Thursday, December 3, 2009

144. Decade challenging, rewarding

I watched "Scrooged" last night with my wife, a movie which can certainly make one start to think about his or her own life. I have also been reading about "people of the decade," and can hardly believe that the first decade of the 21st century is already coming to an end.

I remember the 1990s in two parts. The first part I spent finishing my undergraduate degree, and while I was also working full time-it was a security job, whose only burden was the third shift hours. But any trouble this may have been was offset by the free time I spent playing both baseball and racquetball, traveling the country with friends and teammates-having a great time.

The second half of the 1990s was spent meeting, dating and marrying my wife. As most will remember-it is among the best years of your life. We went to racquetball tournaments together, spent the summers watching Indians baseball, going to movies and plays, and took vacation/weekend trips we could not afford. We were on the poor side-heavy credit card debt, living in a mobile home-but we had fun, with few worries and lots of laughs.

This decade, however, has been the polar opposite. It has been about work and school and doing the things, that, well, I probably should have been doing in the 1990s.

In February of 2000, we moved into our new house, and while excited, we faced the American responsibility of a mortgage and taxes and insurance, and everything else associated with owning a home. That excitement was mellowed with the declining health of my father. I coached baseball that spring at Keystone High School, but recall the burden of wanting to spend time with our new home and trying to make the trip to the Cleveland Clinic to see my ailing father. He passed away in June of that year, without ever seeing me coach, read a column, or attend my graduation. He saw my new house only once. One of my last memories with my father was sitting in hospital room watching the Browns beat New Orleans for their first win in their return to the NFL.

In September of 2000, I started my MBA program. From 2000-2002, my routine was consistent-work all day, school all evening. I specifically recall a dinner with my wife at a point where she knew I was overwhelmed-she said, "You just get through this, I'll take care everything else." It provided me with inspiration I needed. When I finished my MBA, I said the same thing that I said when I finished my bachelor's degree, "That is the last class I will ever take."

In 2002 we still faced heavy debt, as the MBA did not have the immediate payoff that I had hoped. I coached baseball again that spring, this time at Lake Ridge Academy. In early 2003, I entered the Nursing Home Administration intern program-working with a woman that I met in my MBA program. The internship paid next to nothing, so I worked a second full time job at May Credit-sometimes until 3:00 am. In between, I worked a third job at Five Season Country Club, part-time, just to get through it. I knew healthcare was an up and coming field and was likely to offer more opportunity that manufacturing. Until now, however, I thought that was the most difficult time of my life. I hardly saw my wife, and we rented out rooms in our house to my friend and my brother just to make ends meet.

In October 2003, the internship ended and I started substitute teaching in Lorain, while still working at May Credit. In November, the nursing home I had worked for had an interim administrator opening in Toledo and asked if I was interested. It was a "real" job again-even if it was only temporary and even if it was in Toledo. I kept my job at May Credit however, because I knew this was an interim position and I had yet to hear whether or not I had passed my licensing exam.

I started writing for the Amherst News-Times in August 2003. I remember my first column-I was away from home, staying in an interesting $25 per night room in Columbus. We spent our last dime-even once having my debit card for the room refused-getting me through the required "Executive Education" course at Ohio State. My wife called me to tell me my first story had run.

In December, I learned that I had passed my test. I was stuck in a snowstorm in Toledo when my wife called and asked how this room was. She simply said, "Is it nice enough for a licensed nursing home administrator?"

In 2004, the nursing home offered me a job closer to home in Milan-but there was still uncertainty about my position. The days were long and difficult, the pay still wasn't that great, and so I kept my May Credit job. I applied for many other administrator positions, but the competition turned out to be steeper that I had realized-many of the people also had master's degree and had spent their entire professional lives in nursing homes.

I entered the Leadership Lorain County program in September of 2004 looking for a bit of a competitive advantage and had a professional awakening-learning about Lorain County, meeting new people.

Finally, in 2005, my hard work paid off when I was offered a job at the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board of Lorain County. I had a job close to home, relatively secure, that I found to be rewarding. Later in 2005, I heard that my job at May Credit would be coming to an end-the company had been bought out. I kept this job until it was officially closed in early 2006.

In 2006, I spent my free time as president of the Center For Inquiry of Northeast Ohio. It was an overwhelming task which not only took every bit of free time that I had finally spared with the end of my second job, it also took most of my wife's free time-but at least we were finally seeing each other again.

Then, in 2007, I made the decision to go back to school, for one final time-this time law school. I felt that professionally, to achieve some of my goals, I needed this additional education. In 2008, we spent our tax return to fly me out to California to take the required "Baby Bar."

This year, however, has been, without a doubt, the most challenging of my life. I began freelancing with The Chronicle Telegram in February to help pay for some of the costs of going to law school. I've enjoyed the experience meeting and learning about the people of Lorain County-but it has taken a toll. With six law school classes, and my job at the Alcohol and Drug Board, I barely have a moment to breath.

This decade has been a whirlwind, and while there has been some professional progress, my health has become dismal-and without a new focus, this hard work will have been for nothing. And my poor wife . . . what she has endured-the ups and downs, the new endeavors. I can't imagine trying to have gone through this without her.

In addition to the hard work, I'll remember the decade in many other ways. I became involved in politics, moving left in becoming a Democrat and a vegetarian, and joining several political and community organizations like the Lorain County Solid Waste Policy Committee, Lorain Family YMCA, American Civil Liberties Union and American Constitutional Society. I'll remember the elections of George Bush and Barack Obama, and the terrorists attacks, wars and country's economic meltdown. Finally, I'll not forget the personal moments, such as my wife's miscarriage, the loss of my wife's father and death of our dear dog, Shea.

Goals for the next decade include finishing law school and passing the bar. I also want to write a book or two. But, more importantly, I want to have more free time, and time to take better care of myself. I want to play racquetball again, this time just for fun. I also would like to play golf, and maybe softball. I would like to spend more time with friends and family-relaxed, taking the intensity down a level or two. And I want to be there more for my wife and our dogs-they deserve it.

Consider this a toast to the holiday season and a new decade. What goals do you have, what is on your bucket list-what will the ghosts of Christmas future bring you?