finding niches

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There is no joy, in mid-life, trying to find your niche.  I mean, seriously, shouldn’t I have found it by now?

Yesterday I sat in the semi-lit office; quiet.  The seasoned salesman, one who has become a family friend, had just left after two hours of chit-chat.   His visits are always welcome but also serve as a reminder.  The manufacturing industry is changing and we need to change with it.  With the passing of the guard, from one generation to the next, we forge ahead; finding our new way of life.  The baby boomers (post WWII 1946-1964) are transitioning out of the work force and with them; the hands-on knowledge and work ethic.  Baby boomers chose a career and stuck with it.

The hubs, thankfully, possesses the talents of his father before him; the art of metallurgy.  Both men can fabricate cold, hard steel into useful applications and enjoy working with their hands.  Manual labor.  But in a world of CNC lathes and precision mechanized machinery, handiwork is no longer needed and small businesses cannot compete with the technology and cheap labor of countries like China.   Our niche is in customization, in creating things from scratch.  Mass production items can be found for cheaper cost and quality, from overseas.  Both the hubs and I’s backgrounds do not lie in this field.  Neither one of us are salesman.  This family friend urges us to expand; to broker parts and broaden our horizons.

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By mid-life I should have already accomplished the things I was set out to do.  The middle-aged bellies are supposed to epitomize wealth and succeess.  The home, the cars, the toys.  Spouses and children. Pets.   Materialized dreams that embody life at its most prosperous.  During lunch I asked the silent hubs what he was thinking.  His thoughts were similar to my own.  How do we find our niche in this changing industry, in life?

niche (noun): a job, activity, etc., that is very suitable for someone,  : the situation in which a business’s products or services can succeed by being sold to a particular kind or group of people,  : an environment that has all the things that a particular plant or animal needs in order to live (excerpted from http://www.merriam-webster.com)

The GenX cohort (1965-1982) is known for being highly educated, activists and proponents for social change.  Supposedly our generation does not have the single-minded focus of the boomers before.  We change career paths often.  We are thinkers but not always doers.  Like the MTV videos of the 80s we look slick but sometimes lack substance.   But we are not millenials (1982-2000); “the trophy children.”  We are in-between.  The middle.  We are sandwiched between two larger cohorts and will shoulder the burden of Social Security and care for the boomers while establishing careers and families (in that order) amongst entitled people who deserve better with the least amount of work.   We also raise the post millenials/generation Z (2000- present); my children,  This is the generation of  instant gratification.  They are products of the digital age: Y2K, iPods, cell phones, texting.

The rest of the day was quiet and subdued.  Even the machines were silent as the guys worked in the shop; setting up the next job.  It was depressing.  These are supposed to be the best times of our lives where we know our sense of purpose and value.  We contribute to society while raising our nuclear family who have not yet left the nest.   But instead, we are evaluating our years.  Is this our mid-life crisis?
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Last week I found myself on YouTube searching for songs in the 80s.  Lately I stare at my changing 13 y/o son and remember who I was at that age.  The hubs rolled his eyes at my nostalgia; compounded by the fact that I was found on Facebook by high school classmates.  Another milestone reunion.  I have not attended once; my privacy setting on social media very private and not wanting to be found.  As I perused the names and faces of my past I wondered if they were happy with whom they have become.  Most people choose not to attend their reunions because: they felt like they didn’t belong in high school, are currently unhappy in their lives (status) or unhappy with their current physical appearance.  But doesn’t everyone feel that way?   I want it to be like the movies…the successful entrepreneur returns to the shock and amazement of their high school classmates.    I want to have found my niche and to be successful at doing it.
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That is not where I am now.
But the thing is, will I ever really be where I want to be?  One day will these feelings of satisfaction settle over me as I smugly grin that I have accomplished what I was meant to do?  Or will I lay on my death bed chastising myself for always searching for what was always underneath my nose the whole time?  It is for this reason that I seek simpler times; a simpler life.  I want to get back to the basics and remember my core values; formed in my youth.  I am rediscovering hospitality but there are other things in my life that have made me who I am today.  What are they?  How do I get back there?
The day passed slowly as the clouds came over the horizon; the hazy shades of gray.  My world is no longer black and white and I long for ritual.  I do not like change.  I must step out of my boundaries and rediscover life.  It is the trappings of my black and white framework that have made me complacent.  Being an at-home mother does not mean I do not contribute to the greater whole.  Working does not mean I am productive.  I am being the stereotypical GenXer…I am overthinking it and doing nothing about it.   I left work in this frame of mind.  As my mother would say, “And what would you use that education for anyway?”
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An hour later I stood nearby as my son shopped in our local Goodwill store for a CCD project.  The junior high kids were instructed to earn $10 by doing work in the household.  Next they were to find clothing in a thrift store to wear to their weekly class amongst their peers.  The reason?  The teens are supposed to learn the value of the dollar by working for it.  How far can they stretch 10 bucks?  The thrift store component helps the kids to understand how some struggle for basic needs, like clothing.  They are asked to ponder how they felt shopping in the thrift store versus the local mall.  Did it make them feel different?  In this season of buying and giving this project is supposed to be a lesson in empathy.  The teens, in this age group, constantly struggle to find their niche.  Again I realize how similar my teen and I are.  We both search for who we are and who we want to be.  This constant assessing never ends until we stop comparing.  It is a lesson I still have not learned.   Time to grow up and find my niche.
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