Thursday, November 12, 2009
What I Do
Do I write this? Or do I keep it to myself? Do I tell the whole story in graphic detail? Or do I keep it vague, to protect myself? These are the questions I ask myself this morning as I sit on a plane, flying from Phoenix to Newark, wrapping up a three-day business trip.
Gonna be vague.
I’m scared. That much I can tell you. Having just caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror in the airplane lavatory (nothing brings the nose hairs out like the lighting in those tiny bathrooms) it’s safe to say I’m also scaring others this morning. A 4:45 a.m. wakeup call probably didn’t help my appearance, but I can’t blame it all on the hours I keep. Fact is I’ve been stressing for the last few weeks and doing my best to keep a brave face. The mirror did not show a brave face this morning. Just a creased, tired and unshaven one.
I’ll just think out loud for a bit. I’m two weeks away from my 46th birthday. I’ve held a full-time job in the profession of my choosing (utilizing my chosen educational background) every day since October of 1986. I have a loving, caring wife of 15 years and two incredible sons (13 and 11) that I adore more than anything in this world.
I’ve never been a chart-it-out guy but if I were, I’d have probably tagged the next 10 years as the most important of my life. Pretty obvious, right? I know a few people who set themselves and their families up pretty well in their 30s and early 40s, but not many. Most people’s peak years occur right about where I am now…late 40s. This is the time we build up the money to educate our children, pay off our debts and, yeah, retire. My dad retired at 59 and I always thought Pop got it right. Seriously, now…who’s laughing?
I’m not retiring at 59. No chance. But that’s not what’s got me scared. I’m not afraid to work into my 60s, not if I could keep doing what I’ve been doing for so long.
But there’s the problem. What I do…
I’ve never considered myself very good at what I do. Passionate about it? Oh yeah. Doing what I do is all I’ve really cared to do since about the age of 16, when I realized I wasn’t going to be a Major League Baseball player like my brother. Lucky to do it? So lucky. I’ve always credited my good luck to my passion. Like, if you love something enough, hey, you deserve some luck, right? How else to explain my position in life? It’s luck.
There are a number of people who do what I do who are really good at it and know they are really good at it. I wish right now I were one of those guys. Fact is, I am not.
There are others who do what I do who may not think they are good, but have this incredible drive to be “that good.” Most of them are 10-20 years younger than I am. They are willing to work incredible hours and argue on behalf of themselves as they climb. I know I need to be more like them, but it’s not a good fit for my personality.
I don’t like to argue. I’m a terrible self-promoter. When I was a kid, growing up in North Jersey, my two most hated athletes were local heroes Walt “Clyde” Frazier and Reggie Jackson. Why? Because they were “braggers.” I became a fan of Jerry West and George Brett. You may say that was pretty white of me, but I was simply attracted to modesty. West did not name himself “Mr. Clutch” and Brett, well, he was all about the dirty uniform. As I got a little older, I loved NFL running backs Earl Campbell and Walter Payton, mostly because they refused to spike the ball when they scored a touchdown.
Back on point, I’ve probably allowed myself to get too comfortable doing what I do. And I see that could come back to haunt me. All around me, I could see that people who do what I do were also doing other things. My flawed logic was that if I did those “other things” they’d distract me from what it is I do. Even as others told me that doing some of those other things would help me make more money, my thought process was, simply, “Don’t screw up a good thing.” A few extra bucks were not going to make me happier.
Driving in my rental car yesterday I heard a radio talk show guy saying, basically, that people who do what I do – at the level I do it, which I explained above – are soon going to be history. He was a bit smarmy when he said it (saying that what he did for a living was blazing ahead even in a bad economy), but he had a bit of sympathy. He even said that it was the work of people who do what I do that fueled his work on a daily basis.
Still, I believe my future is bleak. I’m now in “Re-invent Myself” mode, and not brimming with confidence in my ability to pull that one off. When I get home, I’ll begin with a shower and a shave. I’ll trim my nose hairs.
The mirror is harsh, but it don’t lie.
I guess I should wrap this up by saying I know there are a lot of people out there who are in the same place as me. Some do what I do while others do whatever it is they do. There is some comfort in the mere fact that I’m not alone in being scared. And I can even laugh a bit knowing that I’ll always do what I do. Even if it’s not my job.
Because it’s what I do.