Step away from anything for several years and then step back in. Our world is changing rapidly. That’s not news. In some cases it is even good. I’m an optimist; so, of course I’ll find the good in that. But that doesn’t negate the emotional reaction. Adjusting to something that is not the same is educational and, at some level, a source of stress. Hopefully the stress costs less than the education is worth. In either case, plans and actions must change as well.
My dad turns 85 this week. Happy Birthday Dad! His world and mine have lots of similarities, but the way they play out are completely different. He had to find a new career at 58. I’m submitting resumes at 52. He moved to the West Coast from outside Pittsburgh several years ago. I went through that culture shift a few decades ago. I learned my work ethic from him and my mom. He works every day tending twenty acres. I work every day managing my writing, photography, events, and charitable work. He gets dirtier than me.
Back when I was a new engineer at Boeing, Mom and Dad came out to visit. They were a bit surprised to find that I wasn’t wearing a suit and tie to work. As a pragmatist I didn’t see the need. I worked with computers more than people. The computers didn’t care what I wore, though anything that built up a static charge was considered a bad idea. I took a day off so we could all go on the Boeing tour. Lots of folks want to see buildings that dwarf jumbo jets. While we stood in line outside the gate my mom pointed out the well-dressed men heading in to work. She thought I should dress like them. They looked impressive, but I didn’t work with them. I worked with the next guy that showed up. He was wearing a wide-brim Panama hat, knickers, suspenders, and knee-high argyle socks. He was the computer guru responsible for operating my groups’ “mini” computer (only the size of four refrigerators and three washing machines!) So, Mom, do you want me to dress like the folks I work with? My work environment was not the same as they expected.
The idea of wearing a tie came up again while talking to my dad about my dating life. He remarried after my mom passed away. That’s how he ended up on the West Coast. Ain’t love grand? He probably wore a tie. I’m single and he suggested that I might have more luck if I dressed better, maybe wear a tie. A tie on Whidbey means either you’re not from around here, or you’re delivering bad news, or you’re going to ask someone for money. Maybe it means it’s Sunday, but I wouldn’t count on it. I wear shorts most of the time, and the only odd thing about that is that I wear them throughout the year. For most of the year it isn’t much of a topic of conversation. Welcome to island life where even the billionaires wear shorts.
So here I am, 52, applying for jobs and signing up for eHarmony. My how things have changed.
Thirty years ago, applying for jobs meant reading the paper, asking for an application, typing up resumes using fresh typewriter ribbon and heavy paper, with a nice cover sheet, and mailing everything off in crisply lettered envelopes. Don’t forget to sign with a good pen and a strong signature. Be patient. It would take a while. Today I applied for a job online. It was natural to link to my LinkedIn profile, upload a resume or two, click on some pull-down menus, and hit Send. Oops. I probably forgot to read the Terms and Conditions page. It was probably delivered within seconds, but maybe as long as minutes. I could hear from them anytime, or not at all. They might even read this blog post before calling. (Hello.) The world is not the same. But I like it better this way.
Fresh out of college, dating was tough. I was an engineer in a building of engineers and in 1980 very few engineers were women. My social scene was like that last sentence, lacking punctuation. Dating was a random thing, though as my mother pointed out it would be easier if I put on a tie and went to church. I didn’t do either. Maybe she was right. About ten unmarried years later I finally placed a personal ad in the paper. Other busy professionals were doing it too. The process was less random, but it took weeks. Post an ad, receive weekly bundles of postcard replies or not, mail back responses or not, maybe call, maybe meet. Now, answer a questionnaire, upload some photos and phrases, type in credit card info, and a computer can provide a match within minutes. Almost none of them live on my island, but so it goes. At least the process is efficient. (And yes I am a fan of eHarmony, and No, I am not going into details. But I will say that I am happy with the results – and still single.)
My plans for my life have changed. Retirement, a divorce out of a marriage, my first career, have not worked out as I expected. At an abstract level, I know that life will not turn out according to plan except through either extreme luck or extreme rigidity. The changes catch me by surprise despite that awareness.
Amidst the changes, I strive to maintain some constants within my life. Frugality and adaptability have always been useful. Frugality has allowed flexibility because I am less likely to be constrained by monetary pressures. Even amidst this month’s personal financial upheaval, my frugality has enabled me to readily extend and rearrange my resources. I’ll miss my Dad’s birthday party, but I’ll probably get to visit later this year. Adaptability has made it easier to react to my new situation. My passions are people and ideas, which means I’m part of a community and I’m aware of what’s new. Over the years I’ve kept somewhat apace of technology, so I’ve already established an electronic network of friends via Facebook and Google+, while also reaching out via Twitter and LinkedIn. If I’d retired as a recluse the transition would be too traumatic. Friends and familiarity make life easier.
What’s the same? Personal values and an acceptance of change.
And if I have to wear a tie – well, luckily, wearing a tie is merely a fashion choice. I actually enjoy wearing a suit occasionally. I’ve been told I look good that way. Maybe I’ll be able to work in jeans. Maybe I won’t have to get a job. The market will probably recover. Windfalls happen. Books and photos can sell. Who knows? But something will change and I’ll be ready to adapt while I, essentially, stay the same.