There’s more to this working thing than money. We get fulfillment from forming bonds among our peers, having some nourishing accomplishments and contributing to our families and society. We need increases in money and perks along the way, but every income increase gets absorbed into the household budget and, in short order, we get used to it. Regardless of how deep your love for your work, almost no amount of money alone will increase your interest or fuel your passion in the long term. So, most of us settle in and find satisfaction in creating a place for ourselves where we are challenged, contribute, get a little acknowledgment, help others and make a difference where we can.
I’m very lucky to have found a place to work that offers all of those rewards in abundance. I said not long after I started at Wallace, this will be my last job. When I said it, it was because I was proud to be associated with the reputation Wallace Engineering has in our industry and community. I was proud of our offices and location in the blossoming Brady Arts District. There was a level of prestige and respect I sensed from among my peers in other firms. I was lucky to have stimulating work from top-notch clients and be surrounded by interesting and talented people dedicated to our mission. It’s a good fit and I’m all in.
But, that’s the long view and sometimes more immediate distractions grab my attention. Let’s be honest, have you ever had a hobby and wondered whether you could make a living at it? Do you find yourself daydreaming about it, looking forward to the hour or two this weekend when you can work on it? Do you notice when you do have time, an hour with your passionate pursuit flies by like five minutes? Many of us have experienced such a wanderlust as we travel along our career path. Society has a tendency to ask us to ignore those thoughts and press on doing the responsible thing. Dreaming, some say, is for fools.
It seems I’ve always had that wandering mind to one degree or another, and I’ve sometimes wondered what’s wrong with me. Why haven’t I been able to do like so many others who pick a path in their early 20’s then dive headlong and unwaveringly onto it? Why are there so many of us who, even well into middle age still ask, “what am I going to be when I grow up?”.
The truth is, that’s common, normal, a healthy sign of a curious spirit. Whether we tend to wander toward the greener grass or find our singleness of purpose early in life, none of us has to squelch dreams or outside pursuits. Exploration broadens the view. Dreaming fosters creativity. Adventure brings new perspective to your “normal” life. The key is to approach them with balance, prioritize responsibly, allow yourself to fearlessly wander into your dreams, but do it without jeopardizing your basis of support. Nothing good comes from ignoring your responsibilities while misplacing your focus. The reality of health insurance, retirement savings, and credit worthiness are important, especially if you have others depending on you.
In 1992, almost by accident, Marie and I started a bicycle event called DAM J.A.M. Bicycle Tour. There was no thought to starting something that would last, it was just something fun to try. About 150 local bicyclists came and told us we’d done a great job. So next year we decided to do it again. Participation grew, out-of-state people said great things, and we developed relationships around the event. Now, 23 years later, DAM J.A.M. has become a popular staple of Northeast Oklahoma Fall cycling with consistently around 750 riders from the region.
We’ve never taken a dime but gave all the revenue back to the event. So the fuel that pushed us to work into the night and all weekend to get ready must have been from a place of creative passion. All during that time, I was making solid gains in my career and enjoying professional growth. Having dual passions was fun and exciting, but there were many times when I daydreamed, “what if we could grow this bike ride thing big enough to make a living at it?”
In 2005, a new event called Tulsa Tough was being hatched. It was to be a three-day weekend of high profile racing and mass participation rides that would draw attention and tourism to Tulsa. I was approached by the organizers to be the director of two days of non-competitive distance rides. I jumped in and now we’re coming into our 9th year as a nationally visible, professional cycling weekend. Again, thoughts of earning a living from bicycle events crept in.
After the 2011 event, burnout was setting in for all of us from years of juggling life, full-time careers, and producing the biggest cycling event Tulsa has ever seen. We started discussing plans for a sustainable future. We needed people working on this thing during normal work hours, year-round if we were to keep pace. We already had one full-time staff person and made a plan to bring two of us from the original committee onto the payroll. My fantasy was beginning to look like reality.
But, I’m well past the halfway mark in my work life. My priorities have shifted. There’s more value in giving than I perceived when I was younger. My rewards come more from making my community better than from climbing toward higher personal successes. At the same time, providing an acceptable income into the next 20-30 years and not being devastated by unexpected healthcare costs is a serious reality. A lot of my identity is tied up in more than 30 years in a career that satisfies me and provides well. It didn’t feel right to chuck it all and start over down a risky new path.
So, here’s where reality shows up again and reminds me what a terrific place Wallace Engineering is to call home. I approached my principals with an idea to continue to perform my duties as a full-time employee but with additional flexibility in my hours in the office. I would go to work for Tulsa Tough part-time and split the time appropriately. In my home office, I could do Wallace Engineering or Tulsa Tough work. I would come into the Brady office every day to interact with my team, work and attend meetings.
It was a go and this new work balance journey started September, 2013. The increased flexibility and autonomy enlivens me. I work more each week but I’m more focused on both jobs. I feel a little like an entrepreneur and have a stronger feeling of loyalty and commitment than I’ve had in a long time.
When employers like Wallace acknowledge and support their employee’s outside interests and provide flexibility to allow people to stretch, they exhibit confidence that liberates and secures loyalty. The message is, we get your humanity and your varied interests. We know we’ll both benefit from giving you some room to explore. We’ll both be enriched by the diversity. We want to help you find and keep a home here.
Jim Beach performs site feasibility, development strategy, pre-purchase due diligence and land use entitlements for clients in the civil engineering group at Wallace Engineering. Jim has been Gran Fondo Director at Tulsa Tough since 2005 and is co-founder of DAM J.A.M. Bicycle Tour. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please follow us on Twitter (@WallaceEng) for blog updates.