The definition of a crisis varies from person to person. One person’s crisis might be a near-fatal accident or illness; another person’s crisis might be the cancellation of My Own Worst Enemy. I have often said to my friends and families that while my own personal troubles might be small in the scope of the world’s problems, they are mine, and that means they matter more to me – if I am honest with myself – than war in the Congo or smog in Los Angeles or Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. I know that these events come to touch me in ways I can’t imagine, but I can only look so far into the past or future to figure out those links. The collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in the birth of my two children, for example, since the resulting collapse of the Soviet Republic where my wife’s family lived caused a rise in anti-Semitism that drove them away, eventually landing in New York where Bubelah and I met.
So despite understanding that the risk of a nation’s collapse is a REAL crisis, I decided to write a few articles about the greatest crises I’ve had in my life. I have been lucky not to face anything insurmountable so far. I have had crises that I won’t cover here – deeply personal, for example. But these five crises have affected me in one way or another, and I wonder how much they shaped – or did NOT – shape my life.
First: The decision to reject great expectations
I was a star performer in my small, Southern high school. I loaded myself up with every academic honor available. I was a varsity athlete. I won a scholarship to be an exchange student in Germany, I was valedictorian, I was a National Merit Finalist, and on and on. Many people – teachers, friends, relatives – had high hopes for me. I was recruited heavily by colleges all over the country. I was accepted to every college I applied to, and received full tuition scholarships to every one, as well. I wrote at length about this in another post.
One college was Harvard, and another was a prestigious southern private university. I think the assumption was that even though Harvard might be a stretch – based on my father’s experience with the Ivies I wasn’t ever serious about attending – most of my classmates, teachers and even relatives seemed surprised when I turned down all offers to attend my local state university. I was told by classmates and teachers that I was “wasting my life.” I was accused of being afraid to leave home. Ironically, that accusation came from my classmates and teachers who had never left the state, considering I had already lived in Germany and traveled all over the country for academic contests and events.
The crisis was my self-doubt. Was I somehow cheating myself of a glorious destiny? Was attending a state school some sort of lowering of expectations? I worried about this a lot for a short time. But this crisis was the easiest of the five to overcome. I loved the school, I discovered that my supposed interest in political science and law completely disappeared once I took advanced mathematics and Russian courses, and I had a lot of fun with my social life and even worked my way into being a varsity athlete in a new sport (lacrosse). Since I made that decision, I have never looked back; of the many things I may have regretted in my life, my choice of a college has not been one of them.