Literally, generations of Americans have grown up with Alex Trebek in the evenings. The 78-year old host of the popular quiz show Jeopardy is currently in his 34th year with the program—an incredible, consistent run. But as the once-famously-mustached host nears his 80s, discussions are about when he will turn in his answer cards. As of November 1st, that date has been extended again, with Trebek signing a contract extension that will keep him behind the podium through the 2021-2022 season.
I’m 34 years old. Trebek has been the only host of Jeopardy I have ever known. Without him, I’m not sure the show would feel like Jeopardy at all. Putting myself in his shoes, the man who has carried the quiz show on his back for three decades, I would find it tempting to hold on as long as possible—to unconsciously identify myself with the role or job that has brought me success. I know that because that’s exactly what I do now. If I’m given a little encouragement in one area (say writing, parenting, or volunteering), I find my soul turning completely toward that thing, hungering for more validation. But like an addict, it takes more and more of the “drug,” the praise of others, to leave me feeling accomplished, valued, or significant.
At the risk of sounding as cliche as an 80s power ballad, I want to learn to hold on loosely to my successes, my hopes, my dreams, and my expectations. I want to enjoy work for the sake of helping others and not for the accolades I get for a job well done. To be patient with my children because it’s what will help them grow, not so my wife will notice and compose a well-thought-out tweet. To create some beauty in the world, and recognize it whether anyone else does or not. And when it’s time for someone else to take my place, to be confident enough to let them do so. I want to be like Trebek, who, when asked about retirement, was surprisingly casual. “When it’s clear that it’s time for me to go, I’ll go,” he said. It reminds me of the words of a wise man in the Bible, who wrote that there was a time for everything: “A right time for birth and another for death, a right time to plant and another to reap, […] a right time to hold on and another to let go.” When it’s time for me to let go of something I hold dear, be it a project at work, a child leaving for college, or a position that has brought me positive attention, I hope I can be more like Alex. Or Elsa.