I’m sitting here on my deck, in the sun, with my cats, listening to the birds. It’s my birthday. I’m 45.
And I’m thinking about my life up to this point, as you do. It’s been fun.
Certainly not always, or I wouldn’t have learned as much as I have. But there have been a lot of good times.
Part of that, I think, is that I’ve had a lot of different experiences and been exposed to a lot of new things. One of the reasons that novelists often get seriously started in their 40s is that by your 40s you have a lot more to draw on, a lot more to write about.
In his book The Deeper Meaning of Liff, Douglas Adams gave us the word “pulverbatch”, meaning that list of odd jobs and experiences that a writer traditionally gives on the back flap of the book. Why was that even something he could point to and have people nod and smile in recognition? It’s because having diverse and unusual experiences makes you more creative and more interesting.
Now, I’m not a physically adventurous person. I don’t bungee jump or climb mountains. But adventure is where you find it.
I’ve been fortunate to have a series of day jobs that exposed me to interesting people, places and things. (The jobs themselves weren’t always interesting, but very few jobs are interesting all the time.)
My first career was as a freelance writer and book editor (eventually, in-house for a large publisher). I did mostly nonfiction projects, and learned about wine, travel, gardening, famous people, fishing and cooking, which are some of the most popular nonfiction topics. Except for the fishing and the famous people, I became interested in those things too, and they added to my enjoyment of life.
My next career was as a technical writer and, eventually, corporate trainer. Writing manuals and training material sounds dull, and it can be, but I got to travel to remote parts of the country, live amid beautiful mountains or natural hot springs at someone else’s expense, and visit giant hydro dams, sawmills and paper factories. I worked on revising the national manual for probation officers, and learned about the law and the people who deal with those who break it. It was fascinating.
I’ll always remember standing in a sawmill in a hard hat and high-visibility vest and thinking, “So this is where a master’s degree in English gets you!”
I even got to go to Malaysia to help my contracting company bid for some work there, and spent a wonderful week eating every kind of Asian food imaginable.
You get to understand a system pretty well when you spend a couple of years documenting it and training it, and in early 2000 I took a job as a systems analyst, and eventually an IT consultant. It’s taken me to more sawmills and paper mills and forests, a coal-fired power generating plant in Australia, a fertilizer factory, treatment plants for drinking water and wastewater, and most recently behind the scenes of the city where I live.
I’ve had the chance to talk with, and work alongside, the dedicated, unsung people who keep a modern society functioning in unglamorous but indispensable ways. I’ve been places that few people get to go. (And I’ve been well paid for it.)
None of that was planned. I never sat down and made a bucket list that said “Visit a hydro dam, learn about the ins and outs of keeping city parks running, and eat sushi in Kuala Lumpur”. But just by hanging loose and taking the opportunities that came to me, I got to do all those things.
It’s made for an interesting life, so far. It’s given me a depth of background for my fiction writing that you’d be hard put to achieve through any kind of curriculum. I say this as a devoted reader: I’m glad to have learned so much that isn’t in any book and never will be.
You may have noticed that I haven’t been posting here very often lately. I used to post once a week, and now it’s been six weeks or so between posts. That’s because at the moment I’m letting myself follow my interests, rather than flogging myself to produce a bunch of content that means nothing just because I feel like I have to. (Or worse still, filling up the silence with poorly-written guest posts.)
I’m in a fiction writing phase at the moment. I think it might last a while, but I try not to predict these things.
When I have something to say about personal development, this is where I’ll say it. It’s not impossible that I’ll come back and post regularly again here in due course, but for now, enjoy the archives, take a look at the resources page if you haven’t lately, and think about this:
What is there in your life that you can look back on and think, “I’m really glad I had that experience”?
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