Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Arc

Growing up in a traditional family you learn that there is a certain arc of circumstances and events that mark how your life is supposed to be … school, career, marriage, kids, retirement, grandkids, nursing home. I learned somewhere near the end of the first of three marriages that my arc was more like a long curved highway over rolling hills.

I went to school but didn’t finish (yet), started a career in which I really do get paid to do what I love (I’m lucky), three failed marriages, no kids (was in the plan in the first two marriages but didn’t happen), retirement? What’s that?, grandkids? (see ‘no kids’), nursing home … I hope not; my Dad spent his last 6 weeks in one and my Mom lived there for her last 4 years. Or to use her words, she “existed” there, but didn’t “live” there.

So my friends from high school all finished college, all worked in the same general field for most of their adult lives, all got married (only once each), all but one had kids, some are in the shadow of retirement, one side or the other, one might actually have a grandkid. They all followed the arc. So many boomers did. But I did not. And now I don’t really have role models for the rest of my life.

I am a very confident planner so I am not all that worried, but most of my successes in life came about through the use of role models. I don’t always have the great, creative idea but I have a knack for knowing a good idea when I see one and adapting it to my situation. It is no accident that I am respected in my work and it is no accident that I’ve had the same job for more than half my career. I got a slow start but I learned well from failures and from observing successful people.

But now what?

Mid-boomers and beyond have a tendency to stop growing at some point. They decide to no longer keep up with technology, they lock into music choices from their past and reject the present, they talk a lot about the good old days and often wish they were still there. Maybe there was some kind of emotional security then. When they talk about how fast the world is changing today, they also seem to forget their/our era was a period of rapid growth unseen at any point before. Their/our parents were frustrated by the changes that we took as inevitable. Now many of us are in that same boat.

But not me. I have a healthy respect for the past and history is one of my favorite educational pursuits. However I believe that the past is merely a nice place to visit, for the learning opportunity, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

Who do I learn from? When I hang out with people my age, I leave depressed because they mostly whine about the present and wish things were like they used to be. I hang out with people much younger than I am, but at some point I feel a disconnect with them and I sense that sometimes I am not welcome in that crowd. I’m not sure how much I have in common with 25-year-olds. One or more of my high school friends has kids that age.

I could continue doing what I do for a living into my 70s or 80s … in my head. At some point, however, I will lose the connection. I will outgrow it all. I will no longer be relevant. Then what? Boomers have been the leaders for a few decades so maybe we will find our place in providing services for us. That could keep us busy till we die. But who is doing that? And how do I find them, learn from them and ultimately join or replace them?

Where is my next arc? Who has the map? What does that sign say? Or am I now among those who others now have to follow? Am I some kind of role model now? How the hell did that happen?

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