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How Did You Spend Your Working Life?

Posted Jul 16 2013 8:30am

Back in June at The Elder Storytelling Place , Lyn Burnstine wrote about the progression of her career from writer to musician and back again to writer in her old age.

One reader, Karen Swift, left in part this comment:

”I wonder how many of us have had more than one career? I myself have had at least four different ones. Like you, each one pulled me to the next.”

Since then, I've been meaning to put together a post about how we who are retired or near the end of our working lives spent all those decades earning our living.

  • What kind of work did we do?
  • Did we choose it or fall into it somehow?
  • Did we stick with one career or switch to something different along the way?
  • Did we like the work we did?
  • Do those jobs relate to how we are spending our late years and if so, how?

Somewhat regularly here, I write about about how blogging (as writers and/or readers) opens us to a world of people we wouldn't have otherwise met and often leads to new friendships even if they are at a distance.

So such an exercise as this can help us get to know one another a bit better – particularly among those whose names we recognize from the comments and, perhaps, wonder about.

I'll start us off:

My first full-time job was as a typist at a mortgage loan company in San Francisco. I had no idea what I might want to study at Berkeley and it seemed easier to just get a job. In those days, if a “girl” could type, jobs were plentiful.

Also, then (the late 1950s and early 1960s), I had no more direction or ambition than supporting myself and indeed, we – women – were not encouraged to do much more. Marriage was the ultimate goal.

And so I did that in 1965. My husband was, at first, a disc jockey and then moved on to host a radio talk show in Houston in the earliest days of talk radio. It was otherwise a rock-and-roll station and management didn't understand that he needed a producer.

So I stepped in and we continued doing his show together – as producer and program host – in Minneapolis, Chicago and evenually New York where it became the number one talk show in town.

When we separated in 1971, it wasn't feasible to continue working together so a friend who was a producer at ABC-TV on The Dick Cavett Show got me a job there. After a couple of years, I moved on to producing local morning programs on several local channels and in the late 1970s, joined The Barbara Walters Specials while also producing stories for 20/20.

In the late 1980s, I moved on again to other television programs and then, in 1995, another friend asked me to take a job as managing editor at cbsnews.com – the network's first website that was just getting started, not even online yet.

That – and other web production positions later – was fantastic. Working in television, I had always been enthralled with the stories of the old-timers who had been in the business from the earliest days in the 1940s.

Like those guys then, I found myself in the 1990s in on the beginning a brand new medium with no rules yet. We were inventing it on the spot day to day, trying out new things, seeing what succeeded and what didn't.

And I did that – websites – until I was forced into retirement nine years ago.

As Karen said in her comment, each job pulled (or pushed) me on to the next. From radio to television to the internet and, for the past decade, to blogging about getting old.

Most of the time, I loved what I did through those transitions. I used the access that working at television networks gave me to talk to the people who made the news or were experts in dozens of fields.

None of those people would have spoken with Ronni Bennett but they are always eager to talk with anyone who has network letters behind their name, and I took full advantage to learn from them.

In that way, although it took my entire life and continues still, it was my college education. There was something new to learn just about every week if not every day and I took complete advantage of my access.

Of course, it wasn't as smooth sailing as that sounds. In between the good jobs, I once ran a high-end dating service ($1500 to join) for an acquaintance who owned it, edited chapters for a textbook publisher, wrote stories for the in-flight magazine of an all-first class airline that is now defunct and for two years tried to run my own film and TV research company just as the internet was becoming ubiquitous and no one needed that kind of service anymore.

The biggest difference today with this blog is that I can voice my opinion which is a 180-degree departure from everything else I did that can, at times, still feel like I'm crossing a line I shouldn't – but I'm mostly comfortable with that now.

An ancillary thought to all this is that as I look back, it all seems inevitable which is, sometimes, how I feel about all of life itself – as though I had nothing to say about each step of the way through these 72 years, that it is written in some book somewhere and I'm just following the arrows pointing the way.

On other days I feel differently – that I've made every choice myself. But that's getting way too existential for this post.

Now it's your turn. How have you spent your working life? And remember, on the internet you are not confined by space – use as much as you want. Just please, use paragraphs so it's readable.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Henry Lowenstern: Apprehension

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