Entering My Prime

I’m a numbers guy.

Although my profession is not as an accountant, trader, financial advisor, engineer, mathematician or someone who you would associate with numbers, I am nonetheless a numbers person.

I found math fairly easy until multilinear calculus, which I totally bombed in college.  I made the mistake of scoring nearly perfect scores in math on the SAT, ACT and college placement test administered by the UW back in the late eighties, and thus placed into a 500-level math class my first semester.

At the age of seventeen, I bombed out on multilinear calculus.

While my roommate, who was later admitted to the business school and has since become a low-level executive with Cisco Systems, was solving for X in algebra, something that I had mastered in eighth grade, I was attempting to calculate three-dimensional shapes with Asian math majors in their sophomore year and above.

Even though I struggled to earn a five-credit D in that course, setting up my first semester for a horrible GPA, I muddled through and eventually graduated from the UW with a degree in communication studies.  I later became a P.O., slogged my way through graduate school at night while working as a P.O., then making a career turn into the field of economic development two years after obtaining my MPA, back in fall of 2000.

All the while, I have remained a numbers guy.

In my current profession, I deal with numbers all the time. However, they are relatively simplistic and revolve around square footage, property taxes, rental or purchase prices, pricing out contracts for consultants and advertisements, and other similar things.  Nothing that takes multilinear regression analysis, let alone trigonometry, geometry or even simple algebra.

But when faced with turning a crooked, prime number in age this month, I could not help but consider the number.

Now, 48 is a number that you can sink your teeth into.  It is divisible by many numbers besides 1 and 48 including 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 12, 16, and 24.  It is a number that I like far better than the one preceding it, although I am in no hurry to fast forward until next November.

So as I turn forty-seven this month, I pause to think and write about where I am in life.  Much of it is good.  Some of it is bad.  Some of it is downright ugly.

Two years ago, I began a “45 things that I have learned in 45 years” post, as numerous other bloggers have reflected upon previous to me.  Two things stopped me.  One, I did not yet have a blog although I had been thinking and overthinking about starting one for about four years prior to actually starting one.  Two, I started writing things down and realized that most of what I have learned was so trite and written so many times before that it started boring me to death.

So instead of boring you with my current list of forty-seven truisms that I have discovered while being a keen observer and participant in many things for 4.7 decades, I have instead begun writing down some less overplayed things that I have learned in anticipating of a self-published eBook revolving around the “50 things theme” that I will most likely work on throughout 2020 in anticipation of launching it that November.

I do not expect it to become a best-seller, but I would anticipate selling a few hundred or perhaps few thousand copies to other fifty-year-olds although most of them have most likely learned the same things that I have.

So here I am, turning forty-seven around Thanksgiving.  Much of what I have learned has been learned the hard way.  Much has been given to me over those many years, and much has been taken away from me too.

As a lifelong learner, I have never stopped learning new things and new skills on a monthly, weekly and sometimes daily basis.  As a professional economic developer, if I fail to keep up with the latest and greatest best practices, I will get left behind.  Not only are there some people around town coveting my position, some of them even work in my new department, and they were raised on the Internet and apps the way that I was raised on printed books, magazines and newspapers.

Not Really My Prime

Despite the title of this post, I am really far beyond my prime when it comes to many things.  Without going into great detail, I would put my athletic prowess as having peaked about twenty years ago in the late nineties when I was at a nicely divisible age, twenty-seven.  I had become a much better baseball player in my mid- to late-twenties than I ever was during high school and college, despite having already become a full-time stressed out employee who also went to graduate school.

In 1998, the summer after I obtained my master’s degree, and during which our son was born in July, I put up massive hitting numbers as a hard-hitting left fielder for the semi-pro baseball team that I played on.  My father had been a member of the team for decades, and my brother and I followed in his footsteps.  My brother was and remains a better player than I am and was freshly out of having been a college baseball player.

Despite barely sleeping at all that summer, I batted over .400 and was whacking home runs at a record pace, about twenty in forty games.  My father had bought me a Louisville Slugger “Air Attack” bat that has since been outlawed in college baseball due to its light weight and pressurized “bladder” within the bat that would help make the ball absolutely explode off the bat, and stroke the ball hard I did game after game.  Let me tell you, it is a great feeling to fully connect on a fastball with a bat like that and watch it sail through the air knowing that it is a sure home run.  I have not had that feeling since my baseball prime nearly twenty years ago, but it is a feeling that I will never forget.

I still have the bat and it is 35 inches long but only weighs thirty ounces.  I could swing the bat like a whip and frowned upon other teammates borrowing it, although some of them did anyway.  It has sat unused in the laundry room in our basement for many years gathering dust.

Against the same level of competition today, I doubt that I could make contact with a pitch, let alone crush an 80 mile per hour fastball or hanging curve over a fence 370 feet away.  Obviously, I am well past my baseball prime.

When it comes to my running prime, that was more like thirty years ago as a high school junior and then senior, when I could run a mile in under 4:40 and could come close, but not achieve, running three mile cross country races in under sixteen minutes.

I would be lucky to run a mile in under nine minutes now and I am not sure that I could run three miles if my life depended on it.  I could walk three miles, but definitely could not run that distance.  Partly due to a chronic ankle injury that makes me feel more like a prime number sixty-one year old than a forty-seven year old, and partly due to many years of office jobs, overeating, drinking more beer than I should have and not running for several decades.

This is mostly a PG-rated blog, but I must admit that my libido and prowess was far better at seventeen, twenty-seven and thirty-seven than it is at forty-seven.  The desire is still there, but the performance leaves something to be desired.  I have been too proud to “have that talk with my doctor,” preferring nature to take over rather than the miracle of modern medicine.

But in the interest of remaining forthcoming with my writing, I have to admit that by my next prime number birthday (fifty-three), I will just bite the bullet and start paying for “performance enhancing drugs” that should help me feel like a twenty-seven or thirty-seven-year-old again.  I realize that I am not a kid anymore, but asking a doctor to prescribe little blue pills sure does not make you feel young and vibrant.

My drive and ambition does not seem as strong as it once was.  As recently as five or so years ago, I still considered myself an up and coming economic development official who could determine my own future where it comes to where I would work next.  I knew that I was good at what I do and would be a prime candidate for the best positions in the area as older practitioners retired and these towns sought out new economic development leaders.

Well, my dream job became available at about that time and I eagerly applied for it.  To make a long story short, the final two candidates boiled down to Yours Truly and my best long-term friend in the field.  They chose him over me, and he has gone on to achieve great success, attributable as much to the town where he works as to his own efforts.  My efforts have likely been greater, yet my results have paled in comparison to his.  I spend a lot of time squeezing lemons into lemonade while he spends his time choosing between steak and lobster.

Two years after that, my own hometown’s economic development official retired after a long, distinguished career and I threw my name into the hat.  Once again, I was a finalist for the position, but ultimately lost out to someone more like my new boss’s age (thirty-two) than middle forties, and his salary was about $25,000 less than the $100,000+ that I had quoted as my desired income.  He, too, has done a fine job at the position, although I would have done better.  But he costs far less than I do, did not demand an extra week of vacation per year like I did (three instead of two) and his energy level at least appears higher than mine.

So in late 2017, I am taking orders from someone with little to no knowledge of economic development, someone who favors a quick nickel over a slow dime as I do, and someone who fits the “boss” moniker far better than “leader,” like my former boss was.

In short, I have passed my prime when it comes to being an up-and-coming economic development professional.  I have slowly been forced into becoming more bureaucratic, often favoring politics, expediency and appearance over what is the right thing to do.

Hitting My Prime

So is all lost?  Am I hopelessly past my prime?

In some ways Yes, but in others it is a resounding No.

For one, I have now worked with so many businesses in my seventeen years as an economic developer, learning a little bit from every one of them from the richest and most successful multi-millionaires to the lowliest shopkeepers and restaurateurs whose businesses never made it to the six month mark.

I suppose that a “What I have learned from working with a thousand businesses” would be a better-selling and more compelling read than what I typically write, but it would be a monumental task for me to go through my notes and recollections to embark upon such an endeavor.  I would not want to go half-assed about it and a project like that would take me several years of night and weekend writing.  It is just too much for me to contemplate at this point.

Furthermore, much of it would repeat things that have already been written to death, namely the importance of focusing on a missing niche in a particular market, offering memorable and interactive customer service, and always providing goods and services at a fair price.  For the most part, the successful businesses that I have worked with in whatever capacity have always naturally done those things.

I am spending much of my time these days contemplating launching my own eCommerce business and, although my customers may never interact with me face-to-face, I still understand the importance of providing timely, courteous service and providing the goods at a fair price.

When it comes to launching my own business, I could do so far better as a forty-seven-year-old or older than I could have ten or twenty years ago.  I understand the value of a dollar more than I did then, I understand the power of social media more with every passing year, and I have learned to value relationships and customers more with every passing year.

Experience is a great teacher, and I have a world of experience now that nobody in their thirties could possibly have, although their tech skills could blow mine out of the water.

I am also hitting my prime when it comes to regaining my former level of grittiness.  Having fallen into a routine of eat, sleep, work, repeat, I have now decided to regain some of my chutzpah or moxie or whatever you want to call it.

The closer I get to attaining retirement status, the more that I am able to worry less about getting let go from my job due to political pressure.  Not that I want to fast forward to my fifties, but once I hit the Big Five-Oh, I will be a mere five years away from a decent retirement package.  I can’t even imagine how I would feel at the next prime number age, fifty-three, if I am still working for local municipal government in Illinois.  I would have only two years to go and, while nobody wants to be downsized at that age, I would be very close to being able to say “F You” to the asshole powers that be, at least in my mind.

So while it is true that I could be happier with my career trajectory, and could be happier with my boss and department and co-workers at my place of employment, I am going to continue being myself this next year of my life, only more so.  As I have told my boss in relation to a very difficult situation that I recently worked on: I thought to myself about how a particularly well-known and admired economic development official who served as one of my mentors would handle a particular situation.  I have called him a few times to ask, and he has always dispensed great advice.

Then it dawned on me like a lightbulb going off over my head: However I would handle it is the way that a great economic development practitioner would handle it.  I have been doing this for seventeen years, have become certified and always engage in best practices, take my ethics very seriously and have them posted on my office wall just a few feet from where I sit, and there is no reason that I cannot formulate a plan to handle things the right way on my own.

So while I may not be viewed as an up-and-coming economic development practitioner when it comes to competing for a job with a younger, cheaper competitor, the only one stopping me from being even better at what I do is the man in the mirror.

So Yes, I am striving to break out of my mental malaise of viewing every day, month and year as a grind to be survived just to move onto the next one.  I am so looking forward to 2018, not in the sense that I will be magically transformed into a vibrant, energetic new person soaring to great heights of success, but in the sense that I intend on taking actual, measurable baby steps toward being the kind of person that I strive to be.

I concede to more than my fair share of regrets, unfulfilled dreams, guilt, disillusionment and missed opportunities.  But at the prime number age of forty-seven, does that mean that I should just pack it in, slogging through the days, weeks and months until death takes me?  Fuck no!  There is no rule or law that I have seen or heard that says one cannot improve him or herself in your late forties.  Many a person has done so, and I plan on becoming another.

For too long, I have buried my writing and business aspirations due to having a demanding, stressful full-time career that I often feel that I am holding onto by a mere thread.  I always do my best to contribute to my family life, whether it is tending to the yard, doing dishes, preparing an occasional meal, schlepping kids to and from school and other activities, and trying to assist my widowed mother as much as possible.

I have gladly accepted my roles as a good son, a good husband, a good father and a good provider and, let me tell you, that is not always such an easy thing to do.  Just ask the millions upon millions of people who do not have a good son, husband, father or provider.  Many men are none of the four.

So beyond losing a large amount of my physical prowess, which is hardly unique to me among middle aged men glued to desks over forty hours per week and who do not work out much, there are many other things that I am good at and intend to improve upon.

Money is not the only thing in life but, like it or not, the need and desire for more and more of it is not going away.  As much as I yearn to become financially independent, like many of my favorite bloggers and writers have already achieved, I recognize the ongoing need to keep making more and more of it to continue feeding our middle class suburban lifestyle.  So long as I can keep on top of the economic development game, I should remain gainfully employed for the foreseeable future, and the only person holding me back from becoming a better earner and supplementing my income through my writing and business ideas is me.

As is the case with so many other things, thinking, writing and saying something is just like a fart in the wind.  Doing something concrete, that’s where it’s at.

So when it comes to doing new things, even uncomfortable things with a certain amount of risk, so long as it helps me become a better, more likeable and more successful person, I am ready to hit my prime.

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