George Harrison once said, “If we’d known we were going to be the Beatles, we would have tried harder.” Now, obviously I’m not the Beatles, I’m not even the Big Bopper. The Big Bopper’s life was cut short by that famous plane crash, but I’m still around, and had I known I was still going to be around at this age, I would have tried harder. Not that I thought I was going to die young. The thing is, I didn’t think at all, and should have tried harder.
There’s never been a life plan whatsoever. When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d reply “candy stripper” or a Playboy Bunny. At the time, I thought those were the only professions available to women, and anyway, they both served the public, and that’s just the kind of altruistic lass I was.
In my teen years I became much less selfless and, being a 1930s screwball comedy fan, I thought “madcap heiress” would suit, never once considering that I was not remotely an heiress nor terribly madcap. A philosophy major in college, I clearly spent no time contemplating my career. Getting paychecks since age 14, I’d already — to name a few — been a fast food cashier, mechanical bull operator, concert security guard, waitress, and sold popcorn and hot dogs at theaters and stadiums.
A philosophy major in college, I clearly spent no time contemplating my career. Getting paychecks since age 14, I’d already — to name a few — been a fast food cashier, mechanical bull operator, concert security guard, waitress, and sold popcorn and hot dogs at theaters and stadiums.
Living inside my own little bubble of Wittgenstein, vintage clothing, and Jean Harlow, I carelessly assumed I’d go on jumping from job to job until a plane crash or that whole heiress thing magically fell into my lap. Upon college graduation I went to work in a vitamin store a block from the apartment I shared with my boyfriend. I decided to become a teacher, and without any experience, began teaching second grade, first in the South Bronx, then in Harlem. To make more money, I talked myself into a job training women in weight-lifting, and immediately set out to actually learn and then become a bodybuilder. The only job I did in my 20s for which I was even remotely experienced was teaching English as a second language; at least English was my first language so I’d be a few steps ahead of my students.
In addition to speaking English, a lot, I watched TV, a lot. Maybe that’s a good place to work, too, I thought. Applying for jobs in television as an elementary school teacher and weightlifter seemed futile. So, though in my 30s, I applied to be an intern on a daily news show. Though interns were supposed to be right out of college, I talked myself into this non-paying gig, hoping it would lead to some sort of fast-talking, Hildy Johnson–type line of work. While I didn’t become his or anyone’s Gal Friday, I did move from the job at the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour into a great job in public television, and then into several other great jobs in television and “new media”. Along the way I got paid to write things, which was financially fortuitous and occasionally fun. Some of it was luck, some of it was effort, but none of it was planned.
I met my very first boyfriend in college and ended up staying with him for over 20 years. One night I saw an infomercial and ended up becoming a runner, eventually running races and marathons until my knees and back gave out. I got that job at a gym and lifted weights on a four-day split-system (legs/back/biceps one day, chest/shoulders/triceps the other, calves on both) for most of my adult life. (I could bench 140, routinely did lateral raises with 20-pound dumbbells — nothing to sneeze at, kids.) My second boyfriend became my husband, all because I asked a random stranger on the subway what he was reading. (It’s a great story, really.)
None of this was planned, but it all worked because I worked at it. After all, being a runner means getting up at 5 in the morning 4 days a week. Being a bodybuilder means pushing yourself and showing up with consistency. Being a teacher, mechanical bull operator, or editorial director, turning strangers on public transit into husbands — you have to be on your toes.
What should I work at now? I ended up having to retire early, and getting back to George Harrison’s quote, maybe it’s time I try harder. By that, I don’t mean plan to be the Beatles. Or even a madcap heiress. Or even madcap. I can’t expect to be my version of the Beatles, but maybe I should try to be. This time, in this time of my life, I’d like to put some actual thought into what the future should hold, could hold. True, my knees, back and brain don’t work so well any more, and watching House re-runs all day is mighty tempting. But I’d like to at least think about what I might do if I were going to end up the best version of myself. What might that be like? Anyway, I’d like to try.
What I’m not going to do is stop being open to happenstance. You never know where the occasional infomercial, or random stranger on a train, might lead.
What do you think? Are you a planner type or work your way through the world in the moment? Share your thoughts in comments.
Dixie Laite has been a second-grade teacher and mechanical bull operator, and for the past 25 years she’s worked for a variety of TV networks as a writer, editorial director, trainer, advice columnist, even an on-air personality. But primarily she’s trotted around New York City in one cowboy shirt or another, lurking around flea markets, gyms, and anywhere they’ll hand her French toast. Currently she lounges around her apartment with one husband, one dog, five parrots, and roughly 2,000 pairs of shoes. Dixie is the main lady behind Age Against the Machine, a column about empowering women over 50. Sign up for the Jumble & Flowdown newsletter to stay in the know about Dixie’s latest columns.
Follow Dixie on Instagram @dixielaite
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