I may have found my calling late in life; the job that uses my storytelling talent for a new audience. After a few minutes of superficial consideration, I’ve decided I want to be an entertainer at children’s birthday parties. Specifically, my grandchildren’s parties. I think I’m good at it.
Several days ago, at the request of one of my daughters-in-law, I made a cameo appearance at the 4-year-old’s “Madeline”-themed party. For those of you who missed this classic children’s book series by an Austrian author, Madeline is the smallest of the girls who live in a Catholic boarding school in Paris. She’s adorable and spunky and courageous.
I came as Miss Clavel, which meant I dressed in a nun’s habit, black robe to the shins and wimple covering much of my face. In truth, Miss Clavel is not a nun. She’s a nurse, but over the decades popular lore has turned her into a religious figure.
No matter. Having practiced my French accent the day before, I delivered my lines — well, one line (Bonjour, mes enfants) — without missing a beat and managed to stay in character until the habit became stifling in the spring heat. Nevertheless I played the part to perfection, if I say so myself.
That was not my acting debut, though. A few years back I was asked to play the witch of “Snow White” fame when another daughter-in-law arranged for the costume, the basket of apples, and the stage makeup. I rehearsed the cackle in front a mirror. I perfected the hunchbacked gait. I did so well, in fact, that I scared the living daylights out of the little kids.
This is all by way of saying that sometimes we find talents in unexpected places. And sometimes that discovery comes after many years in a totally unrelated field, in a job that demanded all our attention and effort and, in return, delivered a steady paycheck. Some find those second chances in retirement, others in midcareer; some out of frustration, others by happenstance.
I know of a former real estate executive who has turned out to be an incredible photographer, a caterer who sold his business to become a wood turner, a doctor who hung up his stethoscope to pursue a childhood aspiration in law enforcement. Apparently it takes a few years (or decades) and a good dose of hard knocks to point us in the direction that will fulfill us in ways more traditional choices do not.
Encore careers are all the rage these days. Publications are filled with stories about people who have made hairpin turns in the job market, using skills learned to chase long-buried dreams or to help others. Encore.org, for example, is a nonprofit that encourages baby boomers to use their experience to serve their community. Its vice president, Marci Alboher wrote “The Encore Career Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life.”
But change can come early, too, in that pivotal first half, after someone has tested the water of a career and found it unwelcoming. It’s no secret that lawyers try their hand at mystery and thriller writing, some quite successfully, and that underpaid teachers leave the classroom in droves, frustrated by bureaucracy as well as the overkill of standardized testing.
I love what I do and cannot imagine a life structured away from words, away from the music of a well-turned phrase. Yet there’s a part of me that entertains the what-if of the varied professions I liked as a child. Civil engineer? Financial planner? Archeologist? Mathematician?
Performing was never in the picture — but now … now, as new opportunities unfurl, who knows. I may be the next best thespian of the playground set.