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James R. Stout

Today Is The Only Day We Can Ever Count On

             Now let’s be honest here. How many of us started working at our perfect job on the first job we ever had? I don’t see too many hands raised there. Next question. How many of us, after working in a few jobs, found our perfect job and spend the rest of our working lives blissfully unaware that other people are toiling in jobs that “just pays the bills”? A few hands, but most of you are rolling your eyes like I did at 15 every time my father told one of his corny jokes. (Something that I have apparently learned to do as well!) Let’s go a little bit deeper now. How many of us knew exactly what we wanted to do (workwise) from an early age and then went out and did it? Hmmm. Not too many hands up there either.

            The truth is most of us spend our adult lives working in jobs that are at best “ok”. There are those lucky few, and I’ve known some of them, who stumbled onto a career that they absolutely loved and stayed in for their adult working lives. I know of two dear friends who knew early on that they were destined to serve God as ministers. They set out to do that and have done so for 4 or 5 decades. I know of another friend who started working as a stocker in a grocery store at the age of 18. He found his calling. Not as a stocker, but in the grocery business. He loved it. We had to hogtie him and force him to retire at 67. He was the youngest store manager in the history of Kroger when he was 21 years-old. He changed employers a couple of times over the next 50 years but stayed in the business and loved every minute of it. It would have been a life sentenced to hard labor for me! Retail just isn’t my bag.

            I thought I knew what I wanted to do when I was 14 years-old. I made a valiant attempt in the beginning, but life gets in the way sometimes. Things changed when I decided marrying at the age of 21 to a girl who was 18 was a wise decision. I suddenly had responsibilities well beyond my limited ability to fulfill. That was when I got a job “to get by” until I could do what I really wanted to do. Well, let me tell you something. You really can’t serve two masters. I tried to pursue my dreams (at the time) while making time in jobs that I didn’t care anything about and in many cases flat out hated. In the vernacular of today’s generation, “My bad”. It was stupid is what it was. Unfair to my bride and unfair to myself. Oh, I always did my job well. I always gave my employers their money’s worth. But I didn’t like it. I was spinning my wheels in grand fashion. From the age of 21 until 37 I worked as a route salesman, locksmith, architectural hardware scheduler, courier, locksmith supplies sales, pizza delivery, inventory specialist, youth minister, social worker, and professional musician. The last of those was what I thought I wanted to do from an early age. But I was only able to give it a tepid try due to my responsibilities as a husband. In all fairness, some of those jobs were part-time while I went to college at the age of 31, graduating at 35 from Houston Baptist University with a dual major in History and Christianity and a G.P.A. of 3.5. Nobody ever said that I didn’t give it my all when I set mind to something! I worked as a youth minister and a social worker concurrently for two years following my graduation from college. Finally, at the age of 37, I grew a brain and took a job that would pay the bills, help raise the kids, and all that stuff like that that there. I entered the world of insurance. I spent the next 25 years working as a claims adjuster. I would love to tell you that I found my calling, but then I don’t like to lie. It was a good paying career, with great benefits, and ultimately allowed me to retire at 62. But it was a wholly unpleasant job to have. Frankly, it is a thankless job that most people have no real understanding of and in many cases, they hate you for doing your job. Meanwhile, throughout all of those years I still did on my own time the three things that I truly wanted to be doing for a living only I did them as a hobby. Those three things are Singer-Songwriter-Recording Artist, photographer, and writer. Ahhh, but as one of my inspirations, Paul Harvey, would have said, “Now, for the rest of the story.”

            There is indeed life after retirement. A great life. If only I didn’t creak when I walk and had all that energy that I had when I was younger! Heck, I might actually amount to something yet! Instead of getting up every day and going out and doing a job that gave me no feeling of contentment, I now spend my time recording those 600 songs that I wrote over the years, photographing all the things that I used to drive by and wish I had time to stop and photograph, and to do what I am doing at this moment – writing. I don’t know what the future has in store for me. None of us do. We can make our plans and hope for the best.

            My advice to someone who is in their 20’s or 30’s and working in a job that is “just a job” is to do one of two things. First, if at all possible and while not being irresponsible (I do believe in being responsible) determine what it is you really want to do, what will make you content, what will bring you fulfillment and go out and do it. Be reasonable about it though. If you just want to sit in Mom’s basement and play video games, then I’m not talking to you. But if you have a dream that is reasonable (yes, that’s subjective, I know), then make a plan and go do it. At the age of 31 I had a dream of going to college and graduating with honors despite having the responsibilities of a wife and two small children. It wasn’t for the faint of heart! It wasn’t just a dream of glory either. It was a dream of a way to support my family better than I had previously been able to do. I made a plan and I set my mind to it. I achieved that goal and the only reason I ended up getting that job in insurance that would support my family better was because I got that degree. It was required in those days. Oh, and when I graduated from college, I was debt free. If the dream is worth the effort, then do it right.

            Second choice? Stay the course. If you have a good job, a family to support that you love dearly (and if you don’t love them dearly, then there’s no hope for you), then stick with it. Do your best. Hang in there and remember that there is life after retirement. There is life after the kids are grown and on their own. There is even life if things don’t turn out quite like you planned. I love my life now. There were too many years that I wasn’t saying that. Shame on me for being short-sighted. I get to do what I always wanted to do precisely because I did what had to do for many years. My mother used to remind me all the time with her favorite saying. “You do what you have to do.” There’s strength in that saying. Fortitude comes with a price, but it’s worth it. I even get a wonderful bonus every day of my life. Five beautiful and fantastic grand-daughters! A whole frigging basketball team of the most special little girls in the world. They make their Paw-Paw so very proud.

            There’s another saying that both of my parents used to say all the time. “If a job is worth doing, then it’s worth doing right.” Maybe you have a job that you don’t really like much. I know I had a few of those. But I did those jobs right. It’s what makes you able to hold your head high and get through the day. No, it’s not always easy. But it is always the right thing to do. In a day and age when doing the right thing is out of favor, be the exception to the norm. Don’t goose step with the brown shirts. Take the path that will take you somewhere amazing instead of being a dead-end. One final saying that I don’t know who coined, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. “Cherish yesterday, dream tomorrow, live today.” Today is the only day that we can ever count on and making today a worthwhile day is best that we can do.

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