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FIELD NOTES: If I had a million dolars

In the third episode of the eighth season of the television series "The Office," the warehouse crew quits after winning a shared million dollar lotto prize, prompting the office employees to speculate what they would do if they won the lottery. Jim Halpert dreams of moving to Maine and "either biking to my job at the kayak store or kayaking to my job at the bicycle store." While the scene reflects Jim's down-to-earth, "everyman" persona, it had me talking back to the screen, "you don't need to win the lottery to do either of those things, Jim." 

So many of us live our lives within the boundaries of barriers that we, ourselves, have constructed. We look at the road to some standardized dream of "success" as a linear path that runs through high school, college, a good job with a big company, marriage, children, a nice house, a new car every couple of years, retirement, and a deluxe coffin. And there's nothing wrong with any of those things, but maybe the path isn't as straight and narrow as we believe. Perhaps we should consider a detour down a side road or even jump off the route altogether. 

My father came home from WWII in 1945, walked a half-mile down the road to the U.S. Gypsum plant, was hired on the spot, and worked there for the next 40 years until his retirement. That's what was expected of his generation. You might change jobs a time or two in your 20s, but once you found a "good" job, you stayed with it, for better or worse. He found it difficult to understand why my older brother Jerry, a talented auto body repairman, would change employers every few years. 

But deep down, Dad had his own dreams. He thought them beyond his ability but hoped his sons might one day be able to achieve them. Dad wanted to be a barber. Now, if you knew my father, this would make perfect sense. At his funeral, during the part of the eulogy where the deceased's hobbies and interests are mentioned, it was noted that he "liked to visit." Oh, yes, he liked to visit, and a job where he was paid to chat up the clientele all day would have been heaven for him.

It was, of course, not beyond his capability or means to be a barber—the G.I. Bill would have paid for barber school, and in those days when men got a haircut every couple of weeks and towns had a barbershop on every other corner, he would have had no trouble finding a job. I like to think he would have been pretty successful and had his own shop one day. But he had a wife and a little girl at home to feed, and the job at the "board plant" was steady income that day, not some pipe dream of a better future.

Neither my brother nor I ever had much interest in the barber life. I did not inherit my father's gift for "visiting."  But, I entered the working world with many of the same self-established barriers. There was a brief period a year or two out of college when I contemplated a less trodden path. I had this dream about buying some land*, starting a small farm, and living a self-reliant life close to the earth. I went so far as to buy an old farmhouse and plant a proto-market garden, but the siren song of the corporate life and suits and ties and carphones and day planners and knowing nods of approval from my peers was too great. 

Like my father and his mostly happy 40 years at U.S. Gypsum, I don't have any specific regrets about the path I've taken, and over the past few years, I have been able to live out some of the adventures I put on the backburner earlier in my career. I am the volunteer manager of a community garden that provides fresh produce to the food insecure of the community, I’ve fished waters from Alaska to the Bahamas, and I've revived my love of writing and been fortunate enough to have a few articles and stories published. So, if I had a million dollars, I guess I’d be doing pretty much what I’m doing already.  

What about you? Take a few minutes and ask yourself, what would I do if I had a million dollars? Would you buy a boat and sail the world? Would you move to a log cabin in the mountains and spend your days hunting and fishing? Would you buy a Cricut and live out your years scrapbooking?  And then ask yourself, do I really need a million dollars to do that? If the answer is "no," what are you waiting for? That job at the bicycle store in Maine just opened up.

*He's got this dream about buying some land
He's gonna give up the booze and the one-night stands
And then he'll settle down
In some quiet little town
And forget about ev'rything

Gerry Rafferty


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