Saturday, November 06, 2004


Essay-The Big Five-Oh

The Big Five-Oh
by L H Harrell

There's something bothersome about entering the sixth decade of my life.Born and raised in south Florida where retirees outnumber nativesthree-to-one, I've never considered 50 as OLD, but I do consider it theadvent of respectable middle-age. There's the rub. How can I have reachedmiddle-age when I feel so unfinished? Not "unfinished" as in hopes andwishes unrealized. It's more actual than that. More like raw lumber -- Ifeel like an unfinished plank. Unpainted, unvarnished, unmilled, I may yetbecome clapboard or carpenter's lace, bookshelves or barn siding.

I used to envy those who decided early on what they wanted to be; the oneswith definite goals and gumption enough to reach them. In my own meanderingcourse, I've met many career professionals in mid-life crises who wereconvinced they'd taken a wrong track. Apparently, shaping your skills to fityour goals does not create an ideal existence. Perhaps shaping your goals tofit your skills is more fulfilling. I always thought so, along the lines of"do what you love and the money will follow." But I've learned that simplydoing what you love is not always enough. To build a career doing what youlove takes constant practice and even more, it takes determination.

When I was young I thought I had a goal, but all I really had was a littletalent and a big dream. It took just one scornful college professor to determe. He made it clear that, in terms of finished furniture, I was manydrawers shy of a desk and (in his opinion) had no business aspiring to beone. I failed the course. It was my major. Having lost my pride, myconfidence and my tuition-paid scholarship, I dropped out.

Thirty years ago, I thought he'd ruined my life. Now, I think he did me afavor. Had he not bulldozed my dream, I would have spent a few years tampingthat little talent into his "proper" formats and a lifetime wondering why.Instead, I've spent all these years doing what he said I couldn't do, honingthat talent into a skill I'm told is of sometimes formidable force. I'mstill not a desk, but as a strong plank with few knotholes I'm a lot closerto it than if I'd been pruned as a hedge. Some say I achieved my goalanyway. They're wrong. Many a contract has been signed on a plank with acouple of saw horses under it. That doesn't make it a desk.

Now that I've turned 50, I'm no longer comfortable with the philosophy ofachievement I adopted when my dream-goal took a dive, basically, "Lordwillin' and the creek don't rise." If the Lord weren't "willin'," I wouldn'tstill be hacking away in self-imposed apprenticeship. When the creek rises(as it always does), plain old planks are mighty handy for getting to highground. Something else I learned along the way - on high ground, lost dreamscan reappear. A bit of sanding, a little polish, and they shine up good asnew. Give me another 50 years - I might yet make a roll top.###

Award-winning essayist L.A. Harrell flunked Freshman English 101 (BasicComposition). She now earns her living as a freelance writer/publicist whodreams of writing novels.#####

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