I can point to the spot in the street, 17 years ago, where I was walking with our then six-year-old daughter Rachel one night when she asked a question that literally changed my life. The family was young, money was tight, and she had just started 1st grade. The teachers were encouraging these new young students to do well in school so they could one day go to college. After dinner we were out for a walk when she looked up and asked me, "Will I get to go to college"? Without the slightest hesitation or idea how, I promised her she would. This past Saturday she changed her tassel from left to right, walked across the stage, shook President Gary Ransdell's hand, and my promise was kept.
After I made that promise, my work life became serious. Very serious. Serious to the point of often being unbalanced, unhealthy, and focused to the point of obsession. We lived in a small Kentucky town where jobs were scarce, and as my career progressed a good job like mine was rare. Because I had obligations that must be met no matter what, I developed and constantly maintained Plans B, C, D, E, and F to make sure that no matter what happened at work we had an income. I also learned to keep my ear to the ground and know how the political wind at my employer-at-the-time was blowing. This was my sole purpose, my only goal, and as of 3:45 last Saturday afternoon it was done.
Monday morning I woke up and realized that, from this point forward, I was working for something else. What that is, however, is less clear. Certainly I have a mild student loan hangover that will need to be eased; I had to pay off my own loans along with paying for a new baby, and I don't intend for Rachel to start off her adult life in debt. We also have some deferred bills from an expensive move to Nashville that we now can address. Still, this is all stuff and hardly the types of things from which purpose is found.
Turning points are part of any career; those times when you recalibrate who you are and what you're all about. I've seen people, particularly men, hit these mid-career turning points for years and now its my turn. The question of, "What's next?" won't be easily or quickly resolved but at least initially the prospect of major change feels exhilarating.