I am a pretty good baker and one of things that I have learned is that real success comes when you start inventing your own recipes instead of following the ones in a cookbook.
One of the benefits of getting old is having time to reflect and maybe do things that you did not get to do earlier in your life. I knew people in college who knew exactly what they wanted to do in life. They had a plan and were sticking to it no matter what. There was a time in my life that I might have envied them.
Over the years I have come to the conclusion that not having your life planned out just might let you have a more interesting and richer life. It might not be as financially rewarding, but I am pretty sure the memories are better. Certainly the journey is filled with more surprises.
I feel fortunate to have grown up as one of the last generations who had some freedom in their childhood. We could walk to school without our parents getting in trouble with the local officials. We played hard after school, making up our own rules and mostly handling the ups and downs of childhood on our own. The summers were ours and there were no woods in our part of the county that we did not explore. Our local creek was dammed many times and the forts we built withstood many challenges.
Childhood was not all play, school was serious business and then luckily some of us got to join Boy Scouts. Scouting opened a whole new world, but before I got to finish it, I ended up in military school at McCallie in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The guidance I had when growing up before Scouts and McCallie came mostly from my mother, church, and school. There was never pressure towards any particular career, but there was the hope that I would be the first of the family to attend college. Going to McCallie reinforced that since almost everyone in school at McCallie had college stamped on their foreheads.
Still there was no plan. Of the several colleges that I applied to, I had only been to UNC on a field trip when I was in the eighth grade. I ended up at Harvard because someone I respected very much went to Harvard the year before I graduated and he reached out to me. I could have ended up at Davidson, Duke, or UNC. Academic advising at Harvard was pretty well non-existent. My mother never visited Harvard until graduation. I was on my own.
Along the way some in the family had suggested I become a lawyer. I was relieved senior year when I missed the law boards. The late sixties and early seventies were an interesting time to be in college and if you want to read more of that try my book, A Taste For The Wild - Canada's Maritimes. However, being a lawyer was not at the top of the list in careers in the early seventies.
The story is complicated but after graduating college, I got $6,000 from my mother and bought a farm along the shore of Nova Scotia. For as long as I could remember, I had wanted to own land. Somehow it did not seem like I could figure out what to do with my life until I went back to the land. Certainly there were many doing something similar during the early seventies.
Maybe I started digging in the dirt because most of the people that I respected had dirt under their finger nails. The only other person that I knew who lived with a code that I could respect was a newspaper editor. Even back in 1971, I could tell that writing for a newspaper would not pay many bills because the industry was already struggling.
As my new wife, Glenda, and I went off to Canada and eventually built a commercial cattle operation, there still was no pressure from anyone in our family to do something else. I am sure there were plenty of people shaking their heads, but our family had too many people not that far from the farm to question a career as a farmer.
The next fork in life came not from planning but from necessity. Interest rates went through the roof in the early eighties. Because our farm was beef cattle and doing too well, we could not qualify for the 2% interest rates that the local dairy farmers were getting. With 20% interest rates we could no longer afford our $100,000 operating loan so we decided to sell our cattle. It took a year to accomplish and when it was over, we had a farm, a lot of equipment, and just a few thousand dollars in debts.
I had planned to take a year off after selling the cattle and I did. I spent much of that year driving our older daughter the twenty miles to kindergarten in Fredericton, New Brunswick. With her class being over at noon, the drive was too long and rough to return home so I spent my time mostly window shopping. I happened to find a new computer store which had just started to carry the revolutionary new personal computers. That next summer my mother bought me one in the hopes that it would lead me somewhere besides farming.
That Apple II+ was a very first step on a road that eventually led to nearly twenty years at Apple. Like almost everyone I know, I left Apple not because I wanted to but because Apple was done with me. Once again the road had forked with no directions.
Since Apple I have experienced a lot different companies. I worked as a very successful consultant until we were faced with having no health insurance. Then I went with a startup and a young CEO who thought the only way to get performance out of sales people was to threaten them. I tried another field where managers and employees were resistant to technology and determined to only listen to advice from outside self-declared experts.
Finally I said enough is enough and went off to try to build my own career. That I have ended up where I am today says more about a good start in life, a strong work ethic, persistence and continuing as a lifelong learner than it does about where I graduated college.
As I look back on life and try to think of what might be the key to surviving all the twists and turns in life, my thoughts are drawn back to the little green manual typewriter that I got when I was in the third or fourth grade. It would be a few years later in the summer of 1962 before I really learned to type in a special Forsyth County program.
I do not remember the day or the time, but at some point I learned how to think with my fingers. My thoughts go directly to the keyboard and they have for as long as I can remember. It is a wonderful skill and while my mother likely never guessed what spark came from that manual typewriter, what I learned at those keys certainly helped me make it through life with only some minor scars.
As I look at parents giving their children tablets, I have to wonder if they are a tool or just another form of entertainment. I think that I am going to campaign for my grandchildren to get Chromebooks instead of iPads. I think there is more of a chance they will learn to write with a Chromebook instead of an iPad.
As I say that I know that I was lucky to have a mother willing to go the extra mile to put a typewriter in front of me in the hopes that it would be a spark. There are a lot of kids today who get so much that nothing means anything to them and then there are others who get almost no help in making their steps into the world.
Of course our grandchildren might be children who know exactly what they want to do, but I hope not because they might miss a lot of fun. Perhaps I could pretend that I turned my life upside down so I could do what I wanted when I was young, but I would have a hard time arguing that since I am living my dream here. Fishing, boating, kayaking, gardening, and photography are all high on my list as I continue to work just enough to stay out of trouble and keep me on top of things here along the Crystal Coast.