This is my yearbook photo. Look at those eyes filled with such a clear vision of the future that awaited me… that is, until I left school. This is a short story of my life and dreams that did not go quite as planned.
When I was young, I was always planning out my life, sometimes down to the minute. I was highly organized and self-directed. I knew that to fulfill these plans, hard work was essential. Even as far back as fourth grade, I always studied excessively and earned top grades. In high school I was on several sports teams. I was confident that my efforts would open the door to an Ivy League college.
Things didn’t go as planned. I was wait-listed for Princeton but never accepted. So, I attended my fallback school, University of Virginia. My plan evolved to include a strategic major leading to a lucrative career, falling in love, and slaving through law school with my college sweetheart-then-wife supporting me. I had further planned to love the law and maybe move back home to Albany, NY, taking over my father’s law practice – and living a very comfortable life in upstate New York, raising 2.5 well-behaved brown-haired kids with big blue eyes (like me).
Things didn’t go quite as planned. Turns out Communications isn’t a door-opening major. And though I did attend law school at Ohio State, and my college sweetheart did support me (emotionally, that is), she was wedded to Virginia, not me. Not long after we broke up, my father passed away quite unexpectedly. As I had just begun my second year of law school, I was in no position to take over his practice. So much for the upstate NY picket fence and 2.5 adoring kids who looked like me.
Things were not going as planned. Next thing I knew, I had graduated with my law and MBA degrees and had absolutely no idea what to do next – except that I no longer wanted to be a lawyer. I waited tables for several months as I tried to identify a respectable career opportunity – preferably somewhere in DC or Boston. I did not plan on moving to Miami. But after nine months with no serious job offers, that’s where I finally found a job.
I held on to my plans for marriage to my dream wife. Don’t all men have a plan as to what type of woman they’re going to marry? My plan was to marry some nice American woman of tall stature and brunette hair who shared my love of sports and peanut butter. I certainly wasn’t planning on falling in love with a 5-foot tall, red-headed, freckle-faced Canadian, who had about as much passion for sports as I had for broccoli. But love makes you do crazy things.
And then there was my plan to become a feared but respected marshal of a small western town and marry the brothel owner named Fannie. Turns out those plans went south too, but that’s a story for another post.
I began planning a life with this extraordinary woman, even contemplating settling in Miami. Then I received a call from my manager telling me that if I wanted to remain with the company, I’d have to relocate to Chicago… in the middle of winter… to manage their Midwest region sales office – alone, all by myself. I was SO not planning on that.
Remembering my days waiting tables, I agreed to the move. I planned on redeeming the situation with this company, only the company went out of business. Surprisingly, its parent company offered me a position at their newspaper in Philadelphia. Nothing about Philly or newspapers excited me, but it was within driving distance of Connecticut, where my then fiancée Michele was now living.
Eventually, we got married and Michele joined me in Philadelphia, where we decided to settle down. Life was good and it seemed I was back in the driver’s seat of planning my life. Silly me. Perhaps if I had planned on getting laid off, it wouldn’t have happened. But I hadn’t planned on getting laid off. And Michele hadn’t planned on her employer, IBM, selling off her division. Suddenly, my plans had fallen apart again.
Quite unexpectedly, Michele was offered a job in Seattle – our dream destination. I became a trailing spouse. I had no idea what I was going to do in my next chapter, except for one thing: I would NOT take a job in newspaper advertising sales. Eventually I accepted a job as a newspaper advertising sales manager.
Before long, we decided to start a family. Given our genetics, our kids would almost certainly be pale-skinned and freckle-faced, with blue eyes and reddish brown hair – not what I had planned, but still adorable. Luckily, we never were able to conceive – because a few years later, we were standing in an orphanage in southwestern China, cradling the most beautiful dark-skinned, black-haired, brown-eyed baby girl. A year later we went back to China to adopt our second beautiful daughter.
For years I had worked in newspapers, followed by a series of jobs in fast-paced technology startups that required me to put in 60+ hours a week. I was exhausted. More importantly, I was missing my kids and their childhood. So, I abandoned my career plans and took a less demanding job in a small business, in order to have more time with my family.
I figured I would work there a few years, enjoy family life, and plan my next major career move. But things didn’t quite go as planned. I stayed at this last job for the next two decades until I retired. I planned lots of adventures for this sunset chapter of my life. And then, I unretired. Oh well, my knees can no longer handle racquetball 3 times a week anyway.
Many many things in my life did not go as planned. Like marrying a foreigner and raising two adopted daughters. I’ve learned that sometimes, the best plans are the ones that you don’t see coming.
A few years ago, Michele became tired of living in “cookie cutter suburbia” as she called it. I was leery of leaving our neighborhood, our friends and the house our kids called home. But my wife is a smart person (no comments on her choice of husband) and we found ourselves moving to a charming island far from Seattle into a lovely home overlooking an idyllic view. That was never part of my plan.
As I look back on the past five decades, I realize that time and again, the direction of my life did not go as planned. There have been many twists and turns, some disappointments, even a few deeply scary times – and countless happy surprises.
If someone told me when I was still in high school that I would marry a Canadian artist, become the father of two delightful daughters from China, move to an island in the middle of nowhere in the Pacific Northwest, and start writing a humor blog, my first response would have been, “What is a blog?” But my second response would have been, “No way. I have a very different plan.”
In looking back, I’m grateful that in my life, things didn’t always go as planned.
That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.
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Check out my latest humor book: YOU’RE GROUNDED FOR LIFE: Misguided Parenting Strategies That Sounded Good at the Time
© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2019
This happy fellow dancing badly is my high school classmate Doug Stone. He partied all the time, was a total slacker and arrived late & drunk to graduation. He now manages a global hedge fund & earns $15 million/yr.
Every three months, like clockwork, I suddenly experience an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy. It happens when my high school alumni newsletter arrives. I went to a private all-boys’ military high school, the Albany Academy, founded in 1813. The school sends out a quarterly newsletter for three reasons:
- to update alumni on programs they’ve initiated, like the incredible new state-of-the-art athletic complex
- to not so subtly solicit generous donations to fund the incredible new state-of-the-art athletic complex
- and most importantly, to invite alumni to send in updates about their booming careers (and invite them to share their riches to offset the cost of that incredible new state-of-the-art athletic complex)
I don’t normally suffer from poor self-esteem. I feel fairly good about most of my vocational moves – even my current ten-year gig as a humorist, despite the fact that it is a source of constant embarrassment to my wife and kids.
I generally avoid contact with most of my high school classmates because it invariably degrades into a rencounter among alpha males for top honors in career achievements. I’ll bump into someone from my graduating class who had been a stoner and slacker and barely eked by with a C- average. In the first minute of our encounter, he informs me that he’s now Chief of Neurosurgery at the Mayo Clinic. Or perhaps he invented GPS technology or won the Nobel Prize in Mathematics. Then comes that awkward moment when he asks what I’ve been up to and I am thrust into the awkward moral dilemma of whether to tell him I’m the CEO of a multinational technology firm or Ambassador to France. I usually just dodge the entire issue by vaguely alluding that he does not have the proper security clearance for me to divulge the details of my amazing story. (more…)
[The following is a true story.]
The year was 1977. I was 22, just out of college, and working minimum wage for a top-forty radio station in Charlottesville, Virginia – WCHV.
I completed a grueling course to earn my Third Class Radio Operator’s license, qualifying me to be on the airwaves – and make photocopies for the other disc jockeys. Perhaps because I broke the copy machine and spilled coffee on the radio control panel, the station manager wouldn’t let me near the microphone – except to read the T & T (time and temperature) on Christmas day when everyone else was at home for the holiday.
My big break came the following Spring. It was 11:30 on a Tuesday night. I was in bed, unable to sleep because I lay there hacking and sniffling. I was sicker than a dog. Then the phone rang. It was the station manager: “Tim, Chris Furlong is under the weather and can’t do his midnight shift. I’ve called literally everybody, and nobody is available. So, what do you say? Want to be on the air?”
“Tonight?” I wheezed. However sick Chris Furlong might have been, I was feeling ten times worse. So naturally I answered: “Abso [cough] lutely, boss! [cough]. THANK [cough] YOU!”
“Sure you’re feeling all right, buddy?”, he asked? “Never felt – ahhhhh-choooo – better. I’ll be right over,” I sneezed.
I arrived at the station at 11:50 for the 12:00 to 6 am shift. At the stroke of midnight, the previous shift’s jock raced out of the studio, like Cinderella fleeing from the Ball. At that moment, it suddenly dawned on me: I was totally alone in the building. The fate of WCHV was upon my shoulders ALONE.
Did you know that on a deep-water oil rig, the crew cements casings between drillings and that when the rock cuttings reveal the oil sand from the reservoir rock, they then remove the drilling apparatus from the hole and perform a logging test to retrieve a core sampling before lowering a perforating gun into the well to set off explosive charges in order to create holes in the casing through which the oil can flow? Neither did I – that is, until this past Tuesday, when I stopped at my local dry cleaner to drop off a pair of pants.
It was a routine trip to my local dry cleaners. All I wanted was to get my trousers pressed. In and out in three minutes, right? Not quite. The owner, an elderly Korean man, was feeling particularly chatty, so it took me almost a half hour to get out of there – and I was the only victim, I mean, customer. This is the honest (significantly abbreviated) retelling of the day time stood still.
As I was wrapping things up, the proprietor, Mr. Ho, asked me my name – so he could write it down on the claim check. In retrospect, revealing that information was an egregious error.
Mr. Ho: You name Jones? You know Keith Jones?
Me: No, can’t say that I do. Who is Keith Jones?
Mr. Ho: He very nice man. He live London, England.
Me: You don’t say? And to think we’ve never met.
Mr. Ho: He very smart. He manage oil rigs all over world.
Me: Very impressive. Well, thank you. Have a nice day.
Mr. Ho: He in charge of oil rigs in Africa and Asia. But not South America.
Me: Fascinating. So, you say my pants will be ready on Friday afternoon? See you then.
Mr. Ho: Keith Jones. He Welsh. You Welsh?
Me: Um, yeah, I have Welsh ancestors – and Scottish and German.
Mr. Ho: Keith no German. He Welsh. He very smart. Was my boss. He work in oil business for years. Manage rigs. I work on rigs for career.
Now I SHOULD have just ignored that last comment, smiled, turned and marched out the door. But No! I had to be polite and ask, So, you worked on an oil rig, you say? I immediately paid for this blunder.
I just returned from my 40th college reunion. It was an amazing experience to reconnect with many people I have not seen in decades. What college did I attend, you ask? Well if you guessed Harvard University, you’re extremely close – in fact, my alma mater shares several letters in common with Harvard, including a V, an R, an A and the entire word “University” (University of Virginia).
One thing I’ve always preached to my daughters is the importance of being authentic, and to be proud of who you are – which can be a challenge at times when you realize you’re a humor writer. To be honest, I was a little anxious about seeing my old college cronies. Sure, I’ve had my share of achievements since I graduated – like having never once been convicted of a major felony. Or the fact that I am a published author of a book that has sold roughly 100,000 copies (if you round up to the nearest 100,000).
I arrived at the reunion’s opening reception, and the first person I met was Brett Farnsworth III. I told him I wrote a weekly humor blog. As though he were experiencing an adverse Pavlovian reaction to the word “blog”, Brett abruptly excused himself, proclaiming he had to step away for a phone interview with CNN to discuss his role spearheading NASA’s manned flight program to Mars – ETA: 2022.
Next, I bumped into Richard Brantley, who lived two doors down in my first-year dorm. “Tim, wow, I barely recognized you with your weight gain. And when did you lose so much hair?” I started feeling a bit self-conscious, but I tried to be polite, asking him what he’d been up to in recent years. “Oh, nothing much,” he started. “Same old – same old. Still Senior Vice President of Global Strategy for Apple. What about you?” A nagging feeling was mushrooming inside me that my career accomplishments might not stack up to those of my fellow alums.
In an attempt to preserve my rapidly crumbling self-esteem, I went into improv mode. “Um, well, since you asked…. I was recently promoted to Executive Senior Vice President of International Brand Management for P&G – you know, Proctor & Gamble. I just flew in from our Geneva manufacturing facility for the reunion.” Okay, so I lied. Sue me. I just didn’t know how to make “I write blogs about being a bad parent” sound impressive. On the one hand, I felt badly about the ruse. On the other hand, Richard was clearly awed by how I engineered a five percent gain in market share in our consumer brands division in my first quarter in the job. So much for my plans to be authentic.