What do you do when you're entering the last quarter of your life and feel you've accomplished nothing, and haven't met God's expectations of who you were blessed to be?
Thank you for your Top 5, all-time, meaning-of-life question. Perhaps I'm drawn to your tender, yet agonizing, query because I, too, am entering the same stage of life. I also have moments when I wonder how my life has added up. The question is not about what you've actually accomplished, but what you've done with the gifts you were given by God.
Let me begin with a story: A wise old rabbi named Zusia was at the end of his life. His students saw him crying one day and asked why he would cry after a life spent on deep study and good deeds. Zusia replied, "When I die and face God, I will not be asked, 'Zusia, why were you not Moses? I will not be asked, 'Zusia why were you not King David?' I will be asked, 'Zusia, why were you not Zusia?' and I won't know what to say."
We are judged not by comparison to those who've achieved remote human excellence, but rather by how we've used our gifts to make our lives and the lives of those we've touched better. In comparison to Mother Teresa or Gandhi, none of us has done anything, but you are too hard on yourself. If you have been the best J.D. you could be, you have nothing to worry about.
We all know people who've squandered their gifts through indolence and selfishness, greed and indifference.
How do we know if we're among those who've tossed away the fruits God intended for us to use to feed ourselves and others? The answer to what I take to be your real question is above my pay grade. I don't know how much of what we're given as gifts of character and intellect needs to be used, and to what degree, to meet "God's expectations."
I once read of a person who was a gifted surgeon but chose to quit medicine and ride his skateboard all day.
I'm hesitant to judge others, but I think picking skateboarding over surgery seems a betrayal of one's gifts. As for you, unless you've picked a life on the couch over a life in the world, you've probably done just fine with what God gave you.
One way to find out is to ask your friends to write a eulogy for you before you die. I think about this often when I deliver or listen to eulogies. I ask myself if the dearly departed would be surprised about the wonderful things friends and family are saying about them.
I once counseled a man who posed your same question. He refused to believe that he'd done enough. Your question brought back memories of the time I spent with him and what I did for him. I asked some of his family and friends to write eulogies for him. I gave the eulogies to him with the proviso: "I told them not to put in every good thing about you because, after all, you're not dead yet." The eulogies lifted his spirits. He was unaware he'd touched people so deeply, or that his good deeds had made such a difference to so many people.
I wish I could say that this tactic cured him of his despair, but such an ending fits the movies more than real life. He had a demanding and unloving mother, and I think this scarred his soul and made him see life as a half empty glass for the rest of his life.
I hope you are a good person, and I hope you can live your way into a state of confidence that you did your best and never stopped trying because, as T.S. Eliot remarked: "Trying is all that matters. Everything else is just not our business." Keep trying and stop worrying. Be happy, or be as happy as you can be, until that day when all our deepest questions are answered.