Caught in the Headlights of Life

By Jason Menard

Sometimes the roads less traveled get you where you didn’t even realize you wanted to go.

In taking a different route to the office today, I had the unique experience of driving along side one of nature’s creatures – an obviously lost and frightened deer running from a rural environment towards a residential subdivision.

I slowed down and paced the deer for two reasons. One was to ensure that the deer didn’t dash out into the street in front of me — as much as I love venison, I didn’t want to have to scrape Bambi out of my grill. But mostly I was entranced by this graceful animal bounding through the grassy ravine frantically searching for a way out.

Alas, the experience was all too short, as I lost the creature as it ran through a townhome complex. But in those few fleeting minutes I was struck with the revelation that, in reality, we’re no different than that scared deer bounding through life at breakneck speed, just trying to avoid getting hurt and not entirely sure of where we’re going. We live in fear of life – the uncertainty of tomorrow paralyzing our todays.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I received a call from an old friend and we got to discussing where life has taken us. We got to discussing his current job and he revealed that it wasn’t everything it was cracked up to be, and he wasn’t even sure if he wanted to stay in his chosen industry. After years of schooling and rounding the 30s, he now stood at a crossroads, looking back on how he got to where he was and wondering if he made the right turn. And we all come to a point in our lives where we do that.

If 20-year-old Jay would have predicted where he’d be almost 12 years into his future, I don’t think he’d predict a life in corporate communications or freelance column writing. However, it’s where I find myself and it’s where I currently find contentment. But those passionate dreams that we shared of falling in love your job and living the high life slowly subside to a realm of contentment and appreciating what gifts life has brought to us.

Originally I dreamed of working at a newspaper, reporting on the day’s news and shuttling from story to story. But as I aged and had a family, my priorities were not on the thrill of the chase but rather the desire to enjoy every moment I have with my family. I still have friends who work the graveyard shift at publications, or travel the world covering various events, but that’s not where I want to be. Watching my son and daughter grow is more fulfilling than any lead story I ever could write.

But there’s a danger to that as well. Where one person can find contentment in a career that they didn’t even realize existed, others get caught in jobs for the security of the paycheque. I wouldn’t be working where I am if I didn’t love the work that I do – however, I know a few people who, because of family obligations, find themselves in jobs that are not personally rewarding or fulfilling. So the questions becomes how do we chase our dreams, while respecting the needs of those around us?

As we grow up, the focus is always on personal gratification. We are prompted to chase our desires and find work that fulfills us – on an individual level. Growing up in the Reagan-influenced 80s, everything was about bigger, better, and more – more success, more money, and more power. Our measures of achievement moved in direct proportion to the bottom line.

What no one ever reminded us about was that animals travel in packs. If I may anthropomorphize a bit here, that deer seemed to be panicked and focused on getting back to familiar surroundings – despite not knowing how to get there. Its ultimate contentment would come from being with its own herd. Yet, the human animal is trained not to think in a pack mentality, but rather satisfy our individuality.

We have derogatory terms for people that choose to modify their dreams to meet their current reality – we say that they’ve sold out, are working for The Man, or shilling for the corporations. But maybe we need to put value on the contentment that comes from family. It is a lesson learned later in life that true happiness only comes from within – and now I know that I derive more satisfaction from my wife, kids, family, and friends than I ever could find at any job.

The key is to never stop dreaming. But just as we change and mature as we get older, so too should our dreams. The things I was certain of in my youth are now clouded by the filter of perspective, and the things that were out of my youthful field of vision are now crystal clear. So those selfish dreams of my youth just don’t seem so important now.

As we age, the pressures of life bear down on us like a truck barreling down the highway. But we need to choose whether we are entranced by the shiny headlights, or are we able to use our wisdom to find a new – and more fulfilling – path.

Looking back at my 20-year-old dreams, I can honestly say that I haven’t fulfilled each and every one of them – but I’m a better man for it.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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