The new year quickly approaches and like many, I find myself amazed at the pace at which the current year is fading. Memories play like a movie reel fast forwarding through the blur of events, places, people, and paths that comprised the journey that has been the past twelve months. Reflection recounts joys but also brings into focus regrets, mis-steps, and stumbles. Improvement becomes focal as the calendar roll is eminent and a deadline for "resolutions" looms. We all have a picture of the ideal we desire to become, the person we fell short of. Perhaps this is the year...
It was a beautiful autumn Saturday morning. Crisp cool air laced with the welcome spice of dried leaves and ornamentals. This mingled with the steam fuming from my coffee cup creating an intoxicating and perfect aroma lifting my spirits and elevating my senses. The world was bright, colors were sharp and vivid, smells were distinct. I was alive.
I happened to work for a large university. Not only is she my employer, she is my Alma Mater - Class of '95. This particular day I found myself walking between several buildings where I lived as a student and I was enjoying the brisk nature of the morning and the surroundings.
Only one block away, the football stadium was loudly crooning announcements and the distinctions of former alumni, players, and honored guests over the loudspeakers. I could hear the ensemble of a three hundred plus member band with their golden and silver instruments playing collegiate anthems to the cadence of heavy percussion; amongst all of this, a steadily growing murmur of an increasing crowd attendance in the sixty thousand seat coliseum that would host the approaching game.
The contest was between two Big Ten Conference rivals. Nature had lent a festive flair to the day as trees in their fall coloring were golden, auburn, crimson, and orange - all colors mimicking the apparel and jerseys that the fandom from both teams had donned this day as they trekked to the event. People of all ages flocked by the tens and the hundreds towards the contest. Police guarded street closures with Fort Knox intensity. The music continued to swell and with it the masses of pedestrians en route. This was the heart of collegiate pride and there was no escaping the energy in the air. I too felt a swell of pride as the bands played, the crowds roared, and the flags displaying my Alma Mater's colors waved.
Caught up in the moment it dawned on me...
I was proud to be an alumni.
To most this seems a simple and unimpressive statement.
I mentioned previously that I graduated years ago from this esteemed institution. In my field of study, I worked very hard. My particular curriculum was not geared for the party crowd. The sophomore year was known as the "weed-out" year where those who couldn't make a regular habit of staying up into the middle of the night working on their assignments quickly found themselves behind and unable to continue with this field of study. I managed to get through the weed-out phase, form the necessary bonds with my classmates who were in like deep waters and worked hard to cross a stage and have a distinguished emeritus hand me my diploma.
I worked several part time jobs for almost a year before finally obtaining full time work. My first day I held a sledge hammer for eight hours. Later that summer I found myself in muddy trenches, shoveling gravel, smoothing hot asphalt, and a number of other tasks that were about as far from my field of study as I could imagine. Being newly married, the realities of family and finance became far more critical than my ego. Post baccalaureate degrees were put on hold as I wrestled with self and tried to sift through pipe dreams to find attainable goals.
My education benefited me in that I found a new passion for planning on the urban scale and soon found myself involved with regional and urban planning projects, landscaping, arboriculture, and the like. But always in the back of my mind was the notion that I had mis-stepped, jumped ship, that I had somehow failed at what I set out to do when I entered college.
Then I was blessed to obtain a position at the very university from which I graduated, to work in some of the very halls that I traversed as a student. Joyfully I took this opportunity. Immediately I was drawn into yesteryear as I could regularly smell familiar smells, hear familiar sounds. I was constantly surrounded by memories in physical form. Yet they did little to calm the sense of disquiet I continually felt about the loss of those passions that had driven me to work so hard to achieve the diploma; to be counted among the "alumni".
In fact, I began to disassociate from this title. I did not want others to know that I had graduated from here. I did not want them to know that I had failed so spectacularly in doing what I had set out to do, that my path had altered so drastically from its intended direction. My identity and sense of worth were so enmeshed with my plans, and an ideal of success that had been programmed in during my education. And now on this beautiful day, among the pomp and pageantry of a collegiate homecoming I found myself proud to be an alumni for the first time in nearly two decades.
Looking around I was surrounded by scores of students, all bright young minds in celebration of vitality. Their life's goals ahead of them. Their futures uncertain but hopeful. They are all working to take the world by storm. When does it start? For many of them, in their minds, it starts when they earn this same title "alumni".
I noted the middle aged and older sect. Droves of these were in motion. It was evident that most of them were advertising their affiliation with the institution that made their livelihood possible and to which they associated memories of vigor, youth, and passion. "Alumni" was embroidered on dozens upon dozens of sweaters, ball caps, and shirts.
All of these took stock in something that I had hidden from for years because my track did not go according to plan, took a left when I anticipated a right. This title, this phrase gives me no more value or worth than any other human. It does represent work, toil, even sweat of brow. It represents sacrifice and even some loss. Ultimately, it represents achievement and I have ignored these facts, down played them, and chosen instead to wear the label "FAILED". Why? Because long ago I sold myself a picture of what it would look like to be a success in my own life. This picture was incomplete. I barely knew my wife to be, my children weren't even a notion in my mind, I had no concept of the challenges ahead of me, but this picture of success was concrete.
Then life happened. Forks in the road happened. Storms happened. Choices had to be made. Decisions were rendered. Pipe dreams evaporated. Life required focus. But something else also happened. Growth. I am not remotely the same person who formulated the picture of success I was then. But I still was judging myself by this concrete inflexible notion of what life should have been and when it didn't match my reality the perceived deficit left me feeling apologetic to the world at large. "I'm sorry you should know I'm not everything you think I am." was the subtext silently projected into every encounter, to every friendship, into every task. This immediately puts one at a deficit in their sense of self confidence, self worth, and their sense of capabilities. I was not only buying this, I was selling it to others as well. And it was false advertising.
Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it?
How many would identify? How many, during this time of approaching "new beginnings" are already focusing on their resolutions, their list of deficiencies that need changing? Improvement is desirable. We should all periodically take stock of areas to improve upon. But how many have bought into the never ending notion that they are something less-than based upon a perception of failure or a track record of marks missed?
And what does the Creator of all who knows your last breath from your first have to say about you, your life, your mis-steps and the forks in your roads?
You have been purchased with a price. 1 Corinthians 6:20
You are chosen and hand-picked by Him. 2 Thessalonians 2:13
You are dearly loved. Colossians 3:12
You are His treasured possession. Deuteronomy 26:18
You are beautiful. Ecclesiastes 3:11
You have been created in His very image. Genesis 1:27
You are the work of His hand. Isaiah 64:8
You are forgiven. Hebrews 8:12
You are His beloved. John 1:12
You have been crowned with love and compassion. Psalm 103:4
You are heir to His Throne. Romans 8:17
He doesn't mislead. He doesn't sell a bill of goods that is deceptive. In fact, it's impossible for him to call anything by any name but exactly what it is - in full disclosure of the truth. There is another, however, who whispers in our ears and convinces that we are inadequate to receive grace, forgiveness, and love. He reasons that we are not responsible to extend these to others either. And when we listen, we buy into a false narrative, we purchase a faulty product without a return policy. To whom will you listen?
2017 is here. I have my list of resolutions. Many will write their own. Fitness club memberships will temporarily swell, soda sales will taper, and affirmations will renew. As for me, I'm buying into something solid - I'm no longer listening to false advertising.