Resignation mingled with euphoria when I heard my daughter describe to her friends what her daddy does for a living. She and her little trio of chums were busily cluttering the kitchen table with colorful scraps of construction paper while I was cluttering the nearby countertop with discarded wheat bread crusts that would have rendered peanut butter and jelly sandwiches inedible to the quartet of five-year-olds.
It’s a conversation all children get around to, and I just happened to be standing there when the little redheaded neighbor girl brought it up.
“What’s your daddy do? Mine helps sick people,” she beamed with estimable pride. They went right around in a little circle.
“Mine fixes cars.”
“He builds homes.”
Then, in a matter-of-fact voice, my beloved daughter drove a stake through any remaining ambitions I’d nurtured that one day I would achieve something notable in my profession. What does her daddy do?
“He plays with me.”
My first thought was, “Man, how am I going to explain THAT to the IRS?”
But it’s true. I’ve lost track of the billable hours spent posing as a camel, a dragon and Wilbur the pig.
Ever spent an afternoon on the poop deck of a whaling vessel fighting off pirates from Planet Tickle?
It doesn’t pay squat, but what I really get paid to do isn’t nearly as important.
I have what we in the writing trade call “deadlines.” But that’s a hokey dramatization that should make wordsmiths ashamed. No one dies if my playing Barbies with the kid makes me a tad tardy turning in a story about the golf and gambling splendors of Biloxi, Mississippi.
Men and women in the armed services have deadlines. Surgeons have deadlines.
We all like to think that what we do for a living is important—and often it is. But it’s simply not as important as spending time with our children or the spiritual home duties that no one in their right mind would ever outsource.
And so I wondered, dishing out the carefully squared crust-free PB&Js, did that innocent declaration from my little girl indicate mediocrity in my profession? Or was it a sign of great success in my chosen career?
Anyone bestowed with a kernel of professional ambition is, by middle age, on a uniform march to do better, earn more, and build a legacy that others will admire. Me too. But the odds of us accomplishing anything historic are long and stacked against us. Who among us will be remembered by anyone other than our loved ones 100 years hence?
That ought not depress. It ought to liberate.
Where are our priorities in the everyday hustle and bustle? How do we choose to spend our time, our energy, our passion? From where does this misconception come that career is king?
Here’s a test: Ask ten people, “Hey, how’ve you been?” All ten will respond with some variation of, “Man, I’ve been busy!” As if being otherwise violates the very laws of nature.
If that’s the case, then consider me an outlaw in every sense of the word. That’s right: I’m a wanted man. Just ask my daughter.
She’s coming down the stairs now. She has her Barbie dolls. That means it’s time for me to end this little diversion, shut the lid on the laptop and disengage my brain from striving for coherent thoughts and structured sentences.
It’s time for me to get back to work.