Living With a Ghost

There was a line in Grey’s Anatomy this week that prompted this post. I can’t recall exactly how it was phrased but the character says he “doesn’t want to live with a ghost — who he might have been if he had been brave enough to try.” That line struck a chord with me because I feel like that describes me in some way.

When I went away to college I went in thinking I wanted to be a teacher. I started on that track from the beginning of my college career and only once did I consider anything else. I took a journalism class with the thought of possibly changing my major. I liked the class, but I took the easy path of sticking with my major I chose as a high school kid. I muddled through my education classes and then, when I actually went to the classroom, I realized I hated teaching. My advisor saw that and advised that I change my major. I was working at the university library at the time and enjoyed it. It seemed the easy thing to do was to follow my advisor’s advice and work toward an MLS. I changed my major to communications and worked toward a BS for the sole purpose of going to graduate school for the MLS. I really enjoyed my communications classes. I mostly took classes in small group and mass communications. I especially liked my mass communication classes. I should have considered moving forward in that field, but, once again, I had tunnel vision and went straight on to the MLS program after graduation. While getting my master’s, I worked at a market research firm. I was very good at my job. I didn’t, however, consider that as a career either. I stayed focused on the library thing and when we moved to Maryland I applied for multiple library jobs. Now, here I am 23 years later working in a library in Maryland.

I don’t hate being a librarian. I like my job and I’m at the very least adequate at doing said job(most of the time) but I think a lot of my dissatisfaction over the years has been the side effect of living with that ghost. The ghost of Alan who didn’t go in to college with an open mind. The ghost of Alan who didn’t at least take a 2nd journalism class. The ghost of Alan who didn’t consider a career in communications. The ghost of Alan who didn’t look in to market research careers in Maryland. The ghost of Alan who would never attempt to write more than a mediocre blog post. The ghost of Alan who has always done what is easy and safe.

I like my life. I just feel like I missed out on some opportunities by playing it safe. Learn a lesson from me. Don’t spend your life living with a ghost.

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9 Comments

  1. I think it’s inevitable for most people, at least to some extent, because for most of us there are more things we’d like to do than we have lifetimes to do them.
    I got lucky in some ways – I started college on a scholarship at 17, planning to major in mechanical engineering, but I wasn’t mature enough and quickly realized I was about to blow it, because I didn’t have enough self-discipline to get to class sometimes and wasn’t getting homework done.
    I had no skills that would keep a roof over my head, and moving back in at home wasn’t an option – my folks were loving but firm about that. So I talked them into giving me consent to enlist (because I wasn’t 18 yet) and joined the Marine Corps. I reasoned that I’d have room and board for a few years and when I was ready to go back to college I’d have the GI Bill.
    I signed up to start in the infantry, because I was tired of classrooms; after one enlistment as a mortarman I reenlisted but figured I’d better pick up a marketable skill, so I switched to a new MOS in data systems.
    I ended up making it a career, and just shy of the nine year mark applied for a commissioning program and got to go to OCS (I’d picked up enough college between the CLEPs and night classes at a community college to qualify, about five semesters worth.)
    When the time came to request MOS assignments as new officers, I really wanted to go into tanks. But I was married and had kids, so I stayed in data systems because it was more family-life-friendly. I finished out my career in computers and telecommunications. I was good at it and had job satisfaction enough, but part of me still wishes I’d gone into tanks. And yet I missed too much of my kids’ childhood as it was, and I’d have missed even more if I had, and I’d probably be wishing I’d stayed in data systems.
    I also chose to retire at 20 years because my then-wife had begged me to, so we wouldn’t have to keep getting moved around. I was pretty much guaranteed to make my next promotion, and wonder what it would have been like if I’d stayed in longer. Another road not taken.
    It did help me when it came time to figuring out a second career. I got assigned some additional duties as an officer in substance abuse treatment, and learned I really liked the counseling field, enough to volunteer for a suicide hotline for training and experience and then go back to school for a degree in the field, and I made psychotherapy my second career.
    I think I liked the military and the counseling field a lot better than I would have liked being an engineer.
    It’s even been that way with choices of places to live. I’ve ended up back where I lived as a kid, in New Mexico, but there have been some other places I think I’d be happy too, and those would be different paths. Never enough lifetimes.

  2. I am at the library now. I typically go here to blog as we currently do not have a computer and this is preferable to texting my blog. The ghost of thing used to get to me a lot in terms of occupation but I have recently made peace with my past decisions. For some reason I get the ghost of relationships past as I feel like I missed out on a lot when I was younger. However I do remind myself to look at my current life and I am in a darn good place this allows me to have peace of mind. saw you in community pool and I am making it a priority to read and comment on a few blogs from there

  3. I have jumped around, back and forth, in my college and work careers. I started out as a math major, but being only 17 when I started college, I found self-discipline challenging and calculus awful. So I switched to English, because I was a wiz with language. I dropped out mid-Junior year and took about 5 years or so off, taking random classes here and there.

    Random jobs as a proofreader, receptionist, secretary, and finally graphic designer made me realize that I really needed a college degree, any degree, if I wanted to ever make more than a pittance. So I went back for a year and got my BA in English. First job out of college (10 years after I graduated from high school) was as a production editor in Northern Virginia for the American Psychological Association. I had random jobs on the editorial side of the scholarly publications field (including a stint with the American Statistical Association, so sort of back to the math thing), then took some time off to have a baby and reassess.

    That was the last time I worked for anyone other than myself. I found I had no trouble not being distracted by things in the house. It was much better to have the excuse of work to avoid those housekeeping chores. This time around I was a graphic designer/editor, an unusual combination not frequently found in the wild. (People either do one or the other and have no facility with whichever they don’t do.) That lasted many years before I burned out on trade association work in the nation’s capital, where the most frequently requested color scheme was a variation on the frickin’ flag. I really hate red, white, and blue now.

    So I changed gears and bought a needlework supplies shop, because I figured, how hard could it be. This evidently has been how I’ve approached my career throughout my life. Jumping in and flying by the seat of my pants. I discovered that I was a natural in this kind of niche retail environment. I loved it and was good at it. Then the economy went bust, and so did my business. My customers had bought more stuff than they could possibly use in their lifetimes, so they stopped shopping frequently and became only occasional customers.

    So I retired after trying the Internet as opposed to brick and mortar and not being totally satisfied with that.

    Now I have a part-time job (2 days a week) in a needlework store, where I can get my retail freak on without the responsibility of worrying about all those pesky business details.

    I wish I had discovered this last career earlier in my life, but I don’t think I would do anything different (well, except for the black hole I call my 20s).

  4. I changed my major from journalism to art education (what?!) after a traumatic, mandatory public speaking class (I could WRITE, not speak!) when I learned a mandatory debate class was coming up next. I occasionally wonder if I would have listened if someone older and wiser had encouraged me to suck it up, take the debate class, then move on to the writing part that I loved. Oh, well. HATED teaching, too, and have taken various paths over the years and am looking forward to retirement in 2018. But Alan, when I think back about how one thing led to another, I wouldn’t change a thing. Will I do something more with writing than work on my own mediocre blog? (Ouch! We’re BOTH better than mediocre, my friend!) Maybe. Maybe not. But I’m having a good time, enjoying travel, good friends, my adorable son, etc., etc. At 17 or 18 I never could have imagined what was to come, but here I am. I still think I would have made one helluva newspaper reporter, but I’m grateful for life’s experiences as they’ve unfolded for me. We all have “ghosts,” and screw “Grey’s Anatomy” and Shonda Rhimes who maybe I ALSO coulda shoulda been! 🙂 Best wishes!

  5. Your blog is far from mediocre. It’s honest and unpretentious. You seem to me to be an everyman. While I’ve had more jobs than I care to mention in a lot of different fields, and enjoyed the diversity and challenges, there’s a lot to be said for building a career, for maintaining security for you and your family. There’s nothing wrong with working hard for something and not wanting to risk losing it. And we all regret the things we didn’t do. You could have pursued journalism, been quite talented, but not catch a break and ended up writing the obits for the local rag. Opportunities present themselves more often than people think, and I’ve taken them and regretted it often. Hindsight is 20/20!

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