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I picked the wrong career

One of the older guys I play basketball with at the local YMCA always gives me hell when I yawn, say I’m tired, or don’t feel like playing.

I’m 31 and in the midst of a physical decline that is wearing me down at the core. It’s difficult to stay motivated some days as a result. I can’t jump anymore, I don’t run very fast, or move as quickly as I used to or am use to. (Also, my hair is turning gray rapidly and betraying my youthful face). This older guy — let’s call him Carl — is 62 going on 63 and apparently plays basketball at least twice a week. Carl is pretty good for his age and looks at least 10 years younger than he actually is. He also has sons my age so I get why he won’t suffer my tired excuses.

Well, the other day I didn’t really feel like playing ball at all, but force of habit had me out on the court. I mentioned that I didn’t have energy to play and he starts to tell me why I shouldn’t be tired, that I’m a young whippersnapper, and so on. He always likes to remind me how old he is, but this time when he mentioned his age, I asked him if he had retired or was looking forward to it?

“I’d be crazy to retire at this point,” he said. Carl tells me he makes pretty good money, adding that his work isn’t too terribly difficult. He also threw in that his mom is 84 and still working, so he has no excuses.

I then ask what he does, and he says he oversees mortgage brokering for some company in its East Coast operation. Because I have no problem with asking questions people typically won’t, I more about his job, including where he worked before. The guy tells me the name and I think, “he’s doing pretty well for himself.”

The next part of the conversation, which was completely and totally unsolicited, made me feel like the colossalest failure ever: Carl says he retired from his previous job, but was asked to come work for his current company shortly after said retirement. He really didn’t want to be working so he made an absurd counteroffer to his now employer thinking they wouldn’t match it.

Well they did. Guess how much the offer was for?

He told me he asked for $150,000 — more than what he was making before, and got it.

I’ve had to negotiate salaries a few times for work. Usually it’s a couple of thousand dollars or so and that’s it. No wiggle room. This guy is negotiating for a yearly pay bump above an offer that was more than he had been making before “retiring,” which is not a whole lot less than the  entire sum of money I’ve made in my life (if you know me, while I haven’t had the highest paying jobs, I’ve made money for a long time and didn’t have that period of unemployment that lots of college students experience).

I ask Carl what he went to school for and he lays out his impressive education resume. He’s earned what he his salary, no doubt. I could barely do calculus in high school, he has a master’s in engineering and can do more math than 20 of me. Beyond that he’s got credentials in financing from one of the best business schools in the country.

I should have went into a more lucrative field. But since it’s too late for that, I can be happy about the fact I can interact with people and learn their stories, both for work and in my free time.

One of the things I love about playing basketball with older guys is getting to know them and see how they live their lives. Before I moved to Pennsylvania, I played basketball at the Beaumont YMCA in Lexington and had similar types of conversations after hooping at 5:30 a.m. Those talks were way more valuable than the sleep I skipped and eventual joint pain I’ll enjoy.

I’ve always loved basketball and still love to play it, but it’s not about the game anymore. Just seeing how the train conductor, barber, tennis coach, attorney, army recruiter, restaurant general manager, pro football player, and all of the other professions mix on the court is special. These interactions between games and sometimes at lunch or dinner afterwards is even more meaningful than the enjoyment I get from probably my favorite sport.



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