I’m in my 60s (well past half). The most difficult task today is trying to figure out “what I want to be when I grow up”. It’s been a constant challenge for me (as I suspect it is for most of us). We have been on this quest since our earliest days. At school, we wonder which courses we should take. Do I want to go to college or to the workplace? Am I a “knowledge worker” or a hands-on person? Should I be a stay-at-home mom or (re)enter the world of work?
As we progress through our lives, questions hang like an albatross around our necks, constantly reminding us that we are faced with many choices.
As Robert Frost so eloquently described in “The Road not Taken”. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…And the two that morning also stood, In the leaves not a footstep had trod the black. I saved the first for another day! Yet knowing how a path leads to a path, I doubted I could ever return.
We try to keep our options open but eventually realize the abandoned path will forever be yesterday’s choice that leads to a counter-factual story of what could have been. We may wonder where this may have gotten us but we cannot live this life. The path we have taken has led to our reality, and future choices are forever constrained by those we have made in the past.
Often what we expect is not the result that occurs. We are left with the remains of a day that do not correspond to what we have prepared to face. It is precisely this uncertainty that makes us timid, that can prevent us from making bold choices that open up new horizons. “If I only had this key piece of information, I would know what to do” (but it’s still elusive). It’s safer to stay in our lane. But sometimes we get that “wild hair” that urges us to act decisively, to truly take a road less traveled (at least for us).
I often joked, “I never had a job I was (initially) qualified for. It started with the army. When I was in a line unit, it seemed like every time someone went on leave, they came back to a new position.
Other circumstances were just as traumatic. At the end of a deployment in Germany, the regimental commander came down to address the troops. When he finished, he turned to me and said, “Lieutenant Clark, get in the helicopter. You are my new assistant. I looked at him in disbelief (and sadly at my platoon sergeant). He was a newly promoted general; I was going to be his personal assistant and confidante. Never done this before! (And my behavior as a junior combat arms officer did not always align with formal protocol at higher headquarters.)
When I was in graduate school preparing to teach economics at West Point, I transferred to strategy and security policy (my choice). Yeah, I can do that! My last active duty assignment was as an operations officer for a tank battalion. I quit and joined a property development company in Kingsport (a place I had never lived) and became a realtor and general contractor. Obviously, firing an M1 tank main gun was closely related to building a house. I had a wide range of other businesses including a cafe/coffee shop. (How hard can that be?) Unfortunately, you don’t know what you don’t know until you know it!
My story is not unique. While some people stay on a career path, many others don’t. A friend recently told me that after a long career, he was looking for something different. He succeeded and was excellent at what he did (in my opinion).
However, “it just wasn’t fun anymore.” That’s it; he put his finger on the head. It’s no longer fun (or rewarding).
Now, that seems like a rather trivial remark, certainly not one that will turn your world upside down. Yet, as we age, our perspective changes. There are fewer “tomorrows” to make up for what we haven’t done. Financial compensation goes down a notch or two in the hierarchy of needs (or so we hope to get to that point).
Making a difference, in people’s lives and in our community, becomes more important (at least for me).
Here I am sitting. Life is what it is. As I write this, I look at our pasture and think, “Life isn’t so bad. However, I aspire to something else. Once again, I find that I am trying to “remake” myself, to fundamentally change my direction. This involves giving up my previous career. In today’s parlance, I am trying to “rename” myself.
I’m in transition (once again). Some parts are difficult. It has personal as well as professional implications. A Chinese proverb says: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. What is the right path for me? We’ll never know until they take that first step.
Dave Clark is an entrepreneur and former Councilor of Kingsport.