The Lost Year

How does one lose a year? I have noticed that as I get older that years tend to go by fairly quickly. As more years pass and one takes on more responsibility, works on long-term projects, saves for a house, etc., a year as a measure of time begins to mean less in some ways. It’s not much different than a month or a week, though it has seasons. And just as one might feel as though he has just lifted his head to glance at the clock after starting a day of work only to find that it’s already time clock out, so too can a year evaporate. If you know what I’m talking about, congratulations you have reached that certain age.

Just as a person can have no idea how a day can slip by, I have learned that time doesn’t necessarily fly when one is miserable, but it can still slip away just as easily because even though it does not seem like time is moving all that quickly it is still moving at just the right speed so that one is not even aware of how much is lost, how bad things have become, or how much better things used to be.

I took a new job a few years ago to start something new after having lost the previous year to utter discontent. A popular musical of the latter part of the twentieth century taught us that there are 525,600 minutes in a year. That’s a lot of minutes. That’s a lot of minutes to lose. The same musical goes further to teach us that one can also measure a year not only in minutes but also in midnights, sunsets, cups of coffee, laughter, and love. Trying to measure the 525,600 minutes of that lost year in laughter and sunsets has struck me as trying to measure stomach flu in terms of smiles and rainbows.

A few people could see how the year wore on me, but I had no real appreciation for how unhappy and dissatisfied I had become. And this is the true cruelty of losing a year. It is not about how much is lost, but how easy it is to forget what’s being lost while it’s being lost. Trade sunsets for working every Saturday. Trade laughter for working Sundays too. Trade Friday nights out with friends for staying late at the office. Trade evenings relaxing with the wife and dog for having the phone ring with something that clearly couldn’t wait until the next day. The only time that I really could cherish was that when I was not at work. And that time does indeed fly by. Lying in bed and being so happy that I could finally rest was blessed relief, but I was not even able to fully enjoy resting because worries of the coming day would fill my mind. Time slips by for everyone. The pain is not enjoying it as passes.

When that grueling year finally finished and I had a new start ahead of me, I was utterly exhausted and in no position to be introspective and dissect my experiences. A few months after however, with time to consider all that had happened, I found myself thinking that I had lost the whole year. This realization was sudden and the tremendous sense of loss began to kindle a spite which is not characteristic of me.

Spite is a powerful, associative force, which links life’s painful lessons with anger and bitterness as a kind of negative reinforcement so that one doesn’t forget what was learned. The wonderful thing about the intervening years is that it has finally allowed me to embrace and appreciate the lesson of that lost year but discard the anger. Having removed the lens of bitterness, I can look back on the year with a kind of detached, academic intrigue and see it in a more objective light. And this has allowed me to finally organize my thoughts and feelings and put them to paper. Perhaps the act of writing this down will act as a sort of catharsis. But more importantly I think it will serve to memorialize the lesson of that year so that I never have to return to bitterness in order to remember. There is no such thing as leaving the past behind, nor should there be since the past is what defines a person. There is however a such thing as a moving beyond bitterness, and for this I am thankful.

So now when I think about those 525,600 minutes, they can actually be measured in happier terms. The days when I wasn’t traveling and was able to fall asleep next to my wife. The dog greeting me at the door whenever I finally got home. Making new friends. Making dinner together with Elise. There wasn’t a day that passed when she wasn’t there to comfort me. And that was my salvation. Sometimes the lighthouse on the shore lets a person know just how bad the seas are tossing him about.

With the start of a new year putting more distance between me and the one I lost, I can also see what those difficult times brought me was more than just a few silver linings in an otherwise dark sky. I often said that the first year of working as a consultant taught me more than an average job would have taught a person in five. The lost year taught me more than I realized. I grew tremendously both professionally and personally, and despite the pain of that dramatic growth, I am grateful. Without that experience, I would not now know so much more about myself and how I can thrive as an individual. Perhaps most importantly (and at the same time, ironically), it taught me how and when to move on. Without that year, I would not be where I am today. I would not be who I am today.

Long before the lost year, during my halcyon early days as a peripatetic consultant, I wrote at length about the future. At the time I reflected on how I regretted none of my past decisions and asserted that my previous decisions, good or bad, had made me the person I was. So do I regret my decisions that led to my lost year? By referring to it as lost, one would think that there is some sense of regret. However I think that regret is for those who are convinced that they can achieve nothing better in life. I also wrote that freedom is the ability to look back on all of the bone-headed things one has done and use that knowledge to build a better future for one’s self and the people one cares about. After that long year with the benefit of all I had learned and unburdened by regret I felt free to build a better life for myself thanks to the help of those who care about me.

So with a wonderful year of tremendous change behind me, I look back at that other long-past year and can now see it for what it truly was: not lost, wasted, or misspent, but simply difficult. Though I’ll never be able to fondly look back on those times, I can be thankful for them just as I am thankful for where life has brought me so far. And though I don’t know for sure where life will lead me next, I once again look forward to the future.

Many thanks to XSV for the valuable editing advice on this post.

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