AS A TEENAGER, I wanted to be an architect. I took six years of mechanical drawing during junior and senior high school, and I was good at it, earning nearly all As.
At another time, in my 30s, I thought about becoming a lawyer. People told me I’d make a good one. A lawyer’s opinion seemed to carry more weight, even when the subject was unrelated to legal matters.
I also wanted to play a musical instrument. All my children played more than one in school, and a couple kept at it through college and after.
I often thought it would be cool to speak another language. I was always amazed that, throughout Europe, it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t speak English. Russia is the exception.
The thing is, I accomplished none of these goals, although in some parts of the U.S., I’ve been told speaking New Jersey is a foreign language. Same to you, Tex.
When I was in high school, I was advised to take general courses because I wasn’t going to college. That meant basic math, bookkeeping, typing, English, history and shop. You should see the copper ashtray and wooden salad bowl I made. Years later, I had to take remedial courses to begin college.
Not pursuing architecture may have been a good thing. My son started college in architecture and finished as a civil engineer—too much math for me.
Being a lawyer was a pipe dream. I doubt I had the necessary patience. Besides, after spending nine years of nights and weekends getting a bachelor’s degree, I was burned out. More years of night law school would have been too much for me, although I know at least two colleagues who managed it.
As far as playing an instrument goes, I never actually tried beyond a plastic trumpet at age 10—but I still think it would be cool. A couple of years ago, I met a woman in Starbucks who offered to teach me to play the bagpipes. I love to hear Amazing Grace played on the pipes. You need a lot of hot air for that instrument and, of course, that’s not me.
I toyed with going to Berlitz to learn a language. I even tried a language app on my iPad, but to no avail.
Here I am, going on 80, and I’ve achieved none of my youthful dreams. My quest after high school was to look for a job, any job, just as my father had done.
Whose fault is this? My parents, who didn’t guide or encourage me, or my school counselors? Not my wife. She encouraged me to learn a language and said she would support me going—or at least trying—law school.
No, I’m responsible. I made all the decisions and excuses. I changed direction. I could have overcome every obstacle. I could have found a way, as many others do. But I didn’t.
By most measures, I did better than okay. I’m fortunate, but it could have turned out differently.
These days, many people claim to be victims. They’re told that opportunities are few, and that the system is rigged. Many Americans see only a bleak financial future, yet seem to do little about it.
Times are tough, people tell me. Really? Get out your history book and go back a century or more. Life in America—and the world—has been much more challenging. There have been multiple wars, financial collapses, depressions, high inflation and more.
Many of the great achievers who changed the world had to overcome physical or other obstacles. Many recovered from early failures, and most started with next to nothing.
Don’t let your dreams slip by, and don’t let anyone offer you excuses or tell you what you can’t do. Reject being a victim, and don’t blame the system. Don’t get derailed envying others, many of whom worked hard and overcame obstacles. More than anything else, it’s the decisions we make—or don’t make—that determine our life’s trajectory and financial security. And that’s a fact.
Richard Quinn blogs at QuinnsCommentary.net. Before retiring in 2010, Dick was a compensation and benefits executive. Follow him on Twitter @QuinnsComments and check out his earlier articles.
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It took me well into my fifties to really start embracing any hobbies or passions outside of work and family. I just didn’t have the bandwidth between raising kids and pursuing a demanding career, and it took becoming an empty nester to really get time and mental space for that. As I recall from your other articles, you worked, went to college at night, with your wife raised four kids, put them through college, AND bought a Cape Cod vacation home. You’re nobody’s slacker.
I read this article three times because it was like seeing myself in the mirror as we had many of the same dreams.
You probably didn’t know then what you may know now, but I think you were destined to be a writer. That is something I wish (not dream) I could do, but lack the ambition.
Your last paragraph really says it all and is so true. I just might have to put this article in my HD favorites.
When my son was in kindergarten, he wanted to be a gas station attendant.
Don’t ask me why please because I don’t know to this day.
Soon after he wanted to be a train conductor.
Then a police man.
It goes on and on, too many for me to remember.
Dreams continue to manifest themselves and change throughout our lives.
To me dreams come and go and don’t mean much. They are like clouds.
My mind is too chaotic. I don’t even know what i want for dinner sometimes – how can i possibly know what a genuine dream is?
Even if we did pursue a dream, to make it “come true” takes incredible perseverance and luck. You’ll agree most people fail in their pursuit of dreams.
I saw Jonathan – I think it was on Weathtrack – where he said make money first and then pursue your passions. This makes perfect sense to me.
Be financially free as soon as possible then go out and do your thing to your heart’s content. This why I don’t discount the FIRE movement.
Most dreams are just that, dreams, and after we’ve lived a while, we soon realize to watch out what we wish for, but hey, who cares once we are financially free?
If I may use a personal example: As a teenager becoming a National Geographic photographer was my career dream. My father wouldn’t hear of it. I would starve he said and dictated my career path – I will apply to Massachusetts Institute of Technology he said and live out HIS dream.
Fast forward: Am i sad about this lost dream? From where I’m standing now I can assuredly say no. The reality is there was a one-in-a-million chance I would have made it to National Geographic.
I actually identify with your son aspiring to be a gas station attendant.
When my dad would pull into the Texaco for $3 worth of regular, I was always enthralled with how clean a squeegee could get a windshield and
also how you could have a miniature bank right there in your pocket to make change. (I guess nowadays this kind of dream is confined to kids in Oregon and New Jersey.)
When really young I wanted to be a garbage man or a cowboy. When I was holding bridle of pony at a fair it bit me. No more cowboy.
As a teenager, I wanted to be a legal secretary like Della Street. Most of all, I wanted to move from my rural state to a big city, so I took business math, bookkeeping, typing, shorthand, and English in high school so I could get a job and be independent right away.
I left home and my boyfriend behind right after high school graduation and at 17 had no trouble getting a typing job in a Midwestern city. After a year I moved to a big West Coast city and worked as a legal secretary where I found the work was not as exciting as the Perry Mason TV series had been.
In the early 80s I fell in love with computers, got my computer science B.S. and then an M.S. I too had to take basic math classes in college because calculus was required. I’m now retired from a satisfying and well-paying career in IT.
I’m sorry office jobs that don’t require college have pretty much vanished. I was lucky that my typing skills let me find work easily when I was starting out.
Are you watching the new version of “Perry Mason”? Season 2 just started—I think it’s on HBO Max. We think it’s really good, and Della is an awesome character.
AmeliaRose – Your reference to Della Street brought back memories of a TV show called Private Secretary, starring Ann Sothern which aired in the mid fifties and attracted me to office work as well. It all seemed kind of glamorous and fun. I suppose in our youth and inexperience we forgot to remind ourselves that TV is a make-believe world, but It was a more innocent time. How could we know what the real world was like. I certainly had to work a lot harder than “Susie” seemed to and a few of my bosses were not as polished and courteous as “Mr. Sands”.
Congratulations on finding your niche with computers and for doing all the necessary preparation for success.
Yes, Private Secretary was another favorite show.
My opinion is that very few office jobs ever actually required a college degree. Mine certainly didn’t. Everything of value was learned before college and on the job.
It is true. I think companies just want colleges to do the filtering out. If a student could survive 4 years of engineering, chances are he’ll be able to grow into whatever the company wants him to
When I was working, I was too busy and too focused upon my career to second guess life changing decisions I made early in life. In retirement, I have reflected upon that more than I should.
I did not get my 4 year BS in Accounting until I was 33. Yet, I had a very successful management career that probably was not impeded by the delay. I always wanted to go into business for myself, but always was too well compensated and satisfied with my career to do so.
In the end, I feel blessed that things turned out as they did. Of course life is much more than a career. It is about your spouse, family and spiritual life which count for much more. For that I am also very grateful.
When I was young, I really wanted to be a professional baseball player. If only someone could have taught me how to hit a curveball.
Never give up on your dreams, Jerry. I’m only 66 and I still think my knuckleball could get hitters out. If only the right scout sees me throwing it to my dog today…
I would like to see more thought given to the causes of the victimization mindset. Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist at the NYU Stern college of business, addresses this mindset in his book The Coddling of the American Mind. According to Haidt, paranoid parenting, decline of free play, and the growth of bureaucracy and moral dependence have contributed to the attitudes of current college students.
That indeed would be interesting to explore, but beyond my abilities. I can tell you that being an avid Twitter follower – less so FB – will create some mindsets in this direction. It is filled every day with “unfair, rigged system, inequality, envy” and all forms of blaming others so I can easily see how all that can impact some individuals point of view.
Dick, you forgot one thing…you embraced life. I’m sure you are the sum of all your experiences and the fact that you put your whole heart into everything you tried, speaks volumes. You’ve become a good example of positive self examination but the past is over.. Be all you can still be in the present. There’s a quote attributed to Lily Tomlin…”I always wanted to make something of myself, I just forgot to say what”.
you did well Dick.
I have been very fortune for sure. Not many people get to spend their entire working life doing what they enjoy with near total control over what they do. Even now I get great satisfaction from writing and blogging and administering a FB group for employees and retirees of my former employer.
Dick, one of my best friends started life in NJ. He overcame the language barrier to have a successful career as a pilot, and continues to work teaching aviation. 🙂 Some folks do need a helping hand up. Most of us got one in some way from someone. But we first have to make up our minds to reach our own hand out.
We all need a helping hand which can take many forms. I had two mentors at work who I valued greatly.