Last week I did a lot of thinking. I was at our Christmas Mountain timeshare in Wisconsin Dells to focus on writing my book on hospitality. I’ve been working on this project for almost three years, and the end is finally in sight. My goal is to complete it by January 31. I think I might make it.
As I was writing, I thought a lot about some of the things I learned in the first 35 years of my life. And then I thought about some of the things I’m learning in the second 35 years of my life – now that I’m getting closer to the end of that segment. But, why 35-year segments?
When I was growing up on the farm, we had both cows and chickens. Most of our milk and eggs were picked up by the milk man and the egg man. But, we also had customers, mostly friends of the family, who bought milk and eggs directly from us on the farm. The milk customers kept track of the gallons of milk they got, and wrote a check to pay for all of it at the end of the month.
Egg customers paid for the eggs at the time they got them. We had a lot more egg customers. Some of them would buy just a dozen or two eggs at a time and come every week or two. Others would buy several dozen eggs at a time, and come about once a month. (In the 1950’s, a bacon-and-egg breakfast was considered one of the healthiest breakfasts possible. People did a lot more baking too, which used up lots of eggs.)
Often the egg customers would come to get eggs in the late afternoon, after school was out. My mom was still at work in Madison, my dad was in the barn, my brother was outside working or playing, and I was the only one in the house. So, I was usually the one to sell the eggs. I needed to keep up to date on what the market price of eggs was so that I knew what to charge the customers. The most frequent price was 35-cents a dozen. This was before the days of calculators, so I would have to multiply the dozens times the price. I quickly learned to count by 35: 35 – 70 – 105 – 140 – 175 – 210. Beyond that, I multiplied on paper.
I still think by 35’s sometimes. Like the first 35 years of my life. That seems to be a pretty natural dividing point. Up through my mid-thirties, I considered myself young, and I looked young. On my 35th birthday, I had to show my driver’s license to prove I was over 21 just to enter a raffle! In the first 35 or so years of my life, I followed pretty conventional standards. I got a good education and then I got a good job. In my second 35 or so years, I abandoned a few conventions. I’ve been self-employed for most of it, and I try to think regularly about what I’m doing for a living, and why I’m doing it.
What made me change course in my mid-thirties? I lost my job as a result of a corporate take-over. I learned that financial security wasn’t tied to having a good job. But the most important lesson I learned is “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” [I Thessalonians 5:18 NRSV]
The apparent tragedy of losing my really good job provided the opportunity for me to begin the less conventional segment of my life – being self-employed and doing work that helped people – as a business consultant, an innkeeper, a caregiver, and a retreat center host.
I have many things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Losing my job 26 years ago is one of the most important. I need to remember that, and to remember to “give thanks in all circumstances…”
I’m glad I had the time last week to think about things like this.