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After I left the military, I took a corporate job and managed a large printing operation for a national company. It was a pretty good job, but I always wanted to teach school and spent a year getting a Texas 6-12 math certificate at 39 (despite my engineering degree there were surprising hurdles to overcome). I spent the next 16 years in the classroom and really enjoyed myself. Mrs. Tex and I were discussing the changes today. She retired from her airline pilot job 4 years ago and recently finished her paramedic training. She works part-time for the county EMS agency and does lots of medical work for our rural fire department. We both went from jobs that could be considered management to jobs much more like skilled technician jobs, and didn’t mind the change; in fact, we sort of enjoyed the reduced responsibility. One of our firefighters is a retired MD and completed the paramedic program with my wife. She gets frustrated because many of her MD friends don’t get it. She sees it as giving back to our community but her friends see it as an unfathomable step-down.
I worked with people my age who had left some other career to teach school. In general, most didn’t last. It’s tough enough teaching high school kids, but not everyone could take suddenly becoming labor after years in management. Two retired field grade officers I worked with had a terrible time adapting. Kids could push their buttons quite easily (many kids are highly accomplished at this) and they couldn’t cope with it. Similarly, my wife talked about guys that retired as full colonels who were suddenly second officers flying the panel on a cargo 727 or DC-10 (and carrying the thermos, as she put it) and struggled with the change in status. Yet, others adapted well; we spoke about one guy she knew from her USAF days who was a reserve one star and loved being just a working pilot in the right seat.
Whenever I read about someone who takes whatever job will put food on the table after being laid off from some Wall Street or tech firm, I’m truly impressed. A change in status was one of the most enjoyable things I ever did. I’m sure there is some lesson to impart to young people here, but I’m not sure exactly what it is. We were fortunate to already be financially secure before these leaps into the unknown, so maybe our examples aren’t as compelling as they would otherwise be.Published in