Is it the end of 2019 already? It’s hard to remember days when I used to count down to an event, eagerly wishing time would fly by so that I could move onto the next exciting stage in life. One of the strongest feelings under-pining my time in school was this sense of “waiting for your life to begin.” The virtue of delayed gratification demanded we trade in potential paychecks, vacations, and lives for student loans, degrees, and studying. All for the hope of getting even better paychecks, vacations, and lives if all goes well. It was part sacrifice, part investment. One of my fellow roommates understood this virtue as well as I did. Sometimes when we had extra time, Deanna and I would take a detour on our way home from campus and just drive by some of beautiful neighborhoods in Arlington. As we quietly admired the homes, the only sounds that passed between us was an appreciative sigh and the words “some day…” murmured into the open window as the passing breeze lifted upwards our determination to succeed.
And now “some day” is today. I can open the patio door of my dream home and feel that same breeze return to remind me of a time when my reality was just a daydream. The investment has paid off, and while digging our way out of student loans seems daunting at times ($300,000+ between me and Long at the time of graduation), we are fortunate to be working with fairly large shovels in the form of well paying careers with enough left over to afford the life we daydreamed about. I recently returned from Memphis where our class celebrated our 5-year reunion. It was so good to see everyone and share stories of how far we’ve come and how much we still have to look forward to. The strength of that enjoyment was as strong as the bonds we formed during those formative years pursuing optometry together. We sat on lawn chairs outside with the Memphis summer breeze warming our frose and whisky lemonades, as we reminisced about our late nights on Beale and early mornings in clinic. We wiped tears from our eyes as we remembered that time we enhanced our chili cook-off entry with an octogenarian costume, the time half our mission tip team missed a flight back from Mexico by minutes, and the time we watched our classmate’s face flush scarlet when our instructor pretended to be an over amorous patient. And it made me realize that I was never waiting for my life to start because it had already started long before I ever decided to go to school and will be gone before I realize it. Between the optics lab and the 14-hour board exams, life was happening. And while I enjoyed it, I never fully took the time to appreciate that fact.
So if the prior seasons of life were defined by delayed gratification, this current season is defined by satisfaction and appreciation. To enjoy the life we have and put aside time and resources to invest in the future and in giving back to the people who helped get you where you are today and who may be contemplating a similar journey. I get to listen fondly, if not enviously, to young college students debating what path to take, and whether it’s worth pursuing the thing at all. And while I can certainly share my experiences, I’d say nothing in life is guaranteed. And when they bemoan the long and grueling path they’ve chosen and envy the lives they see on the other side. I gently remind them there is nothing wrong with being satisfied with what you have, but there are some things in life that cannot be had without sacrifice. And if you think you can’t be satisfied without those things, then you’re just going to have to suck it up buttercup. That’s why we call it delayed gratification. But sacrifice doesn’t mean misery, just a change in priorities. There is much to be enjoyed during and even more after if we allow ourselves to!