For reasons I never understood, my maternal grandmother never seemed to like me. As a child, I remember her giving cookies and milk to my sister and cousin during a visit to her home, and telling me “If I give you something, you’ll make a mess.” I don’t know, maybe she knew what a klutz I was going to grow up to be.
Once, several of us kids were coloring pictures, and Grandma berated me because I strayed beyond the lines with my crayon. “You need to pay more attention,” she said. “You can’t even color inside the lines!” My dad interrupted her and said “Leave him alone. Maybe he sees a different picture than everybody else does.” In one way or another, I have been coloring outside the lines ever since.
Call it marching to a different drummer, thinking outside the box, or just being a round peg that doesn’t fit into a square hole; whatever cliché you prefer, I often seem to be just a little out of synch with the rest of the world. I don’t think that makes me a rebel as much as an oddball. But I’ve just never wanted to play by the rules.
As a high school student, many of my classmates were trying to get into college to avoid the draft. My grades were good enough that I could have probably gotten some kind of scholarship, but instead, I joined the Army on a delayed entry program, and left to go to boot camp the minute I had enough credits to qualify for my diploma. Not because I had any fantasies of being a junior John Wayne, I just wanted to experience something different.
If you were a blue collar kid going to high school in Toledo, Ohio, and college wasn’t an option, getting a job on the assembly line at Jeep, or a civil service gig with the fire or police department, or the post office, was “making it.” To me that would have been a prison sentence. I couldn’t wait to put the hometown behind me. I knew even then that I was going to be a writer, and I needed to see and do, if I was going to have anything to write about.
As an adult, I started several small businesses; some were successful and some were flops. When something didn’t work, I chalked it up to a learning experience. And when I was successful, I quickly became bored and moved on. For me, the challenge was creating something out of nothing, and once I had done it, I needed another goal.
When my wife and I walked away from successful career paths to become fulltime RVers and start the world’s only specialty newspaper run entirely from the road, with no fixed base, friends and acquaintances thought we were crazy. They told us that that stage of our lives (mid-40s) was no time to take risks like that, or to turn our backs on the “security” we had worked so hard to establish. Now, over 12 years later, many of those same people say “Man, I wish I was you.”
But all of this comes with a price. We have put every penny we made back into our business. We don’t have any retirement, and we know that we’ll have to work all of our lives. But then again, we have seen many friends who took the “safe route” and spent their lives carefully coloring inside the lines, who have lost their retirements when some company went belly up, and whose investments and IRAs have dissolved into nothing because of greedy and corrupt corporate bandits. Some of those people have told us that they too will be working the rest of their lives just to dig out from under.
So, maybe coloring outside the lines hasn’t been such a bad thing after all. We’ve all wound up at the same place anyway. But I’ve had a lot of fun, some memorable adventures, and memories that can’t be bought for any price!
Tags: a round peg that doesn’t fit into a square hole, Army, avoid the draft, blue collar, career choices, civil service jobs, classmates, college deferrments, coloring outside the lines, corporate bandits, high school student, marching to a different drummer, newspaper, scholarship, seeking challanges, starting a small business, taking risks, thinking outside the box