The following is a post I wrote in December 2011, and then promptly forgot in an obscure folder on my computer. It was originally intended for my previous blog, but I thought it might fit in here as well. It’s interesting to read what was going through my head more than a year ago, and to measure that against steps I’ve taken since then. Read on…
I have been richly blessed for the past two plus decades to have a career that I honestly enjoy, and that to this point has had the benefit of being different most every day. I work with people who generally share my sense of humor and sarcasm, which goes a long way toward relieving any potential tedium. I am lucky enough that my lovely bride is able to stay home and nurture our two children, which is one of the great dreams of my life – being able to partner with my wife to raise our own kids without having to hire someone else to do it. We have a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, and (at least in my irritatingly obvious case) more than enough food to eat.
Which begs the question: is it possible to have everything, yet still want more? Depending upon your perspective, answering yes to that question could be either disappointing or encouraging.
It would be disappointing to answer yes from the selfish perspective of never being satisfied with one’s position in life, regardless of the totality of that position’s appeal to the person in question. I think the stereotypical model of a mid-life crisis fits this description: a person reaches a certain age where they realize they’ve either crossed or come frighteningly close to the halfway point of their allotted time, and they find themselves disgruntled by what they perceive to have ‘missed out on’ due to the particular path they chose up to that point.
They respond by abruptly choosing a radically different path.
Too often, the ill-advised change in direction involves shoving loved ones, friends, co-workers and common sense in the ditch, while the mid-lifer blindly pursues a variety of self-serving will-o-the-wisps which, even if ever caught, are sorry substitutes for the original goal.
Which brings us to a different possibility. How does someone pursue more than they have, without feeling the need to sacrifice what they have to get it? This is what you might call the mid-life anti-crisis.
Here, the individual in question has crossed the same Rubicon of a certain age, but instead of feeling trapped by past choices, they feel motivated to add to and enhance those choices by improving and growing without sacrificing their loved ones in the process. The difference between the two examples may be found in the ease involved in attaining the new goals.
For instance, in case one, the mid-lifer may be a paunchy, straight laced gentleman who has always driven practical vehicles. This individual acts out against his personal crisis by going out and buying a convertible sports car, a bunch of gold neck chains and a closet full of silk shirts which will never be buttoned within 18 inches of his rather turkey-like neck. The poor sap deludes himself into thinking that material items easily (or foolishly) procured will solve his problems and change who he is. But at the end of the day, he’s still just a turkey-necked wannabe Mr. T with a car he can’t afford and a wardrobe that makes people snicker behind his back.
Now change the scenario. We’ll stick with Mr. T(urkey-neck), just for argument’s sake, but instead of soothing his withering self-esteem by various materialistic balms, our hero now decides to accomplish some things in his life that he’s always wanted to do that may also benefit others – or at the least, will allow him to re-invent himself while protecting those important to him and including them in the process.
Maybe he’s always wanted to learn to play an instrument, get in better physical shape so he can enjoy more activities with his kids, or wanted to learn a new profession that would allow more time with his family. The difference now is that instead of attempting to serve only his immediate wants through a quick purchase or action, he chooses a more difficult road that requires time, effort and hard work to accomplish.
The payoff takes longer, but unlike a sports car, it doesn’t lose half its value as soon as its driven off the lot. It’s like anything in life – the things that come free or easy generally don’t last and are soon forgotten. The things that demand hard work and effort are the ones that stick around and pay dividends for generations to come.
So having said all that, I can now confess that the past year has been one of definite soul-searching on my part. My temperament has never been much disposed to the typical mid-life crisis model (Thank God!), but I do find myself at the point of wanting to make certain changes.
For most of my life, I’ve wanted to be able to play a musical instrument. One of my fondest memories growing up was when my Dad would play his fiddle in the evenings at home. He wasn’t exactly Itzhak Perlman or Charlie Daniels, but he could knock out a reasonable tune, and I loved it. I often told myself that I would ‘someday’ learn an instrument, so that my kids could grow up in a house filled with music.
The problem was that ‘someday’ was always synonymous with ‘not today’.
My laziness and impatience always put the kibosh on attempts to pursue the dream, and my various aspirations and attempts at piano, guitar and violin ended up quickly fizzling, or never even starting.
This year, however, I decided enough was enough – two rapidly growing kids at home (and me still unable to play a note on so much as a kazoo) proved to me that ‘someday’ was never going to hold still unless I reached out and grabbed it by the throat – so I bought an Irish Whistle.
I started with an inexpensive whistle in the key of D (about twenty bucks), which is the most common key for traditional Irish or Celtic music. After less than a month with that model, I liked it so much that I bought a much nicer, larger Low D whistle made by MK Whistles in Loch Ness, Scotland. It has a much deeper, richer, almost flute-like sound to it, and I’m having so much fun learning to play this instrument, it doesn’t even feel like I’m practicing – it’s a cathartic pursuit that my wife and kids also happen to love.
My beautiful bride played the clarinet as a kid, so she is able to read music and has taken to the whistle faster than me, but for somebody with no previous instrumental ability, I’m amazed at what I can do so far. I’m developing an ability to play songs by ear, and my speed and skill are improving quickly.
Both kids love the whistle as well, and we let them play with a couple of inexpensive ones we picked up – they tweet away happily while filling the mouthpieces with slobber. Every time I pick up my Low D to practice, both kids come running, shouting “Can I play the whistle?!? Can I play the whistle?!?” Priceless.
So I can now honestly say I play an instrument – the Irish Whistle. I’m at a beginner level bordering on intermediate, so my new musical goal is now to learn to play twenty different songs on demand, at speed, without major gaffes. Realistically I doubt I’ll ever play in a band or perform for anybody other than close family, but that’s enough of an achievement right there to satisfy me.
My aforementioned great career, for all its benefits, has required me to locate my family where we’d rather not live. The tradeoff of living someplace we’d like to put permanently in our rear-view mirror is that we do enjoy a good living and a stable income. Being a few short years from early retirement eligibility means we’re probably not leaving any time soon – but I also realize that I’m only as trapped as I allow myself to be – I can take steps to ensure that when I’m eligible for early retirement, I’ll also be able to take it.
Toward that goal, I’ve spent the last year and more trying to decide what I could do career-wise that would allow me to take early retirement from air traffic and earn enough to supplement my lowest potential retirement income. I’ve been open to just about anything; the catch being I have to be able to work anywhere I want, it has to give me as much if not more time with my family than I have now, and it has to be something I enjoy.
After considering just about everything out there, I realized that ever since I first learned to read and write, I’ve always thought about being a writer. I love to express myself through the written word, and it doesn’t feel like work, even when I’m under pressure to complete a major research paper or something similar.
Once I get in the flow, I really enjoy crafting and polishing an idea or topic into something that might give others some coherent information or entertainment. The fact is, I’m already a writer – I’m just not getting paid for it.
In that regard, I always assumed that in order to get paid for writing, I’d have to chase down an agent, beg and plead with a publisher to get a book deal, surrender all rights to my hard work, and then struggle for decades to pay the bills while the publishing house made bank off my efforts.
What I’m finding is that there are other options available. The major publishing houses are losing their traditional chokehold on the industry as e-publishing, print-on-demand, and self publishing grow in prevalence and acceptance. The fact is that writers today have many more options for successfully marketing their work than in the past – it just takes some initiative, determination and yes, work.
So now that I’ve realized that writing has potential as a second career, my initial goal is to get something published and sold – even if it’s only to sell one copy of something. Like playing an instrument, my writing will never match up with my dreams unless I do the work necessary to get it done – allowing the difficulty of securing a publisher or agent to discourage me is no longer a viable option, especially considering that the changing climate in the publishing world seems to indicate that traditional publishers and agents are no longer prerequisites for success.
After I get something, anything, published and sold for real money, my goal will then be to continue writing, publishing and selling my written work at an increasing rate which will allow me to take early retirement and move to where we really want to live.
As to what I intend to write about, well, that could be just about anything. Fiction, non-fiction, history, humor – it doesn’t really matter – I enjoy them all.
Making my intentions public here gives me a pretty good motivation not to give up. It’s one thing to have a nutty dream, but exposing that nutty dream openly in front of people you know and love is an exercise in focus. It forces dreams to move toward results – under threat of ridicule from loving friends and family – which I’d prefer to avoid if at all possible, thank you very much!
I can now play at least ten different songs on my whistle, but none of them quite at speed or without mistakes. I still can’t read music, but I’ve found that playing by ear suits me much better. I take lessons on line from Blayne Chastain. Blayne’s tutorials are fantastic! I’ve recently taken up a second instrument – the bodhrán, or Celtic Drum. I play a Meinl 14″ drum with a goatskin head, and it’s been a lot of fun so far. Bodhrán lessons are also available on Blayne’s site, and are a great resource. Music is a wonderful creative outlet, and it’s also very relaxing and fulfilling.
I started this website since this post was written, and in that time I’ve done a lot of studying and learning about how to turn my writing into a viable business online. I’ve added professional editing as a service to other authors, but that is very time-intensive work, which (oddly enough!) conflicts with my day job. Still working on finding that balance, and looking forward to learning more.