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|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
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About the Author
Lois B. Morris has written books on various topics from mental health to Chinese opera. Her books include The New Personality Self-Portrait: Why You Think, Work, Love and Act the Way You Do and Along the Roaring River: My Wild Ride from Mao to the Met. She lives in New York with her husband and dog.
Read an Excerpt
Who Am I?
UNDERSTANDING INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES
How can people who are so alike be so different?
Four cousins went to their grandfather’s eighty-fifth birthday celebration, held at the New Mexico community where their grandparents had retired. Carolyn, Alexander, Jonathan, and Katy had grown up in the same large northeastern city and had spent many holidays and summers together at their grandparents’ New Hampshire lake cabin. Theirs had been a close-knit family, and their parents had raised them to be ambitious, determined, and to feel entitled. Ranging in age now from their late twenties to early forties, the four cousins, seated at the same restaurant table, began catching up on what had happened to them since they’d gone their separate ways so many years before.
After some polite chitchat, they began to let down their guard and confide what was really going on in their lives. Katy called it “karma” that they should come together after all these years to share what turned out to be a major crisis for each of them.
CAROLYN’S CAREER CRISIS
In her early forties, Carolyn was the oldest of the cousins. To be the most powerful woman at a major corporation had been her life’s dream. She had thought of little else as she spent twenty years climbing the ladder at a major multinational corporation, forcing her way through power barriers that had long impeded women’s progress in the business world. Then, just as she was about to be named senior vice president, a corporate takeover intervened. Management changed hands, and Carolyn was out on the street. In the nine months since, she had received many job offers, but none of them offered the power and prestige she had worked so hard to achieve. Her momentum was gone. It had been shattering to her, Carolyn revealed complacently, without expression or emotion.
“Jeez, that’s awful,” gushed her younger cousin Katy. “And you never even got married!”
KATY’S LOVE LIFE
Carolyn shot Katy an icy look. Katy told Alexander later, as they were dancing, “God, I really put my foot in it. Carolyn’s always thought I was a real airhead, because I was into boys and dressing up and going out, when she was always trying to talk me into getting serious about things.”
Katy, the youngest of the cousins, was in fact not married, and this was at the bottom, she felt, of her current misery. She was a talented junior copywriter at a major New York ad agency. Initially she had been quite successful at her work, but this year she’d been passed over for the raise she had hoped for. “I guess my star’s slipping a little,” she admitted as she danced with Alexander, to whom she’d always liked to talk. “I suppose Carolyn would say I wasn’t applying myself.”
When Katy was young, her mother would tell her how smart her older cousin Carolyn was, how successful, how Katy should go to business school like Carolyn, should think of her as a role model. But business wasn’t Katy’s thing. “Too dry,” she’d told both her mother and Carolyn. Katy was colorful, flamboyant, creative, and imaginative. The advertising agency was just the place for her talents—but mostly Katy was looking forward to the day when she would get married. A rich and gorgeous husband, an elegant home, and children were what she wanted out of life. Maybe when the kids were in school, she fantasized, she’d try her hand at writing—romantic novels, best-sellers, no doubt.
Attractive, sexy Katy never lacked for dates. Yet somehow she always got involved with the wrong guys. Just a few weeks ago she’d learned that the man she’d fallen head over heels for was married.
“Can you believe it?” Katy wailed later, as she told her cousins her tale of woe. “He was practically living with me, but the couple of nights a week I didn’t see him he’d go back home to her and his kids. It was humiliating!” Katy’s eyes filled with tears. “For a while I didn’t think I could live through it. I mean,” she said, looking down at the napkin she was twisting in her hands, “I seriously considered killing myself.”
Alexander, ever the kind heart, handed her his handkerchief. He reassured her that she was a terrific, worthwhile, beautiful, and gifted woman. Someday soon she would meet a wonderful man who’d really appreciate her and want to marry her. They’d have a fine marriage, Alexander told her, and at that Katy looked up and grinned.
ALEXANDER’S MIDLIFE CRISIS
As far as the world could see, Alexander had it made. He was living with a woman he loved and probably would get married soon. In addition, his father was turning the reins of the family accounting firm over to him. So why wasn’t he happy?
He blamed it all on age. He was about to turn forty and thought he was having a midlife crisis. Everything he’d worked for in his relationship and in his career was coming to fruition. But he’d lost a sense of meaning in his life, especially in his work.
“After all these years of trying to get somewhere, when you finally do, isn’t it supposed to mean something to you? Aren’t you supposed to feel fulfilled and happy?” He looked at Carolyn and said, “If you’d made it through the glass ceiling the way you’d planned to, you’d be on cloud nine. I’m stepping into the prime of my life, and all I can think is, Is this all there is?”
Carolyn admitted that she could not comprehend his feelings. She couldn’t imagine being without a meaning or a purpose, a structure to her days, to her life. True, she’d had a rough go the first couple of months after she’d lost her job. She hadn’t known what to do with her days. So she joined a health club and gave herself a daily workout schedule. That was enough to get her back to being organized again, she said.
“It’s all in setting goals,” she told Alexander firmly. “I set my daily goals for my job hunting and for my personal schedule. I have short-term goals and long-term goals. I have a schedule for myself every day. I work out every morning from six to seven. Then I shower and dress and start making phone calls to headhunters and calling around for job leads. I’m on boards and committees and I’m using those contacts. I’m meeting with my lawyer next week to talk about starting my own consulting firm.
“I want to be in the corporate world, and maybe I’ll get back there,” Carolyn said with her typical determination, as if she were not experiencing an emotional crisis. “Maybe I won’t. It matters to me, but what matters most is that I’m working, doing, staying organized. Taking responsibility, that’s what life is to me. Yes, I wish there were a man in my life,” she said directly to Katy, “but work is where it’s at for me. I’m sorry, Alexander, I don’t understand your experience. If I were you, I’d tough it out by keeping track of your goals and by throwing yourself into your work even more seriously.”
JONATHAN’S NEED TO BE FREE
“Work work work,” cousin Jonathan commented dourly. “You remind me of my wife.”
“Uh-oh,” said Katy. “Trouble in paradise?”
Jonathan ignored the question. “Who says it’s so great to work? I mean, it’s okay for you, Carolyn—but maybe Alexander would like to give up the game. Alex has been the good little boy all his life, the pride and joy of his parents,” he said, nodding toward the table where Alexander’s parents and grandparents were sitting. “Maybe now he wants to run off to Tahiti and paint naked ladies.”
“Well, I don’t know if I want to paint naked ladies.” Alexander laughed. “You know,” he added seriously, “I’m kind of surprised to see you here, Jonathan. Coming all the way out here to a family function isn’t exactly your style.”
“That’s for sure,” Jonathan agreed. “To tell you the truth, I wasn’t going to come. But when Mara decided that we should paint the whole inside of the house during spring vacation, suddenly a trip to Santa Fe seemed like a great idea. Tomorrow I’m going to do some hiking and maybe stick around a few more days. By that time she’ll probably have the place painted and everything will be neat and clean.”
Jonathan and his wife, Mara, were high school teachers. Jonathan had chosen teaching because he liked having so much vacation time. He liked to garden, to read, to “do his thing.” Mara, as Jonathan had just commented, was more Carolyn’s type—a worker, a doer. “She likes the feeling of exhaustion that comes from really pushing herself. She needs the tension of always going herself one better. Me,” Jonathan said, shrugging, “I like to feel loose, relaxed, at peace. When I sit home reading a book, she says I don’t do enough. I say she does too much.
“You know,” Jonathan continued, “I love Mara a lot. I think she does her job of being a wife just great. She takes great care of the house, of me, of her kid from her first marriage. But I just wish she’d stop insisting I be the person she is. I work, I do a lot of stuff around the house, I keep the garden—I just don’t have the same values she has in life. I like to kick back, watch sports on TV. She calls me a couch potato. I say that it’s very fashionable to be a couch potato. ‘It used to be,’ she says, as she marches outside, slams the door, and rakes the leaves.”
Katy said, “Yeah, you were always good at getting out of doing things when we were kids. Do you remember up at the lake that summer when Grandma decided that we kids had to clear the table and do the dinner dishes every night? I was really little, but I remember the first night when you were clearing the table, Jonathan, you dropped Grandma’s big serving bowl and broke it in a million pieces. The second night you spilled coffee all over the tablecloth. The third night something else happened, until Grandma excused you from dishes duty. Do you remember that?” she asked the others. They all laughed, while Jonathan protested that that wasn’t fair, he had helped out a lot.
“Is your marriage really in trouble, Jonathan?” Alexander asked. Jonathan nodded.
“What will you do?”
Jonathan shrugged. “A person’s gotta do what he’s gotta do. I’m not going to sign on for more years if I can’t be free in my own home with my own wife. I mean, I really do love Mara, but I don’t like my life with her. There’s too much stress. Tension isn’t for me. I am who I am. I can’t be who she wants me to be. The quality of life is too important to me. You guys can be into success,” he said, gesturing to Carolyn and Alexander. “I’m into enjoying my life the only way I know how.” A waiter came around with champagne then, and Jonathan lifted his glass for a refill.
Katy said, “It’s amazing you’re so laid back about it. There you are calmly watching your marriage fall apart. If it were me and my marriage were breaking up, I’d be writing suicide notes and preparing to jump off the Empire State Building.”
“Yeah, and if it were me, I’d stay in bed for three months feeling sorry for myself,” said Alexander. “And Carolyn, she’d be putting on that stiff upper lip and getting up at dawn to rewrite her life goals.”