To Go or Not to Go: Is Your School Reunion Worth the Worry?
They happen at five-year intervals -- from the time we graduate high school, college, graduate school and professional school until the end of our lives.
In many of us they provoke far more anxiety than they should, spurring wistful dreams and anticipatory nightmares.
They are fraught with concerns over how we look, who we've married, what we have or haven't achieved over the years and hurts real and imagined.
They can be hardest on those who are out of a job, just starting their careers, or not yet settled on who they want to become.
At the same time they can lead accomplished professionals, capable managers and respected citizens to become self-doubting Hamlets, debating for weeks and even months, with the help of friends, relatives, colleagues, therapists and anyone who'll listen, one torturous question: To go or not to go?
That is the question thousands of graduates of the nation's high schools, colleges and professional schools are facing this very moment as they wrestle with whether to attend their alumni reunions in the weeks ahead. I do not mean to make light of their burden, because it is rooted in some of our oldest and most familiar fears.
Fears that. . .
. . .I don't measure up
. . .I haven't lived up to my promise
. . .I don't look as good as I used to look
Fears that. . .
. . .everyone who knew me back then will see me for the loser I really am.
My wife tells me that women are more prone to have these feelings than men, particularly as they age. But I know, from personal experience, that men aren't any less immune to the competitiveness and sense of being inadequate that reunions can bring, and that we're just as liable to turn this quinquennial chance to reconnect with old classmates into a referendum on our lives.
In truth, if you have the time, means and inclination to go, your high school or college reunion can provide a rare opportunity to gain perspective on your life and enable you to attend to some of your unfinished emotional business.
In two weeks, as inconceivable as it once seemed, I'll be going to my 40th high school reunion. My fifth and tenth reunions -- at ages 23 and 28 -- were dispiriting. My fellow alums and I circled each other like tigers, telling made-up stories designed to make us look more important, successful and glamorous than everyone else.
My 15th and 20th reunions were even more discouraging. Because I had yet to settle on a job or mate, I found myself a decade behind the majority of my classmates, who were married and already well along in their careers.
I felt happier in my life -- with a wife, kids and a job I loved -- at my 25th, 30th and 35th reunions, and hence much more interested in hearing about the course that my classmates' lives had taken. I also found myself reminiscing more comfortably with them, remembering moments and emotions from high school that could help me better understand my own children, who were proceeding inexorably toward adolescence.
Now, at the 40th reunion, I'm looking forward to having even deeper conversations with my classmates -- not about who we were and what we did back then, in high school, but about how we are dealing with the challenge of making the most out of our lives now and in the years ahead. I intend to report on these conversations in a future post.
Lee Kravitz is the author of UNFINISHED BUSINESS: One Man's Extraordinary Year of Trying to Do the Right Things (Bloomsbury USA). The paperback, out this month, includes a new foreword by PASSAGES author Gail Sheehy, a chapter of reader stories, and a practical guide for addressing your own unfinished business.
To learn more about Lee and the book, go to www.MyUnfinishedBusiness.com