A Tale of Two Men

Today, we live in a society where work is demoralizing. Very few ever feel that they arrive. And if they do, it is a brief moment atop a Jenga tower where one move can result in the big fall. We treat people like commodities, not as humans with dreams and nightmares. I just read Arthur Brook’s article “Your professional Decline Is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think”, and I felt sick all evening. It is an article that clearly defines the great American tragedy. I have a tale of two men in different generations; I believe the making of a man’s life is determined mostly by the society who creates it.

My dad lived a life many would envy. In his world, he was successful, he was a friend to many, he was a mentor, and yet on the sporting field, especially the golf course, he was your most competitive rival. He was born into a family of progressive educators. His dad built a newspaper in the mountains of North Carolina. After moving to San Francisco for a brief stint in banking, my dad returned to his purpose in North Carolina. He built an educational legacy in a small rural town. He worked tirelessly with Governor Jim Hunt to turn North Carolina into the “Education State”. His work was intimately tied to the community he served. Success in education resulted in a prosperous community. My dad loved people, and they loved him back. He never thought his processing speed might be too slow, or that his board would fire him at any moment. My dad was allowed to put his talents to work. He had a great relationship with his employees and the people he served, and it built a community of hope and trust. My dad traveled to football and basketball games locally and around the country. He rushed to the country club on weekends for comradeship with the dog fight on the golf course. When he did decide to retire, it was his decision…in his very late sixties. He had a party. The community cried. He cried. But it was time to do something else. A building was built bearing his name. A plaque still sits on number 11 where he got a hole in one. I guess by today’s standards, this may sound surreal, but a company had actually been courting him for a long time. He became a consultant for a construction management company that built schools and hospitals on the East Coast. He had so much fun seeing old friends and meeting new ones. The company was crazy for him and that feeling was mutual. Unfortunately, cancer took his life in six months in his mid seventies. He worked for five years before he had to say goodbye to this company and to the people he cared so deeply about. When the neurologist told him his fate, his only comment was, “I have done everything I have wanted to do.” He had. Society at that time gave people a chance to arrive, and arrive he did.

On another note, I have a friend who served a corporation for twenty-six years. I believe any employees with exceeded ratings, multiple relocations, and dedication to work and service should be of value to a company. But cutting them loose before their pension ramps up and creating a firing to also steal severance is hardly a thank you. The stress of unemployment, using retirement to survive, and a heart attack later, it seems almost a waste of twenty-six years. To move on to two more positions, where there was no security at either, and eating up more retirement is more than a kick in the stomach. My friend is still trying to put what was once a secure life back together. Work in America is nothing short of demoralizing. The tragedy is that this is one friend, and yet it is also hundreds of acquaintances. Arthur Brooks’s suggestion in his article is a betrayal to many workers over the age of fifty. Corporations can now use the excuse of mental decline to not hire them. “Sully” Sullenberger III was 58 when he landed Flight 1549 on the Hudson River in 2009. Mental decline? I bet those passengers on that plane would beg to differ.

I love the almost poetic way in which Mr. Brooks talks about decline, as if it is a slow death starting in midlife, a slow dance with darkness. It is a romantic notion that to teach at an Ivy League school is the perfect way to accept the parachute fall in life, while revering in the perpetual halls of knowledge. Not an option for most, it is the fear of having healthcare, money to live on, and sending kids to college. It is the fear when leaving Walmart and watching a seventy-year-old pushing carts that results in a panic attack upon entering the safety of the Boomer’s car. It is the decline forced upon workers at age forty, that they are useless, rather than we are cheap and will not pay you for your experience and wisdom. It is a society that demoralizes older people as slow and out of touch. In the realm of humans over fifty and the realm of people in their thirties, you will find both creatives and innovators, hustlers and drifters, fit and unfit, worthy and unworthy. To assume that people decline and become teachers, puts teaching in a questionable light.

Society does not value older people. It is as if there is a switch that suddenly turns off, and it is time to accept the drop off of humanness. I say BS. We need to change the discussion about aging. We need to stop showing older people as unhip professors who are serving, but yet out of the game. Life speaks to us throughout life. We should feel comfortable to heed its call, without the snickers and astonishment of why on earth would people over fifty want to live, not settle. I wish Mr. Brooks well in his next adventure, but be careful for regrets. The worst possible thing that happens to people is ignoring the best of their hearts. I love eighty-year-olds who never betray themselves. They have never succumbed to society’s mandate of aging.

For on those days when we become aware our days are limited, we must ask ourselves, what tale are we worthy of? Prove to the world, in all its dogma, expectations, and suffering…I AM STILL ALIVE….

Photo-Unsplash-Jeff Sheldon

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Patty Brown

Patty Brown

865 Followers

If life steers you into a dead end road, and you are trying to find your way, skip the GPS, take the road with no traffic. Founder studiO, early morning poet.