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.

Longer life spans and the recession have combined to mean that both sexes live their lives in stages.

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."

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  1. Having it all? Really? If I
    Having it all? Really? If I read your many examples, and then ponder the countless people I know in the workplace, young, old and middle aged, I believe the title might be better written as “Not Having any Money” or maybe “I’ll Do Anything Legal to Feed My Family” and in countless other examples, the title “Career Paths Change with Life Changes” and finally “My Job, My Soul and Money”. You examples clearly describe more of the actual plight of America, Europe, Japan, Asia and now China, and their sea of workers that want career satisfaction, yet for years now have job goals that are often more in line with putting food on the table, paying their rent or mortgage, repaying school loans, maybe having a fun vacation once in a great while and finally saving even 30% of what they will need for a decent retirement. The Walmart greeter is not their because they want to be, it’s more likely because their pension was raided, or their mutual fund accounts and savings were gutted. If that’s having it all, then I would love to see these stats or just ask a few of them why they are doing what they are doing. As for the millions (yes, tens of millions) that “change” jobs with purpose or the artist who is now a concert electric violinist – I can assure you that these were Life Callings. Countless people are being pulled out of their current jobs and other positions in their lives, and are almost being forced to face their career passions, or simply what they are more naturally capable of doing, and in far more interesting examples, some very fortunate ones are being “literally guided” into new callings. Strangely, most of those in my view are guided into jobs that “help other people in some way”. Most of them also don’t seem to be doing it for the money from my pervue – they do it because they have a God Given Gift of some kind and because they believe and trust in the messages they receive regarding their calling. Maybe this last category might be best titled “Doing What I Must & Listening to My Life’s Calling”. Yet, then again, maybe that really is Having it All afterall.

  2. Thank you, Anne, for your
    Thank you, Anne, for your observations about today’s workforce. As you so clearly stated, there are many folks out there involved with jobs and careers other than those they began with (some better, and unfortunately, some worse!).
    This encourages me to write about one of my pet peeves in today’s media and advertising: the notion that “going to work” and “going to the office” are synonymous. How many times do we hear on a daily basis about what we should wear, drive, eat, drink, discuss, and how we should behave and set goals with our jobs at “the office.” It is as if no other job besides office work is important or worth consideration. Other than secretary, Anne’s article didn’t mention one office setting. I, for instance, work in an academic library, and my husband is a professional musician who also teaches music at a college. Just think about all the areas of work that do not involve working at “the office”: education, health care, law enforcement, military, manufacturing, retail sales, food service, transportation (pilots, railway, bus), entertainment, agriculture, construction, skilled and unskilled labor, to name a few. The value of these are all completely negated by our media constantly reinforcing the notion of “the office” as the pinnacle of today’s workplace.

    I don’t mean to criticize those whose work is in an office setting. But there are many, many professions out there, including the work of highly intelligent, skilled and talented people, that are brazenly overlooked.

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