Sunday, May 25, 2008

Spending time with the 'middle aged' in Florida's West Coast

If one defines the time interval between forty and sixty years as ‘middle aged,’ my daughter, her fiancee and many of her friends fall within that category.  Spending time with them is experiencing a very different world than I experience when spending time with young faculty members of a similar age or, of course, with the much younger students who live with me in Anderson Hall.

Often the work they do is in fields that ‘academics,’ - university professors like me - know little about.  Among people with whom I socialized, this weekend, one is a recently graduated structural engineer who received his BA degree from a local university. Another is  a contractor who repairs heavy machinery and has traveled throughout the world.  Another runs a modestly successful restaurant - he could be more successful if he publicized and marketed his establishment more, but he doesn’t. He simply loves to cook.  Another is an able seaman in the merchant marine, studying to be a third mate.  Another is a couple who are starting a small resort on the seacoast in Panama. Another is in training to be an emergency medical technician.  My daughter is building a successful landscape design business and serves in a high end restaurant. Some of the people I met, in ‘leisure’ settings, said nothing about their professional lives at all.

So what’s different?  Most striking is the diminished role that ‘work’ or a ‘professional career’ plays in their lives.  It is not that they don’t work long hours.  Many do?  It is not that they don’t enjoy their work.  Many seem to though others do not (perhaps in about the same proportion as ‘academics’).  But there is a different balance between work, leisure and relationships.  Perhaps it is that work is more a means to an end than an overriding end in itself, but I would need to immerse myself more fully in this culture, for many more days, to be sure.  It seems like a good life, though very different from the good life I have chosen, but it is too soon to be sure of that either.  Of course many ‘good lives are possible, each very different from the other.

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