Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The picket fence syndrome

As I remember it, my mother came into my room on the day -- or pretty near the day -- I turned 16. Since I was a teen, I was sleeping late. She said it was time for me to get a job, or paint the white picket fence that surrounded our house. I chose the picket fence. About 20 pickets later, I was working at McDonald's, and with a few minor exceptions, I've been working every day since.

Looking back, I'm going to guess that the announcement of my employment future that morning came after severe parental projection. Parental projection occurs late at night when you sit and try to figure out where your kids are heading. You project the future and then you try your darndest to prevent it. Oddly enough, I find most parents project the worst-case scenario, which is odd considering you start out projecting them as future presidents. When they get their first hit in T-ball, you suddenly see scholarship opportunities. Sometime between then and, say, 16, it all goes south.

I'm very bad at this. I spend considerable time trying to figure out where my kids are going to end up. I'm not any better at it this week because Sean told me over lunch the other day that he's down to one class at school while working fulltime. "Are you going to take classes next semester," I asked. "Probably not," he said. In my house "probably not" translates as "no."

He doesn't feel he's learning anything at school and he's probably right. Sean is pretty much a genius and he needs a real challenging class -- or classes -- that will help him get "his certs," which I think has something to do with what computer geeks need to have a comfortable life with, umm, computers.

I tried to explain that he has to look at things "long term," and that at 21, working at MPR -- even as an intern -- with some tremendously talented people who can teach him, and the possibility of a full-time gig someday -- maybe -- is a good place to be, especially since he likes it so much.

"Keep your options open," I tell him, trying to get the message through that continuing studies is a long-term solution, not a short-term one. But I don't think it's going to work out that way and I hope he knows what he's doing, and doesn't end up selling pencils on the street.

But kids don't look long-term sometimes. They look at what they're making now and what the quick payoff could be. I have a hard time relating to that because I got in the radio business working 6 days a week for $105 a week because it's the price I had to pay in the business. Survive for a few years, and things start opening up.

And things did. The folks that didn't want to make $105 a week dropped out of the business and, suddenly, paths started opening and I've done, well, OK. Nonetheless, I think about how I'm going to stay employed, until I retire 12 years, 6 months, and 13 days from now.

Smart, eh? Long-term thinking. Except that from time to time I remember that from the day I started painting a picket fence to right now, I've gone to work in the radio or news business each day, and I often think if I were to do it again, I'd go be a bush pilot in Alaska when I got out of school ... or work with Special Olympics... or build Habitat for Humanity houses ... or fly LifeFlight helicopters for next-to-nothing, and worry about the future... later.

I don't regret what I've done, but I also recognize what I didn't do.

Tonight, my oldest son, is sleeping on a sidewalk outside of the Best Buy in Oakdale, because tomorrow on Friday morning they'll sell Playstation Wii'ss to the first 20 people in line for a couple hundred dollars and he knows he can immediately turn it into $2,000 on E*Bay.

I hope he uses the money for classes, but maybe he'll buy some flight lessons and a ticket to Alaska instead.

1 comment:

DaveG said...

fly LifeFlight helicopters

Funny you should mention that. As I was reading this post, I was reflecting on my efforts to get my 12 year old daughter interested in something. We had pretty good success last year when we sent her off for a week long program at a local hospital to introduce her to Nursing as an option. She loves little kids, and I thought may pediatric nursing would be an interesing choice for her. But recently I've been projecting a bit of a vicarious desire on her: I think being a Lifeflight EMT would be an interesting and rewarding goal. In fact, if I wasn't so old I'd try it myself! I'm hoping that I can find someone currently doing that kind of work that would be willing to take a couple of hours to talk to her about it.