I hate playing from behind. I hate the added stress, the need to be perfect at every turn, the obsession with preserving every last precious second—I hate it all. Every time I play from behind, while at the brink of emotional collapse, I always promise myself: “If I get out of this one, I promise to never, Ever, EVER, put myself in this position again!” And yet, here I am again.

Although this time, I’m not behind on a term paper, or household chores, or a quota at work. Because, let’s face it: even if those scenarios feel like do or die at the time, there is always a tomorrow to look forward to; win or lose. No. I am sorry to say that this time, things are much more serious. This time, I’m behind in life. Time is running out. And it’s obvious that I’m losing.

I don’t mean to belabor the point, but a while back, I underwent a serious surgery & almost didn’t make it out. I know, I know . . . don’t ask my parents about it, because they are in denial over how serious it was. But I read the surgical notes & overheard the nurses’ hushed whispers—I almost lost my life. At the very minimum, I almost lost my left arm. You see, I suffered post-surgical bleeding in the recovery room. A nurse who wasn’t even assigned to me happened to catch it. The surgical notes stated that I continued to bleed through the tourniquet until they finally identified the source of the bleeding. I saw a military documentary last night. A marine solemnly summed up the use of a tourniquet by saying, “Once we break that out, we are just trying to save the rest of you. Forget about the arm or leg.” My losing a limb would have made it difficult to ignore the seriousness of my ordeal, but I’m sure my Dad would have found one way to minimize that too, not wanting me to “one up” him in a contest of endurance from suffering.

Whatever. I’m glad to be alive; and glad to have both arms.

For a while, things were simple. “Winning” was “living.” And that was it.

Insane medical bills? No sweat.

The need to readjust to a new form of employment? Hey, it’s an opportunity, not a challenge! I was just happy that my time had not yet expired.

A credit score so low you’d need a microscope to assess? Honestly, I’ve been too afraid to check on that.

But you get the idea. Conditions that would once have constituted doomsday just seemed like petty reminders of how fortunate I was just to be breathing. But as time went by & bills went to collections & people (& probably creditors too) began wondering why someone with a college education wasn’t making more money, the miracle of life faded into the background of the daily grind. I would talk to creditors, co-workers, customers—I’d perceive the same message. “Hey, it’s great that you survived your ordeal. But if you’re not going to work your ass off & pay off your bills, it would have been better for everyone if you had just died. In this world, you have to pay to live.”

I started assessing my living situation—not a home owner, not even living on my own currently. I started to question my financial situation. I’m working a job that I could have worked through high school or college on my breaks. How about a lifelong companion to accept your faults & weather life’s storms with you? No. It’s just me.

I began to add up the scores; and it looked as though I were losing badly. I started to panic! I had survived a harrowing experience & had been given a second chance only to have all my same problems & paradigms handed to me all over again with less time & less ability to resolve them. Gasp! I was “losing” the game of life.

Certainly that’s one way to look at it. And I had been feeling that way over the last few days. Until the words of that brave Marine from the military documentary came to mind. “When we break out the tourniquet, we are trying to save the rest of you.” I looked at my left arm. I had been complaining about a stubborn pain in my elbow after having overdone a dumbbell workout last week. I saw the surgical scar; then realized that I had gotten off easy. I still had my arm! And it was almost as functional as it had been; strong enough, in fact, for me to push myself in a dumbbell exercise last week when my pride had gotten the best of me.

Certainly, I am still “behind” in life compared to where I thought I would be & where society says I should be at this stage regarding my career, financial profile, & relationship status. But I faced down death at a young age; underwent a surgery that only old men expect to experience. I’ve lived a tough adulthood. And I am coming back for more. Earlier at work today–when I was mopping the gym floor (Yes, I have a bachelor’s degree & part of my current employment duties involves mopping the floor)—I experienced a moment of clarity. I had a choice. I could continue living life as I have been living it; holding myself to the standards of others, living by pre-determined timelines ultimately to fail. Or, I could rewrite the rules to my own life, and redefine what success meant to me. Perhaps I’m not losing at life after all. Maybe, I’ve just been playing by the wrong set of rules all this time.

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