I recently read a magazine article that said something to the effect of, "Women can have it all" (meaning a career, a happy marriage, and motherhood)--"They just can't have it all AT ONCE." I think men are now in the same leaky boat.
For women, it used to be education (sometimes), job (sometimes), marriage, motherhood, then empty nest.
For men, it used to be education, job, family, retirement. But men are living longer, getting laid off and just plain becoming bored with retirement. Many retirees of both sexes start second--or even third--careers, often with additional education. Those Wall Mart greeters you meet were once doing something else for a living.
Sometimes the career rug is pulled out from under you. For instance, I know a former full-time writer who is now doing something else for a living. I don't know what it is, but since he works on Saturdays, I suspect it's a bit blue-collar. He's still writing, though.
You see this type of thing so often in expats. I remember how in New York City, the majority of manicurists were Russian Women--usually Jews who had left during one of the Soviet Union's more lenient periods. "Back home," they were all consummate professionals. I met music scholars, mathematicians, scientists, business executives--all off them pushing back my cuticles.
I think of all the things I've done for a living. I often tell people, "I've done every job that's not illegal or immoral--some of them more competently than others." I've been a computer programmer, nude model, waitress, bartender, short order cook, nurse's aide, shop clerk, secretary, editor, art gallery owner, teacher, novelist--and now I run a website!
I was a lousy waitress--I wiggle when I walk, so drinks and soup bowls are half empty by the time I arrive with them. When I was a bartender, I could never remember which cocktails took and olive and which ones a cherry, leading to some mighty strange concoctions.
If you've ever waited tables, you remain a good tipper for life. Maybe it's something everyone should do once, as a sort of "initiation." I learned lots of things along the way--most of them fairly useless.
I learned how to pour a beer into a stein so it doesn't foam up too much (pour it down the side of the glass). I learned how to make a really good grilled cheese sandwich (weight it down after you turn it).
When I was a secretary, I made up my own shorthand (this was before businessmen wrote their own letters using email) by reading the signs for shorthand courses in the subway that said, "U k gt a gd jb w mo pa."
When you meet an intimidating professional, remember: That person (like EVERY person) has a past you know nothing about. One of my favorite examples of this is a friend who was once a court reporter and is now the assistant to a famous opera conductor. I know a woman who used to make her living acting in TV commercials who now works full-time as a psychic medium. I know a former artist who is now a musician who plays solo concerts with an electric violin, and I know a former actor who is now an artist.. I've met a professional witch (Wiccan) who used to work as a computer programmer.
And of course, there's the ex-Irish cop who became a priest and was assigned to a parish in San Antonio, Texas (he never lost his brogue, and didn't take any nonsense from anyone--he KNEW what you were up to before you realized it yourself!).
UPDATE: The recent death of filmmaker Nora Ephron ("When Harry Met Sally" "You've Got Mail" "Julie and Julia") has diminished the lives of women everywhere. In a commencement speech at her alma mater Welllesley in 1996, she said, "Of course you can have it all. Don't get frightened: you can always change your mind. I know: I've had four careers and three husbands."