I remember typewriters — first a Smith Corona, once an Olivetti, and eventually, a Selectric that I was allowed to use on occasion. It belonged to my mother, and I marveled at the miracle machine’s whirring and high-pitched clickety clack, to say nothing of its efficiency.
Of course, long before I learned to let my fingers fly across keys of any kind, there were pencils on wide-ruled sheets and crayons clutched tightly. There was the wonder of moving my hand across a surface to write or draw.
As to the question of what I would be when I grew up, like most children at the time, I had no specific job titles in mind. I went to school, I played, I ate, I slept, I absorbed and I imagined. And as I imagined, I supposed that some day I would be a writer or an artist of some sort.
So how has my life “turned out” so far? Did I become what I once expected?
Let’s Hear It for Creative Wandering!
I am a believer in the indirect path, in a broad base of experience, and in serendipity. I knew that “when I grew up” I would write, and I hoped to make a living at it. I knew I would travel, and enjoy acquiring languages for the rest of my life. I knew I loved to draw and paint, and I recall spending a period of time designing rooms, clothes, and lamps — for fun.
I was raised in a home where a love of the arts was dominant, and learning, a core value. In that light, college exposed me to new areas of study — psychology and law — that caught my fancy as well. From that time on, I could imagine more hybrid careers that combine many disciplines and involve communication. That said, not writing was never an option, and there has never been a time in my life when I haven’t been writing something!
While I landed in a niche sector of business and technology — I had wandered into systems, then international systems, then international marketing — I continued to write both for myself, my employers, my friends and my clients.
As for lifestyle writing, editing and more marketing in an age of online interaction, many of these elements of my world coincided. To my surprise, they picked up steam at a stage in life I wouldn’t have expected — after divorce, after the traditional career, and as a woman at midlife.
Though I still earn my keep primarily via marketing, might this blended universe of multipurpose words, pictures and strategy be considered a lovely (overlapping) second chapter?
Our Children, Ourselves
Recently, I had a discussion with one of my sons, a college student, about the pros and cons of focusing on career goals at an early age. He is, I am happy to say, interested in many subjects and good at them, besides.
He’s also pooped, just home from finals.
Given that his most obvious talents are artistic and musical, he has always inclined in that direction when looking at the future. But he is also a thinker, a maker, a writer and something of a dreamer. These last (of course) are familiar to me.
Fortunately for those of us of a certain age, we — myself included — attended college at a time when being a generalist was not a problem. A “liberal arts” or humanities education was even considered an asset. We were freer to imagine any number of fields because the experience was more about opening doors to meaning and possibility than finding a job at the end of four years.
When my son asked “shouldn’t I know what I want, exactly?” my response was a definitive “no.”
Shortly after that conversation, I found myself considering an opinion piece on American politics that offered a snippet of wisdom that I plan to share with my son. It is this column by Frank Bruni, From ‘Hamlet’ to Hillary, writing (in part) about Hillary Clinton’s campaign advisor, Joel Benenson, described as having taken several paths until his early 40s when:
… he fully awoke to his enthusiasm for the kind of work he does now…
… the biographies of many accomplished, contented people aren’t formulaic. They’re accidents of a sort, except for this: By taking approaches that weren’t too regimented, these people were able to color outside the lines and surprise themselves.
Moreover, he cites Mr. Benenson who advises that parents would do better not to make the end goal of education a “job” but rather, the learning process itself and more general skills, noting the importance of “wandering” in order to discover oneself.
I think of the many years I have spent typing my way through jobs of many types, not to mention tap-tapping in the act of putting down my personal thoughts. I think of the discovery process inherent in that, and the many ways we mark our passages in life — life lessons in stenography, if you will.
The Experience of Going With the Flow
While I would hardly say that I pursued a go with the flow career strategy — supporting myself financially was far too important for that — I did learn to see the advantages in a certain fluidity, and wearing the generalist’s hat.
In keeping with Mr. Benenson’s remarks, each opportunity was a shot at discovery, from a stint at UNESCO in Paris (in my twenties) to my first adventure in the systems world, and that in more foreign territory for me at the time… Texas!
I would add that there is no expiration date for this process. I never explicitly decided to take things as they come — if anything, in college, I was quite the planner — but I’m glad that I was open enough to make the most of whatever life was dishing out.
I also like to think I remain an example of the meandering career journey that demonstrates its challenges, but even more so, its rewards including flexibility, expanded skills, new connections, new sources of income, and sometimes — enormous pleasure.
There have been periods over the past dozen years when my “official” work has been more about writing and editing than marketing, and vice versa. There have been periods when the overlap has been significant, and the synergy of the two worlds has been advantageous to my learning and certainly to my clients. I am convinced there are many skills and experiences to be acquired still ahead, and no doubt, meandering will be part of that process.
Finding Yourself After 50: Returning to Our Roots?
So what about those second chapters? And third? And more?
What about those of us who may be embarking on something new at 50 or older? What if we’re lucky enough to find our way back to what we once loved, able to pursue it more thoughtfully, more thoroughly, and with the richness of experience that comes with age?
The fact that I knew that storytelling or writing of some sort was an essential (even as a child) illustrates how some of us know precisely what we love. This may not be the only activity we love (all the more reason to keep exploring), but with the years, if we’re fortunate, we get a shot at more time to pursue our passions.
What I wanted to be when I grew up?
What I wanted as a child, as an adolescent, as an adult — and very much what I still desire — is to apply my time to creativity in the service of a worthy goal, and generally that involves a mix of language, images, and my analytical mind. I am happiest when observing, reading, writing, seeing, learning, striving, and always… “making.”
What matters for me, and I hope for my little family, is staying open, feeling good about what we’re doing, and the meaning we derive, as well as contribute.
What else had I hoped for as a child and young woman?
That, I can sum up quickly, and it’s a subject unto itself. For that reason, suffice it to say simply that I had dreamed of being part of a large, noisy, bustling family. While that was only briefly true during the years in which I was married, I consider myself enormously fortunate to have two caring, healthy, funny, decent (and creative!) sons.
My life as a mother?
That one, I never imagined. And it has been the greatest surprise — and gift — of all.
Stop by Splenderosa for this month’s By Invitation Only topic, and visit the writers who reflect on their career journeys, who they have become, and whether or not they are pursuing the lives they once thought they would.
Image by Michel Macréau, Untitled painting, 1964, courtesy Galerie Alain Margaron, Paris
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