Saturday, May 12, 2012

20 Years, Really? Really, 20 Years

The final graduation ceremony, whether from high school, college, or graduate school, is an inflection point in each of our lives.  With it, we cross the frontier from the sheltered world of parents and professors into the great unknown of career, family, and complete responsibility for ourselves.


That inflection point came for me 20 years -- half a lifetime -- ago when I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.  Now, as my classmates gather in Philadelphia for our 20th reunion and I lie on my back suffering from a stomach virus, it seems like a good time to reflect.

20 years?  Has it really been that long?  It feels like only a moment.  No, wait, it feels like an eternity.  I guess it depends upon how closely you look.  I don't feel twice as old as I was when I graduated college.  Maybe a few years older, definitely a few years wiser, but 20?  Come on, it can't be….

1992: Graduation.  Before I even graduate, I'm working at the one job in the world that lies at the intersection of my Wharton marketing degree and my Theatre Arts minor: Marketing Director for Philadelphia Festival Theatre for New Plays.  Living on Sansom Street with Rafe and Trent while we all try to figure out what comes next is like calling a temporary timeout on life, somewhere between moving back home with Mom and Dad and going to graduate school.  As it turns out, "nonprofit marketing" is an oxymoron, so by the end of the year I make my first cross-country move, to Tacoma, WA.

1993: The first half of the year is spent finding a place to live (a truly shabby studio apartment, complete with occasional cockroach infestations) and convincing my girlfriend to come and try out Northwest living.  The second half is spent driving back and forth between Tacoma and Seattle after she moves out.

1994: Engagement: the next big step in adult living.  Everyone's doing it.  We're engaged on April 1 (I have the good sense not so shout, "April Fools!" after proposing) and set the wedding date for next April. My parents are thrilled.  Hers need some convincing.  After all, this boy stole their daughter away to the other side of the country, and he's not even working for Microsoft.

1995: Marriage. Who knew that so many people could do the Electric Slide on such a small dance floor? I'm thrilled to learn that people give you money when you get married.  With my rented tuxedo's pockets bulging with little envelopes, I wonder how long we have to wait before we can renew our vows.  Disneyworld for the honeymoon, where we meet a minivan full of Japanese tourists the hard way: by rear-ending them.  My new bride and I continue to feed our theatre bug by performing with the Tacoma Little Theatre. She's a sexy nurse, I wear tights, and everything is "normal." We bring the Penn tradition of the cast party parody to Tacoma's community theatre scene.  Some of my best writing, if I do say so myself: those scripts still make me laugh.

1996: Married bliss in "the Little House" in Tacoma.  More theatre, more odd friends, more parodies.  My first one-act play is performed on stage, and I get to direct a staged reading for the professional theatre company downtown. The East Coast is calling, though, and our feet start to wander.  Cross-country move #2 brings us to Boston in the middle of December, where I learn that my Seattle winter clothes won't fend off pneumonia.  Welcome to New England!

1997-1998: "Boston, you're my home!"  Life in software development leaves no time for performing on stage, so it's goodbye to the theatre, hello to the World Wide Web.  Did you know that there's a fine line between "high-energy genius" and "manic depressive?"  I learn this the hard way, along with a lot of other truths about working with software engineers. I also get my first taste of the startup life, which leaves me hungry for more even when we're taking turns getting paid each week.

Home ownership. Now we're really adults, with our own personal debt load.  What's next?

Fatherhood: another milestone achieved.  Our baby girl brings joy, tears, and sleepless nights.  I say goodbye to 20-30 IQ points, hoping they'll return when I finally get to sleep again. 

1999-2003: You know how they say you shouldn't pile one major life change on top of another?  I never really listened to that advice.  Two months after I become a father, I have a new job with another software company, just before their IPO.  ATG is everything that a person could want in a workplace, with people who are both smart and nice.  Like a golfer who finally has that one sweet swing, I'll spend the next 10 years trying to get that feeling back.  IPO, dot-com boom, trips to LA, going global, partying in New Orleans, dot-com bust, "bring in the adults to run things," layoffs, layoffs, layoffs.

Fatherhood, take two.  With two kids only 16 months apart, sleep is something we hallucinate about in the dark hours of the night.  I never know what I'll come home to in the evenings, whether it's naked mattress surfing, Kiki and her cat, or the entire cast of Cats dancing under a paper jellicle moon.  Life is an adventure.

2003-2008: When I can't lay another person off, I find myself reuniting with friends from the past.  Ascend Consulting sends me into the depths of corporate America, where every day I find myself working for a startup while working at a multinational financial services company.  Our clients are big, rich, and riddled with process, and I learn that working at startup speed makes you no friends.  As my first client manager puts it, "You're wearing us out!  You need to slow down and let things happen at their own pace."  I slow down and learn how to push hard enough to get things done, but not hard enough to hurt any feelings.  With all the leftover creative energy, I decide to start writing.  This blog is born, along with the unpublished masterpiece, Hollywood.bomb.  I rediscover biking and join the Patriot Pedalers to take the Best Buddies challenge.  Writing follows riding, and I make riding a century sound epic and idiotic, often at the same time.

The family grows older, the children start school, and my wife and I start worrying about things like test scores and graduation rates.  My wife returns to making music, creating three amazing CDs that touch thousands of lives.  I get to do "additional percussion" on one of them, adding my hand claps to the background of a song while the producer accuses me of "flamming." The Red Sox break the Curse of the Bambino and New Englanders are winners again. Boston matures us, shapes us as a family, but it can't hold us.  When my wife's parents retire to the West Coast, leaving us as the last family members in the East, it's time to look westward again.

2009: Cross-country move #3.  we leave twelve years's worth of memories and friendships behind as we pile into the car and drive west.  This time we don't make it all the way to the other coast, but settle down in Boulder.  Mountains replace the coastline as my primary navigation reference, and we learn that skiing is a lot more fun when you do it on real snow.  Biking at high altitude takes some getting used to, but when everyone else is doing it, it's hard to stay home.  The kids love their schools and we love our new home.  I find a new job (or it finds me) while we're driving across the country, and the "Iowa phone interview with the lightning strike exclamation point" sets the stage for the adventure to come.

2010-2012: Boulder is for startups.  Louisville is for families.  Weekends are for recovery.  The job makes me crazy and proud by turns as we accomplish things no one thought we could. So this is what it's like to own a product.  My wife and the kids follow their passions, she into caring for others and they into sports like horseback riding and baseball.  When no one's looking, I sneak out for rides on trails that leave me breathless with their beauty.  Colorado is the place for us.


Huh.  I guess it has been 20 years.  We certainly didn't waste any of it, did we?  Every one of these years was full of blessings and adventures, lots of laughter, a few tears, and a whole lot of learning.  As I look at them now, I feel the life of them, but not the weight.  Inside, I'm still that 21-year-old kid, looking out over the next year with impatience and excitement, wondering what will come next.  Based on what has come before, I can't wait.

Happy 20th reunion, everyone!  I can hardly wait for the 40th!

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