When I was twenty, I was a sophomore at UC Santa Barbara. I was an English major working my way into the teaching credential program there. I was still taking required general interest classes, which made the experience so much like high school that I didn't yet consider myself an adult. But I thought I was in charge of my future. I was sure that I would succeed in life, both as a fellow marcher in the human parade, and as the master of my own destiny.
When I was twenty-five, I was working at my first real job, for the man who taught me that salesmanship meant not making the sale at any cost, but solving the customer's problems. It was a small family shoe store in a small town, and the key to success was diagnosing a need and filling it (as long as it was filled by something from the stockroom).
When I was thirty, I was doing a job I loved. Still in the shoe business, I was now an assistant manager at a children's shoe store. My boss at the time was also my mentor, a man who gave me the confidence I'd never found in my earlier years. He helped me find a way to exceed the limits I'd placed on myself, and for the first time I was in a situation where I liked who I was and felt I had something to offer.
When I was thirty-five, I thought I had it made. I was now not only a manager of one of the children's shoe stores, but a part owner in the chain. I was the hero of the organization, in fact, because I'd taken a store that had been run into the ground by an inattentive manager (inattentive to everything except how to skim money and cook the books) and turned it into the best store in the chain. Customers loved us, and we made lots of money (because they loved us). A store that had been known for its high prices became known for its high quality of service.
When I was forty, I was starting over. I'd lost everything I'd invested in the children's shoe store chain, because I'd been promoted beyond my ability. I wasn't prepared for hiring and firing, or inventory control. As a result I undid all the good I'd done. I hired (and later fired) a person who was caught doing cocaine in the back room while children waited for service out front. I overbought, dragging down the whole enterprise with my bloated stockroom. I lost that job, and now at forty I was a low-level flunky at the Company, working closely with the Boss and making a tiny fraction of what I'd been earning just five years before.
When I was forty-five, I'd worked my way up to a position of trust in the Company. I was a corporate officer, I signed checks, I made decisions. And I still made pennies, compared to the dollars I made at my previous job. I hated the daily drudgery of my job, but I was resigned to doing it for the rest of my life. I'd lost whatever belief I had that I was a strong, successful person.
When I was fifty, I was pretty much in the same career position as I was five years earlier. But when I was fifty, I started publishing my journal on my own Web site. I started thinking every day about what I was going to write that night, what I would talk about and how I would say it. I looked at my life from a different angle, and I made new friends who read my journal and wrote to me.
Going through life without a successful relationship or an active social life, I've defined myself by where I worked, what I did there, how I was treated, how much self-respect I took away from the job. Sometimes even by how much money I made. Now I'm a guy who writes an online journal and supports his Internet habit by doing some job for some company, but only during working hours. That's not who I am any more. This is.
And five years from now, who knows?