So you always wanted to be a brain surgeon?

June 11, 1995|By ROGER SIMON

Is your life empty and without meaning?

Would you sincerely like to be happier, healthier, sexier and more content?

If so, keep reading.

Nah. I'm lying. I don't know how to make you any of those things, though quite a few authors in America have made several million dollars taking a stab at it.

Self-help books dominate the book market. "The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth" by M. Scott Peck has been on the New York Times nonfiction list for 605 weeks.

I don't read such books. And if I were to write one, I probably would call it: "I'm OK and I Don't Give a Damn If You're OK or Not."

But recently I did read (or skimmed, anyway) a self-help article in U.S. News & World Report. It was an excerpt from Gail Sheehy's new book: "New Passages: Mapping Your Life Across Time."

The part that interested me was the part on "Second Adulthood" in which people approaching or in their 50s decide to begin a new life.

The reason I read this is because I know two people who did it.

One is my brother-in-law. He had his own advertising agency with big clients like Levi's and Xerox. Then four years ago, he came home from a particularly brutal business trip and told my sister: "I'm not going to do this any more."

And he quit. Packed it in. Bagged it all.

He had been interested in psychology all his life, even though he had no degree in it. (He had a master's of business administration, which may qualify you to be crazy, but not to be a psychologist.)

So at age 49, he went back to school. Now, he has earned his doctorate in psychology and will soon begin a year of post-doctoral work. Then he will take a test to become a licensed clinical psychologist.

He is currently interning, working in a municipal job, counseling AIDS patients.

He is earning a lot less money than he did as an advertising executive. He is very happy.

Why did he do all this? Because psychology interested him. And as he was reaching 50, he decided he would re-educate himself and begin a new life.

Can everybody afford to do this? No. He had worked hard and had saved his money and he had a working wife.

But the point is that thousands of people can afford to change their lives and want to change their lives, but never do.

A few weeks ago, my sister, a banking executive and consultant, told me she was going back to school to get a degree in classical studies.

Classical studies? I asked. What's a classical study?

"Mythology," she said. "Art. Religion."

Why? I asked. What are you going to do with that?

"It interests me," she said. "It has always interested me. And I just read that baby boomers, who are planning to retire at 62 or 65, will most likely have to keep working into their 70s."

So what?

"So if you're going to have to keep working for that long," she said, "you might as well be doing something you like."

Which is a revolutionary concept.

I do not mean to give the impression that either my sister or brother-in-law made their decisions lightly. They thought about it a long time.

And as Gail Sheehy writes: "This new life may be precipitated by a moment of change -- the 'Aha!' moment. It forces us to look upon our lives differently and to make a transition from survival to mastery."

Mastery? I guess that's what my sister and her husband are doing. Mastering their lives. But they are not the only ones who will benefit.

"Second adulthood takes us beyond the preoccupation with self," Sheehy writes. "We are compelled to search for a greater significance in our engagement in the world."

My brother-in-law likes working with AIDS patients and will probably continue doing so, even though there are far more lucrative areas of psychology. My sister will probably teach or end up in psychology, too.

Such change is not for everybody. Many people are quite happy with their lives and see no reason to alter them.

But others do not.

And if you could re-educate yourself and do something different, what would you choose?

Me, I'm thinking of writing self-help books.

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