"Living the dream." That's how a former co-worker of mine would typically respond to clients, sales prospects and co-workers who asked, "Hey, whatcha up to?"
"How's it going?", they'd ask. "Living the dream", he'd say. That's it. Most people understood. I thought I understood. Based on my limited ability to read a situation, it took me several months to realize that most of the time his response was sarcastic - that he really wasn't living the dream. In fact, he was living the total opposite of the dream.
I was young and naïve. At the time, I was in my early 30's. The co-worker I'm referring to was probably in his mid 40's. In your mid 40's something happens from a career standpoint that makes you realize if it hasn't gotten better by now, it's probably never going to get better. You may as well have fun with it. So, "living the dream" was his way of taking a mocking jab at the reality of his sad existence, at least the one he was getting paid for.
That same co-worker is probably in his late 50's now. Some days I wonder if his response has changed since I knew him. Out of curiosity, I've come close to calling him at work and asking "How you doing?" Maybe he's sacked the sarcasm and taken a more direct approach to answering the question. Something like, "What difference does it make?" Or, "I wish I knew."
As for me, I'm now in my mid 40's. Though I've never once responded to a co-worker or client with a sarcastic "Living the dream", I've thought about it. And worse, the statement now makes perfect sense to me.
I'm sure I'm not the only person who ever had career regrets. From about sixth grade on I wanted to be a writer. In my high school years I narrowed it down to becoming a newspaper reporter, probably focusing on sports. I wrote for the school newspaper and became Editor-In-Chief my senior year. In college I joined the staff of the daily student-run newspaper and graduated with a journalism degree. After graduation, I thought about getting some experience at a local weekly paper. Broadcasting school crossed my mind as well. Maybe I could host a sports talk show, do play-by-play or produce a television or radio pre or post-game segment for one of my Cleveland pro sports teams.
None of these "aspirations" were ever acted upon.
So, the other day I'm with my parents at my son's baseball game. LeBron James made the announcement that he would be returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers the night before. We started talking about it and my mother blurts out, "You should be on the radio talking about this."
"I don't like to call in to radio shows."
"No," she continued. "I mean, you should be one of those talk show hosts. You know so much about sports."
"No Mom, I don't know that much about sports."
"Yes you do. You just told me all about LeBron." She was borderline arguing with me at this point.
"I'm just an average fan. Plus, I'm not all that great in front of a microphone. Karaoke is kind of the outer limit of my stage prowess."
"Well, I think you'd be great. You've always loved sports."
She wouldn't let it go. "That's ridiculous. Telling me I should be a sports talk show host because I like sports is like telling a fat guy he should be a chef because he likes food. Or telling someone who wears too much make-up that they should become a circus clown."
"I'm just saying..." The "I'm just saying" is her way of hoping that I think about it on my own later and realize how right she was and how wrong I was. Then, according to her script, I'd call one of the local radio stations and demand they give me the afternoon drive talk show slot. The station management would ask about my qualifications and I'd reply confidently with "Well, I've always loved sports." Can it possibly be more complex than that?
This kind of thing happens a lot to me.
A couple of friends think I should send my "tape" in for voiceover work - books on tape to be exact. After explaining that no one uses "tape" anymore, I tell them that a professionally done voice demo can cost in excess of $2,000. "So, are you willing to invest in me by becoming my sponsor? Because I'm not shelling out two grand so I can later tell you a story about how much it cost me to get turned down by recording studios and ad agencies - I'd rather have that disappointment be on your dime."
Maybe I'm just not a risk taker. Or maybe I'm just smarter than everyone else. Nothing ventured, nothing lost.
It may not have turned out exactly liked I had hoped or planned, but at 47 my life is nothing to complain about. I have a great wife, great kids, a delusional mother who thinks I'm the most talented son in the world, a job and LeBron is coming back.
Yes, I can honestly say I'm living the dream.