I showed up when I was supposed to, and always tried to do the right thing.
And yes, there are moments when I feel my life has been a modest one of the sort that Brooks would dismiss as a passively led one. And yes, I wince at the idea of swapping life stories with my more illustrious classmates at a college reunion. But sometimes the biggest challenge is to act like a grownup and do the boring thing.