I got something depressing in the mail today from the Social Security Administration. It's my Social Security statement, with my salary history from the year I was 17 and earned $27 for the whole year, through 1998. The depressing part was not that I can't afford to retire until I'm 85. I'd already figured that out. No, it was that my earnings over the last seven years have been almost totally flat, leveling out at about 60% of what I was making during my years at the shoe store in the early eighties.
In those days I thought I was set for life. I was invested in the business and doing something I enjoyed. The fact that the rug was pulled out from under me was partially my fault, maybe mostly my fault. Some of it was a personality conflict with other people who had been brought into the business.
When I started with the company I was the golden boy. I could do no wrong. I took over a failing store and made it the standard for all stores, increasing both sales and customer satisfaction impressively over the shambles left by the previous manager. The fact that he had been a crook and I turned in every nickel didn't hurt my case. I was given more and more autonomy, and eventually awarded a partnership.
Then things started to slide. The economy took a downturn, and sales dropped. I never quite got a handle on hiring and firing, and service was therefore not what it should have been. I made some errors in judgment regarding inventory, and when new investors were brought in, I was bought out and asked to leave.
A measure of how badly I wanted to stay was that I asked to remain with the store, even stripped of power. That situation naturally didn't last long, and I was again asked to leave, this time for good. It was one of the worst times of my life, and if I hadn't had the support of my family I don't know how I would have pulled through.
I spent the next year clawing my way back into the workforce, finally landing with the Company, where I've been ever since. But the first full year I worked after leaving the shoe store, I earned one-third of the salary I had in my last year there. I've gradually wrestled my way back up to a comfort level of sorts, but it's still far below what I had then. And I've never enjoyed this job as much as I did that one, in its best times.
So I perused the Social Security document somewhat wistfully, looking at the rows of numbers and trying to find some perspective. I don't hate what I do. I have my family around me, and I can afford most of the things I want. Most of what I need, anyway. It's only occasionally that I look back at what I nearly had, and wonder where I might be today, had things gone differently.
But then, anyone could have the same regrets. No one's life turns out exactly as planned, and there's no way of knowing, when you set out on a path, if it's the right one for you, or what might have happened if you'd taken another route. All I can do is make the best of what I have, and look around for ways to make it better. So maybe getting this thing in the mail is one of those crossroads. In forcing me to think back, it seems to have me thinking ahead again.