We constantly “remake” ourselves



I am in my mid-sixties (well past the halfway point). The most difficult task today is to try to figure out “what I want to do when I grow up.” This has been a constant challenge for me (as I suspect it is for most of us). We have been on this quest from our earliest days. In school we wonder what courses we should take? Do I want to go to college or out into the workplace? Am I a “knowledge worker” or a hands-on person? Should I be a stay-at-home mom or (re)enter the workplace?

As we progress through our lives, the questions remain like an albatross around our necks constantly reminding us that we face many choices. As Robert Frost so eloquently described in “The Road not Taken.” “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…And both that morning equally lay, In leaves no step had trodden black. I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.”

We try to hold our options open but ultimately realize that the foregone route will forever be yesterday’s choice that leads to a counter factual history of what could have been. We may wonder where that may have led but cannot live that life. The path we did take has led to our reality and future choices are forever constrained by those we have made in the past.

Frequently what we expect is not the outcome that occurs. We are left with the remains of a day that don’t match what we have prepared ourselves to face. It is just this uncertainty that makes us timid, that may keep us from making the bold choices that open new horizons. “If I just had that one key piece of information, I would know what to do” (but that is ever elusive). It is safer to stay in our lane. But sometimes we get that “wild hair” that drives us to act decisively, to truly take a road less traveled (at least for us).

I have often joked that, “I have never had a job I was (initially) qualified to do.” This started with the military. When I was in a line unit, it seemed that every time someone went on leave, they came back to a new position. Other circumstances were just as traumatic. At the end of one deployment in Germany, the Regimental Commander came down to address the troops. When he finished, he turned to me and said, “Lieutenant Clark, get on the chopper. You are my new Aide. I looked incredulously at him (and forlornly at my Platoon Sargent). He was a newly promoted General; I was going to be his personal assistant and confidant. Never done that before! (And my demeanor as a junior combat arms officer didn’t always mesh with the formal protocol of higher headquarters.)

When I was in graduate school preparing to teach economics at West Point, I was transferred to strategy and security policy (my choice). Yep, I can do that! My last assignment on active duty was as the Operations Officer for a tank battalion. I resigned and joined a real estate development company in Kingsport (a place I had never lived) and became a realtor and general contractor. Clearly firing an M1 tank main gun was closely related to building a house. I have had a diverse array of other companies including a coffee shop/café. (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 along one career path, many others do not. A friend recently confided in me that after a lengthy career, he was looking for something different. He was successful and was great at what he did (my opinion). However, “It just wasn’t fun anymore.” That’s it; he hit the needle on the head. It isn’t fun (or rewarding) anymore. Now that seems like a rather trivial remark, certainly not one to turn your world upside down over. Yet, as we age our perspective changes. There are fewer “tomorrows” in which to make up for what we have not done. Financial remuneration drops a notch or two down the hierarchy of need (or at least 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 sit. Life is what it is. As I write this, I look out over our pasture and think to myself, “Life is not so bad.” Yet, I yearn for something else. Again I find that I am trying to “remake” myself, to fundamentally alter my direction. It entails forsaking my previous career. In today’s parlance am trying to “re-brand” myself.

I am in transition (one more time). Some parts of it are difficult. It has personal as well as professional implications. A Chinese proverb states, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” What is the right path for me? One will never know until they take that first step.

 

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