Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

The Senior Side: A life-altering experience

By BILL CLARKE, Commentary | Published August 3, 2018

Early influences may have a permanent effect on a young developing mind—as 18th-century poet Alexander Pope said, “As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.”

Those early experiences can shape who we are and what we become later in life.

I experienced an event early in my life that caused me to realize that some people may have worked an entire career at a job from which they received little enjoyment, but they did the job out of financial necessity or commitment to their family.

Making a change after a big realization

When I graduated from high school, I was undecided about whether I would go to college, so I got a job working on an assembly line in a large manufacturing plant. The work was a boring, repetitive process that took little training or concentration, but I was making more money as an apprentice than I had ever seen before in my life. All my previous part-time jobs had been minimum wage or less.

The man next to me on the assembly line had worked in the same plant, on the same line, doing the same job, making the same product for 32 years. He took me under his wing and taught me what I needed to know about the people and processes on the assembly line. I asked him one day how he was able to keep focused and maintain a positive attitude. His response was immediate and direct, “Well, son, it’s all about making a living. I got seniority. I will retire in three years with a company pension and then I will kiss this (blankety-blank) place goodbye forever!”

I realized that my friend had stopped dreaming and had settled into a routine of accumulating seniority. Our many other conversations made me reconsider my personal career options, and at the end of the summer, I left the assembly line and enrolled in college.

I was the first person in my family to advance beyond high school. I’m not knocking my blue-collar heritage, but my experience on the assembly line provided the motivation I needed to explore college and position myself for a broader range of career opportunities. The bottom line is that I didn’t want to regret several decades later that I had not explored all of my options.

One has to wonder how many workers there are like my friend on the assembly line. There has to be an inner sadness for people who put in their time on the job solely to make a living. It is understandable how they would welcome and look forward to retirement. For them retirement is a reward for several decades of hard, dedicated and perhaps ungratifying work. It is no wonder that some people count down the years and months and days until they can finally retire and begin doing things that they really enjoy.

What is your life-altering experience?

I am reminded of the old TV program, “The Naked City,” a film noir detective series in the 1940s that always ended with the narrator saying, “The night has a million stories, and this has been one of them.” I suspect a great many of you reading this column have stories and experiences that had a profound impact on your life.

Would you be willing to share your story? It just might be the catalyst that changes someone else’s life. If you have such a story, please send it to me as my email address below. Keep it to about 250 words. We will select a story or two for a future issue of The Senior Side.

Thanks to the readers

The Senior Side column began a little over two years ago. The reception has been very gratifying. You have helped validate the need for a column that focused on senior issues. I received a call this week from a gentleman who said he felt that each article was being written expressly for him since they related strongly to his thinking and experience.

The Georgia Bulletin is a terrific medium for seniors since many of us are a generation that still reads print newspapers regularly. If you didn’t know, The Georgia Bulletin is also published on the internet, accessible online at www.georgiabulletin.org. Many of the articles are online there for reading and sharing.

Wherever I go, seniors tell me they are reading the column. I made a presentation at a parish recently, and a lady in the audience kept staring at me intensively. She came up during a break, pointed her finger and said, “You’re that guy, aren’t you? That guy who writes the column in the Georgia Bulletin?” I responded, “Yes, I’m that guy!”

God bless you and thank you for keeping The Senior Side column alive, interesting and a vital source of information for seniors. Let me hear from you. God bless.


Bill Clarke, former business executive, teacher and senior citizen, emerged from his third retirement to serve as the associate director of professional development for the archdiocesan Office of Formation and Discipleship. To send Bill your thoughts on this and other topics, send an email to wclarke@archatl.com.