Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Law of Averages

A friend of mine was in town on business and we were able to get together for lunch.

I first met him at a party when we were in college.

It was a fraternity party where the "brothers" were all engineering students with severely enlarged cerebral cortexes.

[I only went to the coolest parties.]

[Geeks Unite!]

Anyway, it was the mid 1980’s and John had on a skinny, leather tie.

I was instantly IN LOVE.

I stalked this poor boy for several years until he finally quasi dated me and then broke my heart when he told me that, while he liked me very much, he did not LOVE me back.

[Only it took him a really long time to say it because he used a metaphor about setting off forever in a canoe with just one person and how I might be the person for the canoe, but… (??)]

Years later, after staying intermittently in touch, we actually became friends.

Both of us ended our starter marriages around the same time.

[Practice helps.]

Though he was never a good match for me, he has been a very good friend and I am grateful for it.

One thing I like about John is the way that he has always, even when we were in college, known what to ask people.

Anytime he meets someone new, he produces a miraculous question – one that draws the person out of themselves and seduces them to share something personal, interesting, or unusual.

John has a talent for that.

Today, in the heat of the mid-day, Georgia sun, we decided to walk to lunch.

On the way, John told me that he often asks older men what they would do differently if they could go back in time.

He asks them what they would do differently if they were him.

The two answers he’s received that he likes the most are: 1.) don't buy things you don’t need; and 2.) plan for a second career.

John talked a lot about the second one.

He talked about the balance we strike between ambition and parenthood.

Sometimes we’re content not to climb the ladder for awhile as long as we can balance our family lives with our professional ones.

Some older men have told him that they then found themselves at the end of their careers having achieved something far less than what they dreamed of achieving when they set out.

“It took a long time to figure out that I should have prepared myself for a second career – something far less lucrative, but far more fulfilling.”

I thought about my Grandfather.

He worked for years as an engineer for a company that made elevators.

After he retired, he spent the next fifteen years gardening and doing woodwork.

He didn’t make a living at either of these, but he grew much of the food he ate and he made furniture and gifts for all the members of our family.

Most importantly, he seemed happy with all of it.

John’s questions made me want to start asking older women what they would do differently, what they would do if they were me.

[I know, I know. Moisturize.]

It also made me think about how I’ll spend my days when the children are grown and I am retired.

What will be my “second career” as John's advisor called it?

9 comments:

People in the Sun said...

When I lived in England there was a commercial that showed a young woman pushing an old man in a wheelchair up to the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea. She asks him what he would have done differently, and he says, "I wish I had more sex."

It was a commercial for a watch.

Twisted Cinderella said...

What an interesting and thought provoking question.

Sayre said...

I like this very much! I am already planning to move to a cooler climate, turn my brown thumb green, and learn to really sew well!

But there's nothing wrong with practicing before you get there!

Amanda said...

You will live so richly

Vodka Mom said...

I'm here for the Greek Gathering. WHere are the Greek games????

Emily N said...

Great post. I think about that a lot - that I hope I'm living my life now as I will have wanted to have lived in when I'm old and decrepit. I think my old self would tell my young self "Stop worrying so much, it will all work out."

Ortizzle said...

If your first career is just something that pays the bills, then find a second career or hobby that makes your heart sing. And then get busy with filling your life with the memories that will make your rocking chair rock when you are old and frail and your memories are the wallpaper of your life.

Natalie said...

I am in the process of finding my "second" career. My dad was an engineer for a large corporation that built military machines for the majority of his working life, and when he retired, he moved to Puerto Vallarta. Unfortunately, he had to come out of retirement after the events of 2001, but he is now the proud owner of a music store business. He not only taught himself how to play the violin, but he taught himself how to MAKE violins and now, while it may not be "lucrative", it is paying off. I don't think I've ever seen my dad happier.

oinkteller said...

I have no idea what I'll be doing for my second career but am fully enjoying my sabbatical from being gainfully employed (which I am spending trying to figure out how best to raise my kids). I like to ask people on their wedding anniversaries their secret to a successful marriage. My favorite response thus far is from a woman who was celebrating #49. She smirked and said, "Endurance." Love your blog.