What To Be or Not To Be
It's amazing how quickly time passes when you're on the downhill slide of the last half of your life. Even so, I spent much of my birthday recently trying to figure out what to be when I grew up.
When I was knee-high to an aardvark, somewhere in grade school, most of the guys I hung out with wanted to be policemen or firemen or cowboys or outlaws. Something with a bit of danger involved. I was no different, except my dream was more unusual than most -- I wanted to be a treasure hunter. There would be tons of adventure in exotic places involving dangerous characters with vast riches waiting to be discovered.
After high school, I became a tad more realistic and yearned to be an architect. It required creative and technical skills, and had a high ceiling of compensation. I started college as a math major, planning to enroll in architectural school after I had completed the prerequisites. Some of the required courses were art classes, including drawing. Having no aptitude for such things, my life reverted back to the directionless stage.
In my sophomore year, I decided to become a geologist. It required some technical skill and the possibility of adventure in exotic places. So I took an introductory geology course and nearly died of boredom.
Then one day I read a newspaper article about how computers were going to play a major role in the future and there would soon be a big demand for computer programmers. It sounded like an interesting profession involving technical skills with plenty of prestige and compensation. I immediately announced to family and friends that I was going to start a new life as a computer programmer. Since they were all tired of hearing about my next new life, I had an extra incentive to do it and see it through.
Miami-Dade Junior College, UNLV and San Jose State were considered to be the three best schools for computer technology at the time. All were a long way from Minneapolis and Miami-Dade was the cheapest, so I headed down to Miami in August of 1964 in a '53 Chevy to start another new life. A couple of years later, I finished all the computer courses and began working in St. Paul as a computer programmer.
Before long, I was drafted into the Army and spent two years as a data processing analyst. Afterward, I went back to Minnesota to re-start my life once again, this time by returning to college to earn my BS and MS degrees. Then I got back into the wonderful world of computers as a programmer, systems analyst and project leader.
Eventually, I moved to Los Angeles where I started another new life by working my way up the ladder as a senior systems analyst, later as a general manager of a software company and soon became self-employed as a consultant. During this period, I started a new phase of life as a married man. Six years later, I started a new phase of life as a divorced man. I also spent much of my free time writing screenplays, trying desperately to start a new life in the movie business.
In my 40s, I quit the rat race and started another new life as a treasure hunter after all, spending the next six years prospecting for gold, mostly in central Arizona. When life as a desert rat wore off, I moved to the hills of Arkansas to start another new life as a writer. After years of struggle, I now have four published novels and write a weekly newspaper column. Since I needed additional income to survive, I even started another new (parallel) life at the same time by teaching college computer courses.
Starting a new life is easy. All it costs is money, energy and time. And in many cases, you'll move from one rut of existence into another rut of existence. But life is a journey and full of ruts. If you're lucky or smart, you may eventually figure out what to do with the rest of your life and actually do it.
Unfortunately, I've never been lucky and am apparently not too smart either. I'm still trying to figure it out.
What to be or not to be -- that is the question. I suspect the answer is that my destiny is to forever be a seeker of the answer. Hopefully, by my next birthday I will forget the question and merely be.