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I grew up on a hog farm in an Amish community in southeast Ohio. We did not practice the Amish religion of our neighbors, but we farmed that way, and working with draft horses (we used Belgians) teaches one patience. We were very good at farming hogs, but after Dick Celeste was elected governor (our first Democrat governor after many years of the Republican Jim Rhodes), our income taxes went up 90%. We lasted about a year after that. Ten days before my 16th birthday, we lost our farm, all of our stuff was sold at a Sheriff’s sale, and we had to move. It’s hard to express how angry I was. I was 16 years old and I hated the whole world. I don’t think that most people really understand hate, but I do. On the other hand, my Dad got out of farming and eventually ended up teaching math at our public high school, which, combined with his military time from Vietnam, allowed him to retire, which would have been very difficult as a hog farmer. So things actually worked out eventually.
I was a good athlete, which in Ohio means I played football at a high level. I’m in the Athletic Hall of Fame for my area of Ohio (for football and discus and a few other things, per the picture at the right). The attitude problem inspired by the loss of my home helped make me into an exceptional football player. As it turns out, though, I wasn’t THAT good. As I encountered better and better athletes, I found some that were better than me. So after college sports, I abandoned athletics and moved on to other things. It hurt at the time, but things worked out ok, eventually.
After that experience, I decided that I was going to medical school. I was helped along the way by helpful professors (Helpful professor, whose father was probably an investment banker: “You know, not a whole lot of pig farmers become doctors.” Me: “[email protected]$# you, and watch this.”). I ended up becoming really good at medicine, and I fulfilled my dream of being the best doctor in a small town in the mountains of Tennessee. I just wanted to be THE DOCTOR of a small town, who everyone went to if they had a really serious problem. This worked out great, and I did very well until Obamacare passed.
When everyone’s deductible went from $250 to $10,000, that meant that people of modest means in my east Tennessee small town could no longer afford to go to the doctor so I went under. But just before I did, I switched to concierge medicine. This didn’t really work in Appalachia, so after a while, I took a concierge medicine job in Hilton Head. I loved the mountains, I loved my patients, and I did not want to leave. But I had to, so I did. Many people dream of moving to Hilton Head. I didn’t want to go. But I had to, so I did. And things worked out ok, eventually.
I’ve been here for three years now, I’m earning a good living, and my family is quite happy in Hilton Head. As a kid, following two draft horses around in circles in the fields of SE Ohio, I’d never heard of this place. Now I live here, and things are pretty good. How does one get from a hog farm in an Amish community to living on a golf course in Hilton Head?
I have no idea, even though I have done it. Many of the decisions that led me here felt forced like I had little other choice. I don’t like being told what to do.
Let me emphasize that point: I absolutely can’t stand being told what to do.
This personality trait has occasionally created problems for me. And sometimes for the people around me. My father (and my mother in heaven) and my wife are slowing nodding their heads right now…
But I did a lot of things that didn’t work out, for various reasons, so I went and did something else. I didn’t want to, but I did. And that’s it, I think.
When you fail at something, either because you goofed up, or because something happened beyond your control; you have a choice. You can work harder at what you’re doing, and failing at. Or you can go do something else.
Strangely enough, we generally choose to work harder at whatever we’re failing at. We don’t like to accept failure, so we work harder. And we can’t accept being forced into anything. We keep pounding away. And sometimes that can be the right choice. Some remarkable things have been accomplished in that setting.
But I think that in general, when what you’re doing is not working (for any reason), it’s generally best to go do something else.
After all, this is not working. So why are you putting more effort into it? Might your effort be better spent on something that has not been a failure so far?
But we fear the unknown. We keep working at things that are failing, partially because they are known, which comforts us. Even if they’re failing, they’re known, so we feel more comfortable. That’s strange if you think about it. Doing things that are failing should make us uncomfortable. But that’s not how it works.
Things are strange right now. The economy has changed very rapidly, in ways that could not have been anticipated. Many of you have jobs which have always worked out well for you, but now have suddenly turned into sources of instability or failure, through no fault of your own. You’re still good at your job. But these are strange times.
In times of turmoil, there is the potential for catastrophe. But there is also the potential for enormous gains, both personal and financial. It’s sometimes hard to see the potential upside when you’re busy trying to keep your head above water.
But this possible setback could turn into a remarkable opportunity. Perhaps things will work out ok, eventually.
I was an exceptional hog farmer. I was also a really good football player and small-town doctor. But I don’t do those things anymore. Sometimes because I wasn’t good enough (although I thought I was at the time), or sometimes because something beyond my control forced me out. But regardless, I no longer work at those pursuits, which I thought I was really good at.
Which stinks. Except, here I sit, in my fancy house in Hilton Head. So I swallow my pride.
Perhaps this is your opportunity to try something new. Perhaps things are not quite as bad as they seem. Perhaps the pain you feel right now will fade, with time. Perhaps this is your big chance.
Perhaps things will work out ok, eventually.
I’m rooting for you, if that helps.