life, Uncategorized

The Traditional Birthday Post: What 43 Means

man sitting on red wooden chair while reading newspaper
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

43 is not a big deal. 43 is ho-hum, I’m not 40 anymore but not old enough to get a senior coffee at McDonald’s. 43 is having risen to middle management only to find that it’s not paradise, but you need the paycheck, so, well, here you are, and at least you’re experienced enough to know what to do.

When you add the digits of 43 together, you get 7, which is supposed to be a lucky number. Also, 43 happens to be my old rural route school bus number. Being 43 means having been bald long enough not to care and actually preferring your head that way. 43 apparently means developing grays in your remaining “horseshoe,” though, and in sporadic clumps that exactly reflect the degree of stress from two sons: right side of the head = oldest, left side of the head = youngest. I’ll let you guess which gray patch is bigger.

43 means most of the people in the generations before yours are now gone from your life or are headed that way, and you better know how to handle it. Grief doesn’t get any easier, but by now you’ve had to be involved with the nuts-and-bolts of people’s passing and so you know what’s coming from a practical standpoint. It still sucks, though.

43 is wondering about the retirement fund, holding on to a final few lifelong dreams that haven’t yet been achieved, and praying that the kids get hefty scholarships for college. 43 is thinking about who you might eventually become as a grandparent, then quickly throwing that thought aside while assuring yourself you’re too young to think that way. “Isn’t there some work I need to do?” you ask.

43 is regular dentist visits, cardio, and worrying about whether diet soda causes dementia. But it’s also the place that the older generation calls “the prime of your life,” that space where you can make your biggest difference since you’ve been around long enough to gain a little wisdom, but you’re not so old that you’ve burned out.

43 means deciding whether to be “the company man” like others before you, or continuing to change employers every few years just to keep things interesting. Do they still give out gold watches for years of service? Do you even want one? Decisions, decisions…

Maybe above all else 43 means having the maturity to think about what 43 means. You’ve learned to reflect, to think about your thinking, and to be thankful for the path so far. And barring unforeseen circumstances, you’ve got a good bit of road ahead, so you might as well get busy.

 

Advertisements
poetry, Uncategorized

More VS. Different: A human quandary

Adding isn't always the answer.
Adding isn’t always the answer.

Recently, I’ve been consumed by one mistake that I’ve made throughout my writing and teaching life. In some ways, this error is stereotypically American: When I feel the need for change, instead of choosing something different, I just pile something else on. It’s a childish mindset really — I’m unhappy with the one thing, but if I had two things, I’d be happier. Fallacy, fallacy.

When I was a young man just starting out, I didn’t make much money. Oh sure, I’d been to college and done my part to begin a journalism career, but a fresh degree and limited experience meant a meager income. My solution was always working harder, not smarter. I’d take on extra jobs until my every waking moment was consumed with responsibility of one form or another. And when you’re just setting foot into “the real world,” being industrious is admirable. But I found out pretty quickly that burnout is very real, and being obligated non-stop is a great way to compromise your health.

The lesson didn’t stick, though. When I changed careers about four years after getting my bachelor’s degree, I began to repeat the same mistakes in education: “Oh, teachers don’t make much? That’s okay. I’ll just take on more duties. I’ll tutor after school and pick up some freelance gigs on the side.” By this time I was married, and the incessant lesson planning, grading, and researching were all taking their toll on the homefront.

I added titles to my own job description, becoming a technology guru, a committee and department leader, a curriculum developer, and a professional development coordinator. My writing, of course, was taking the back burner to my overwhelming career roles, all because I assumed that if I had more to do, I’d somehow be happier. And granted, the experiences I earned while tackling these titles proved valuable. I know about a wealth of fields that make me an asset in the workplace. But meanwhile, I still wasn’t content.

The truth was, I needed something different, not something more. One more graduate degree wasn’t the answer, despite my 4.0 GPA. One more assignment wasn’t the panacea to discontent.When you’re tired of digging ditches, buying more shovels isn’t the solution.  I needed to work smarter, not harder, and I needed balance.

By shouldering more and more responsibility outside my home, I’d minimized the time I had for my family life. I had become that workaholic husband and father who can’t show up to his kids’ birthday parties, and writing? What was writing? Certainly there was no time for such frivolity. Our bank account was steadily reaping the benefits of my overexertion, but the price beneath my roof was far too great. It was time to restore some sanity and clarity to every part of my life.

I began cutting back on extra teaching opportunities, and started riding my bicycle again, for starters. I took a more active part in church life. My wife and I were dating again. I flew kites and threw Frisbees with my sons on the weekends. This was different, and it was good. Our financial situation was okay, but we still weren’t rich. And for one time in my life, I didn’t care. Money, I found, was reciprocal: we received what we gave, and often, we reaped more than we sowed, to use some biblical terminology. My new quest for balance and “smarter work” was paying off. My new and more flexible schedule now included a daily writing routine during the early morning hours, and soon, I had a thick volume of work. The MFA became not “one more degree,” but a natural outcropping from my own talents and interests, which my re-balanced life had shown me.

So now, as spring break draws nearer and the end of another school year will follow not long after, I feel another mile marker approaching. Change is coming in my professional life, and this time, my hope is that I’ll remember the lessons of my personal history. Work smarter, achieve balance, and don’t mistake more for different.