Season of Thanks
Seven Minnesotans share their stories of hardship—and how those challenges shaped them for the better
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Work That Matters
David Buck, Minneapolis
In 2006, I was working as a project manager for a real-estate developer. One day, my boss asked to see me. I thought he was going to compliment me on something; I’d just been given a hefty raise. But he wanted to talk because he had to let me go. I thought, “I can’t believe this is happening.” But it was. I called my wife, and I went home. My 8- and 10-year-old boys were there. I could tell from their faces that their mom had already told them. It was a sad, sad day.
I gave myself some time to get over the shock. I had to fight the urge to get a job—any job—to replace that income as quickly as possible. Something told me to take a step back. My wife supported me in this. At the time, she had a job she really liked; she’d come home and tell me about all the important things she was doing. I was envious. Long ago I had lost interest in my job. I wanted to find a career I really cared about, one that I wouldn’t want to escape from at the traditional retirement age.
I decided to take the summer to focus on what I really wanted to do. I did some journaling.
I met with career counselors, took assessments, read books, met with my minister, had coffee with friends. One of the people I met with was Jan Hively, Civic Ventures Purpose Prize fellow and founder of the Vital Aging Network. She pointed out I wasn’t alone, that there were many people my age—I’m 50—struggling to find meaning in their careers.
By the end of summer, with Jan’s support, I had come up with the idea to establish a nonprofit networking and support organization to help people at midlife find careers that support their desires for meaningful, vibrant lives.
Today, SHiFT hosts twice-monthly forums to help members find inspiration in their searches for meaningful employment. At first, I hosted gatherings at a local coffee shop, but word spread, and quickly our meetings grew to 50 or 60 attendees. Our approach is really taking off, especially with the baby-boomer generation. We are looking for funding, writing grant proposals, and developing programming to help members navigate the stages of midlife transition.
I’m only making a little bit of money at this, but I’ve never felt happier.
Out of Many, One
James Rosenbaum, Minneapolis
My grandparents were European Jews who moved between Austria and Romania, depending on who had won the last war, to avoid the pogroms. They came to the United States in the early 1900s, eventually making their way to Minnesota. They were naturalized here, so I didn’t have to be.
I was raised in St. Paul. Before retiring a few months ago, I was a U.S. district judge for 25 years. Part of my job was to officiate at naturalization ceremonies, one of my favorite responsibilities.
No matter what your political persuasion, these ceremonies are moving. Each group that’s being welcomed into the country looks like a snapshot of world politics. Right now we are getting many Somalis and East Africans. A couple of years ago, we had a large number of people from the republics that emerged after the fall of the Soviet Union. Before that, there were the “boat people” from Vietnam: They didn’t know what was in front of them, but they got in their boats, putting everything on the line to get to the United States. There are also new citizens from Norway, Britain, or Canada, but most of the people I naturalized paid in blood to become Americans.
I was expected to give a short speech at the ceremonies. I always said something like, “Look around you: When this ceremony is over, you will be just as American as anybody else here.” If it was held around an election, I’d tell them that, though I had no idea who was going to win, I did know that the next morning the banks would still be open, government offices would still be operating,
and there wouldn’t be armed soldiers on the street corners. If I spoke around the time of the Olympics, I would say, “Watch an Olympic team from China. See how all the players look the same? That’s because they’re all Chinese. If you look at an American team, you’ll see a polyglot of colors and races, but they are all American. In the past, people might have thought such a mixture was a weakness, but the truth is, that’s what makes this country strong.”
I think it’s a blessing to be able to do this job. It reminds a person of the principles this country was built on, and no matter how cynical you might be about all the “proud to be an American” jingoism, to see the bedrock of our country played out in living color is truly inspirational. I’ve been tremendously lucky to have helped new citizens achieve this very important milestone in their lives, and for that, I’m thankful.