When I was a little boy, the wait for Christmas each year seemed to take forever. Even in the summer — or even after school had started back in the fall — the weeks until Christmas went by at a snail’s pace.
If you can remember being a child — and dreaming about what you might get for Christmas or whatever holiday your family celebrated — you probably remember feeling the same way.
When you’re 5 years old, the time until another Christmas represents 20 percent of the time you’ve been alive. That might as well have been forever back then.
When I thought about what I would be in the future — when I got old enough to start having oversized ambitions for myself — my life seemed to stretch to eternity. My parents had lived half their lives. My grandparents have lived most of theirs. But I had forever to become what I was meant to be.
For the first time in my life, I feel a clock ticking. I no longer have forever. I have decades left in which I can live and love, but the years are flying by. The time from one Christmas to the next is now a blur.
I still have plenty of time, but it’s no longer forever. And for the first time in my life, I’m feeling a fear I’ve never known. What if I don’t find the love and the life I’ve always needed?
I was 25 years old when I started my first company. I was ambitious and impatient, so I was annoyed that it took me so long. I was 27 when I started my first publication. I started another newspaper — and then bought an advertising magazine — shortly afterward. I was impatient. Things were taking too long.
When everything fell apart for me around the time I turned 30 — for reasons beyond my control — I was crushed and humiliated. I spent a year too depressed to do much of anything, but I was reassured to know I had still forever left in front of me. My future still seemed to stretch so far that it might as well be forever.
I took a series of detours. I worked for a large newspaper chain as a publisher. Then I got into politics and made a lot of money. Then I seemed to get far, far off course. As things crumbled in my personal life — and I started questioning all of my assumptions about the meaning of life — I walked away from my political career.
I slowly spent the money I’d saved. I drifted. But even then, I still felt as though I had forever — almost forever, anyway — to get back on track. To find love. To start a family. To be satisfied with whatever I made my life into.
I don’t like much of my life right now, but I’m no longer the arrogant and confident punk who knew how to fix everything. I’m no longer the guy who knew everything. I’m no longer the guy who was so sure the world would be happy to give me everything I asked for.
I’m psychologically and emotionally healthier than I was when I was that hard-charging young man. I know that I don’t know everything. I have more questions than answers, even about things which I felt certain about not so many years ago. What’s more, I’m happier to confess that I’m not right about everything.
I’ve been wrong often enough that I’ve had to develop some humility.
I’m finally starting to become who I should have been from the beginning. I’m smarter and wiser. I’m more compassionate. I know how to love in ways that I didn’t understand back then. I’m still a work in progress, but I finally feel as though I’ve developed myself enough to at least begin my life.
I’m ready to live more wisely. To understand what’s important in life. And to be the husband and father that I didn’t know how to be when I was young.
But now that I finally feel prepared to run this race, I see that the clock is ticking and I’m suddenly panicked. I look at the lives that most people around me have built — and I realize how empty most of their lives are — but at least they’ve built something they can show. Something they can be proud of. And I’m prideful enough to feel ashamed that I don’t have the things to offer which I once had.
It’s not that I feel it’s too late for me. It’s not that I feel I can’t possibly have the love and the life I need. It’s simply that I feel like someone who’s way behind — and for the first time in my life, fear has been creeping into my mind. Fear that I might never find the things I’ve craved all my life.
I wouldn’t trade places with anybody I know. That might sound odd, because I know quite a number of people who are wealthy and successful. But the more I know about such people’s lives — no matter how much people praise them — the more I see the negative things which I’ve learned to avoid.
It’s a tradeoff. I’ve grown in psychological and emotional ways that I don’t think most people ever bother with — and I’ve learned that life wasn’t worth much without that difficult growth.
Maybe I’m exactly where I need to be. I’d like to think so. I’d like to think that I’ll soon find the healthy love I need. That I’ll soon have the family I’ve wanted. That I’ll soon be on a path to something positive with people I love.
I thought I was ready to run this race when I was young, but I was sorely unprepared. Now that I’m finally prepared, I see myself back at the start again — and I see that others have already run half the race, maybe more.
My goals are far different than they once were. I’m thankful for what I’ve become and for the ways in which I continue to grow. But I’m terrified to realize that there’s a clock ticking. That I no longer have forever. That I might not find the love I need. That I might be stuck with what I have now.
These are new fears for me and I don’t like them.
If I wake up in a week or a month or a year and find that I’ve found the love and the life I need, I’ll be relieved to give the fears up. But as I sit alone in my office at 4 in the morning — wishing I knew how to finally find what I need — the entire house is silent.
The only thing I hear is an imaginary clock that seems to be ticking more loudly each day.