Along the early slow roll of my next-act transition so far, some people don’t seem to get it. When I describe what I’m doing, what my vision is, they sort of give a noncommittal “huh” or nod vaguely. They don’t respond with the same passion and enthusiasm I have for this adventure. They seem to wonder why I want to make such big changes, why on earth I’m taking such a risk.
People who really know me understand this is not a flighty, spur-of-the-moment act. The driving forces have been simmering away internally for a long time. About a dozen years ago I had several sessions with a performance psychologist to get some guidance on how to pivot from a career path that had already felt stale for some time. I broke her. She said that unlike most of her clients, I was interested in a ton of things and had a pile of skills to pursue any of them. She had no idea how to help me. So I went back to the grind, with the stew pot of discontent bubbling away at the back of the stove.
When I was dabbling in screenwriting, I learned about the need for precipitating incidents. Characters shouldn’t do something without motivation, and life is often the same. My precipitating incident, the thing that finally set my pot of ideas and indecision boiling over, was losing my father last summer. We weren’t particularly close, so the seismic emotional shocks this produced caught me completely off guard. Suddenly everything is seen through a different filter.
My father was a big football fan and spent every Sunday alternately cheering and yelling at the TV. I never watched the games, but the crunching helmets and referee whistles and manly commercials served as a soundtrack for the adjoining play area in our house. The ads that stick in my mind were for beer that challenged men to “go for the gusto.”
My father wasn’t a go-getter or particularly ambitious. That doesn’t mean he was lazy; he dutifully went to work every day and built a comfortable middle class life for his family. But I doubt that he loved being an engineer for 40 years. Whenever I’d complain about an aspect of my job, his reply was always “that’s why they call it work.”
It never occurred to my father that work could be enjoyable, fulfilling, maybe even fun. You put your head down and did what you were supposed to do. In some ways that attitude carried over to his life. He always wanted to go to Italy. After retirement he got his passport. But he never went, and the passport expired. He didn’t go for the gusto.
Several years ago I scanned my father’s old slides from the 60s. We hadn’t seen them in probably 30 years. Looking at them on my laptop, he shared memories of the various scenes. In one, his older brothers are holding my baby sister at her first birthday. They all had a falling out decades ago, and my father never reconnected with them. “Wow,” he exclaimed, “I can remember taking that, like I’m right there.”
When we were finished, this man who rarely displayed emotion looked at me, eyes wet, and said “It goes so fast, you know?”
Yes, it sure does. And I realize now there’s not another minute to waste. So filled with a tangle of excitement and curiosity and trepidation and relief, I’m going for the gusto. I’m gonna chug it! And here and there along the way I’ll raise a beer and toast my father for lighting a fire under me. Maybe I’ll even have one in Italy. Onward and upward...