After a six-year love-hate relationship, I've finally done the unthinkable--quit my job. Instead of offering up details, suffice it to say that although family and friends were worried and tried to talk me out of it, several colleagues came knocking on my door during my last days to say, "I don't blame you a bit. I don't know how you held out this long."
So, as my 50th birthday approaches, I head back out into the world with English degrees (always a hard sell) to live a while on the edge. Trying to embrace the feeling, I picture that "edge" as the one I learned about in ecology class (an earlier degree that was also hard to sell), the edge between the forest and the field. This space, I learned, is conducive to the gathering of various species of wildlife, a place where both the rabbit and the deer can find something to eat or do. A convergence where bushes, grasses and trees meet, the edge is full of possibility. It's also where the domestic or feral housecat can be found lying in wait for a mouse.
I've always been a somewhat rueful decision-maker, aware that finalizing a choice closes off other possibilities, so the many doors seem intriguing now, even if none of them are fully open. And uncommitted time has become so scarce in recent years that for a while at least, I savor the lusciousness of a mid-afternoon nap or leisurely conversation. That is, when I'm not fighting off a little panic. Small things like infected toenails and real or imagined noises emanating from my old Honda have taken on new significance. I imagine something on my person or around the house growing into a problem that will require throwing a sum of money at it.
After all of two days of unemployment, I'm also fighting off the panicked "Yes, yes, I'll do anything" response that, along with those degrees, has provided me a life of hard work and low pay. I've always loved hard work, and hard work loves me, too. I like to see a plan come together, I like the sense of camaraderie of people who work together, camaraderie that can be achieved, it seems, even when those working together have little else in common. But I've always felt a bit discontented about it too, and I've envied those whose life has taken a single course--the man who has been a building contractor for so long that he seems to know what a house is made of by sniffing it, the biologist still elated at a minor discovery after years in the field.
Those people seem to be the happy exceptions. Conversations with other professionals my age often reveal that circumstances and accommodation have gnawed at their idealism. Work once approached with enthusiasm becomes something one does only for pay, and thoughts turn to the peace of retirement. I don't have that sense of compensation right now, but I do have the sense of an opportunity to reclaim a little idealism and to see what the edge has to offer.