Remembering the mini-careers that shaped our lives

By Khevin Barnes

I feel fortunate to be a resident in the “Over 55 Active Adult Community” of Del Webb here in Vail. While many in this community are retired from their life-long vocations, there are lots of folks living here who are still working full or part time. The age of 55 is certainly not an invitation to termination from our life’s work, and in many cases it’s still possible to invest our time, our energy and our talents into community work or even pick up an “odd job” to add some excitement and a bit of income to our lives.

The latest US census shows the median age of Vail residents to be just 39.3 so for those of us in the 70’s plus group, we have a good deal of youthful energy around us to put a little pep in our step.

When we think about career choices, several things immediately come to mind – job description, training and education required, career outlook, and salary – but there are a number of other factors that may shape our decisions. And in the end, our choice of careers really does influence the rest of our lives, as our vocations greatly affect our values, our beliefs and our philosophies for living.

In my case I was smitten by the art of stage magic at the age of 12. There were a handful of kids I knew (all of them boys) who aspired to be magicians. But in my case I knew that my choice was unalterable. Magic is a curious craft presenting puzzles and perplexities that give our brains a challenging and often enjoyable spike of Endorphins, Dopamine, Serotonin and Oxytocin and I was decidedly addicted. But while I pursued my boyhood dream there were to be many challenging steps along the way, and no certainty of success.

My career really didn’t begin in earnest until 1979 when I auditioned to perform at the “Hollywood Magic Castle”, a private club in California. But along the way, my odd jobs were stepping stones that more often than not, pushed me forward in hopes of one day landing that “dream job” than many of us look for.

Here then is a partial list of my curious career “side trips” that challenged, discouraged and/or inspired me along the way. I worked for the telephone company as an installer for one summer in 1968, only because my father was the manager of Pacific Telephone in Orange County, California, and each one of us kids in my family got a chance to earn some money while deciding if we wanted to follow in dad’s occupational footsteps. Three colored wires were used in the installation of telephones in those days, and being red/green colorblind I miss-wired a good number of residential phones during my short stint as a telephone man. Hence, the “one summer” duration of my employment.

While a junior in high school I was hired as the “head chef” in a small restaurant in the beach town of Corona del Mar. There were 12 tables and it was just me and a dishwasher. Later on I was a dishwasher myself in a convalescent hospital for a few months. I worked a summer at Disneyland (I could have stayed with that one forever). I taught magic and banjo classes in Oregon. One time, I really needed cash and got talked into harvesting Christmas trees with one of my roommates. Upon arriving for work the foreman placed a chainsaw in my hands. Visions of doing card magic with missing digits convinced me to quit on the spot.

I worked two weeks on the graveyard shift at Jack in the box. I performed as a “Singing Telegram” messenger (later opening my own company for a decade). I opened a “Jingle Writing” company and sold a few radio commercials. That lasted a year. I was a bartender at a Holiday Inn and later worked as their Convention Manager. Then I was the Activities Director in a rest home in Oregon. And, I was a 120 pound skinny Santa Clause in the local mall, working a double shift (16 hours a day) for a month with extra pillows stuffed into my shirt and pants. There’s more, but you get the idea. I encourage you to make a list of your odd jobs and share it with someone you trust. You’ll learn some very interesting things about the people you know and love, and likely have a good laugh too.

And in between all of my mini-jobs, I found magic gigs to keep me happy and pointed in the right direction before finally taking my show on the road for the next 40 years. I feel very fortunate to have been a big kid in adult clothes who got to live a 12 year old’s dream and create a little magic along the way.

Taking a look at the trail of odd jobs we’ve all held over the years adds a depth and dimension to our time on Earth. They all shaped us, challenged us and pushed us toward something that in the end, framed our years between birth and death like bookends in the individual and remarkable life stories that each of us creates.

Khevin Barnes has been a resident in Vail for 7 years. He enjoys writing about offbeat subjects and sees every career choice we have as another opportunity for personal growth. (Except for that chainsaw thing.)

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