John Roach

Roach: Living vicariously through the careers of others

"And I enjoy the hell out of it."

Something has changed. There was a time when my career dominated my life. Fly here. Shoot there. Meetings every hour. Conference calls. Write a script. Run a set. Examine the hieroglyphics on the balance sheet. On and on and on.

Given the fact that I’ve owned my own shop for 35 years, it is understandable that the hustle would dominate the internal to-do monologue we all have. Anyone who owns a business knows no work is guaranteed, so every day is about making it rain just a little more. The need to provide for family, and all the other families dependent on the success of the enterprise, is a dog that never stops barking. It is in your head when you struggle to sleep and it’s there when you open your eyes in the morning looking around your hotel room and trying to remember which city you’re in.

But slowly there is a shift. There is professional confidence that comes with solving the same problems time and again and resolving them a touch better at each turn. Business situations that once panicked you don’t take the toll they once did because eventually, after touching the hot stove multiple times, you learn that losing sleep requires a decision, not procrastination. 

And it is about age. At this stage of my life it is clear that I am far closer to the end of my professional life than the beginning. For good or bad, I have taken my shot. But this phase brings an unanticipated surprise, and it is this: I now live vicariously and joyously through the professional lives of young staffers and my working children. And I enjoy the hell out of it. 

This phenomenon is surprising for the simple reason that when you are immersed in the hustle, you never think you will age. But you do.

So now I watch and listen as young associates deftly handle a crisis decision. Or knock out a project that is just glorious. You marvel at their talent and you tell them so. Or when one daughter casually tells you she’s flying to London for a presentation while the other is packing for a production in Prague, and you’re excited but also happy it’s no longer you in a hotel far from home.

This career shift means that I now walk around and ask associates what I can do for them, for my greatest value is in wisdom and support.

This career stage requires constant examination of counsel versus silence. No one likes someone who is constantly pushing their wisdom because the best lessons are learned from experience, not from the grizzled.

But there are times when a word from a veteran has great value. I still hear the offerings of those who shaped my career. “Remember, John. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” “Hey, you’re the one who has to make a decision. So, make one.” “Let’s not confuse activity with achievement.” “Write shorter copy.” “Learn how to say ‘no,’ ” and finally, “All you have is your reputation.”

Our youngest adult child, JT, is at a particularly interesting career moment. He packed all he owned into a Jeep Cherokee and moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter. It was a decidedly high-risk play that his dad supported for the simple reason that you have to take your shot unless you want to live the rest of your life with regret. 

And now (apologies for shameless plug), after five years of starving and hustling, he has reached a tipping point. After passing auditions, JT is set to appear on a prime time NBC show called “Songland,” where he will sing and pitch his song to the gods of the music industry in front of millions.

And the older guy will be at home on the couch living vicariously through it all, caring not a whit about his obligations for tomorrow, but instead reveling at the sight of yet another young career being born.
And feeling honored to be a witness to it all.

Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Reach him at johneroach@mac.com. 


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