September 6, 2023

When I graduated high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. My dad and grandparents wanted me to go to college but it was not something they pushed or pressed. It was not on my radar.

There were other things crowding my attention.

If television shows are any guide, most young people start focusing on college at least by junior high school or so, and parents are engaged. At some point there are brochures and applications and campus visits, etc. Not in my home. My dad and I only ever watched one football game together. It was Kiski High School, in a playoff, at the brand new Three Rivers Stadium. The only thing I remember about that day was that my dad accidentally went into the ladies’ room. It was the first time we had seen restrooms with an entrance and an exit door. He saw Women In and, logically, concluded that the other door had to be for Men. He exited quickly and I think that is the only time I ever saw him blush. The point of the story, though, is that college might have been a hope but it was never a goal to which I was pushed, pointed, or encouraged, whether for sports or academics or career. I would end up SOMEWHERE but I had no vision in high school of what should come next. And no one to nudge.

When my wife graduated high school, her parents had high hopes for her. I can’t speak to how that worked out between them, but I entered the picture toward the end of her junior year. I am sure they felt that I was dashing. (Mostly in context of their hopes for their daughter.) She was going SOMEWHERE, but I think they felt, at that time, that I was going nowhere. I’m sure they felt I was going there fast. It probably did look like that back then. I am also sure that they would have strongly preferred that I take their daughter with me. (Think about it.) It’s funny how things start out in life.

I was mid-twenties when personal computers were young, newly enamored of a career as a computer programmer. I eventually started college but I did not get my first college degree until I was 40 years old. My no-college career path was long. And tortured. I had somewhere I wanted desperately to be and had to scrape and scramble to get there when all advantages of carefree youth were gone. I made progress. Grinding. Halting. Circuitous progress. It often felt like I was getting nowhere. Wife and growing family in tow. My inlaws must have seemed like prophets in those early days. It’s funny how things work out in life. Even so, I got where I wanted to be eventually.

In graduate school, I was assigned a project that was to last the whole term, eight weeks. I got a partner who was to drop the class after the second week leaving the whole of it on me. At the start, I delighted the professor by telling my partner that we had to get busy because we only had 6 weeks left. The professor said I spoke like a true project manager. It might have been a compliment but the perspective has always felt like a curse. Always feeling like I had to get done before the world ended made everything feel like a deadline. Deadlines might make time fly but it is often a bumpy, unpleasant flight. It is stressful and harmful to health. And relationships. Time was always passing. Always running out. If coffee had a smell, there were decades I spent unable to confirm it.

A career is sometimes compared to a treadmill. Constant motion. Always feeling like, at the end of the day, you got nowhere. But we were making progress. We hired one of my college professors as a financial analyst. It was the first time we had one. We felt like we were finally getting somewhere and wanted to start shaping our future to the extent we could. What I most remember about him, though, was a wry observation he made (pilfered from someone else):

“At the end, the person with the most stuff wins.”

I’ve never had that perspective. Stuff has never been the main objective and I’m sure that has always looked to some like a lack of ambition. Like I was destined for nowhere. Today I live in the poorest county in the state. In a small one-story home on just under an acre of ground. From some perspectives, I’m not winning. From others, measured against money and stuff, I am losing. Were we really getting somewhere? Anywhere?

It depends on what winning really is. On what important ‘stuff’ is. I am in my 48th year of marriage and have three adults and 5 grandchildren. No addicts or murderers among them. There is a roof over our heads. We must constantly work to lose weight, meaning we have enough to eat. (& more). We found a balance that worked. Between ‘rat race’ and contentedness. Between self-centered and brother’s keeper. Between the little and bigger things in life. And then we retired.

Now that I’m retired, the pressure to be somewhere is gone. Nowhere is the only place I feel I absolutely have to be. I find myself going there often. I almost always go without my wife. My wife is retired now too, urgently needing to go nowhere. She almost always goes without me. Of course, we always check our calendars. As it turns out, we are always off that day.

I started adult life with nowhere in mind. It wasn’t important until I met my future wife. When I look back at how things started with her parents, I have to smile. We still want to be without each other exactly where they wanted us to be together back then. It is wonderful how things sometimes work out in life.


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