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    Been There, Done That: Nine Decades And Counting By Alice Herb: Three Plus Careers

    By Alice Herb


    I’m often asked how I managed to have three distinct careers during my professional life. I hadn’t actually ever thought about it seriously until I was asked to share my story. As I started thinking about it, I realized a few years ago I had seamlessly started a fourth career – as a writer.


    After all, I have been writing this blog for several years and I have a rough copy of a memoir on which I still have to do a final edit. That I would start a new major enterprise in my late 80’s is as outrageous as if I were training to be a race car driver. (The fact is, I would have loved being a race car driver but I was never good enough and I never had the guts or chutzpah to try.)


    Back to why I would want to tell you about how I managed three careers. I find that most people are too afraid to try something new and possibly risky when the present is secure – even if their current life is unchallenging, boring, and unpleasant. It does take a bit of “what the hell” to venture out, but it’s not nearly as scary as it seems. Actually, my first career chose me. As a little girl, I had wanted to be either a hairdresser or a pilot. I dreamed of many different ways to make money but I never thought of becoming an ATTORNEY. Yet as college freshmen, we were given aptitude tests. I found the test to be so absurd and sexist that I ended up being tagged as someone who should aspire to be an aeronautical engineer. Why? Because the multiple-choice questions for women went something like this: Would you rather cook? Clean your house? Iron? Or tinker with an airplane motor? For me, the last was by far the most attractive. Clearly, being a FEMALE in Aeronautical Engineering in the 1950s was ridiculous. Besides, I had no interest or aptitude for science or math. 


    My advisor apparently labored through my files and suggested I should consider LAW. I was very flattered and called my Dad, who was overjoyed. “You are so like your grandfather,” he exclaimed. He was all in. And so I began a path toward law school and was encouraged to skip my senior year of college and start law school a year early. Now that was fantastic. Acceptance in law school was equally outrageous. But I was accepted and ended up graduating from law school, taking the Bar Exam, passing, and being sworn in as an ATTORNEY. Not an easy task for a woman in that very sexist time. I loved reading and debating the law but the kinds of legal jobs for women were disheartening. I did have some wonderful and weird times, met some great and not-so-great people, and even had some unexpected successes, but when my first husband died, I decided to try what he had been doing – JOURNALISM. 


    I was unfazed that I had no training in newsgathering but did eventually connect with a major television network to work on coverage of an off-year election– a job of 3 months! By this time my parents and close friends wanted to have me committed. Here I was, an experienced member of the legal community, responsible for two small children, and was stepping away from that into accepting a lower-paying job. To everyone’s surprise, I managed to work for that network for 15 years, rising to the ranks of writer, director, and producer. I then did freelance work and ultimately ended up working as a producer of a cable series for the next year and a half. 


    However, it was my extra job as a TV news adjunct at Columbia Journalism School that enticed me into the world of BIOETHICS. My students and I came to interview a transplant surgeon. While they were setting up the camera, etc, I distracted him by asking him about his work. I became so excited about this cutting-edge field – bioethics – that I began looking for an opening to use my past experience and maturity to help make a difference. In what seemed like just a short time, I connected with a young woman who was working in the field and was now on maternity leave – now one of my dearest friends. She helped me sign on as an intern at the ripe old age of 54. I remained in that profession for close to 30 years, earning a Master in Law and ultimately a promotion to a Clinical Professorship.


    Now that I am ostensibly retired, I decided to write my memoir because so many people urged me to share my unorthodox life. I was happy to oblige but I still have work to do on that before publishing. Meanwhile, I am knee-deep in my blog for agebuzz. I love doing it, hearing from my readers, and reminiscing about my strange and weird, bitter/sweet life. But I will not complain. It has certainly been an unusual journey. 


    I sometimes wonder where I would be as a pilot, hairdresser, attorney, TV journalist, bioethicist, or writer had I stayed with any one of them. I might have been more successful, but it wouldn’t have been half as interesting, educational, or fun. I really don’t regret any of it. I think to make the most of life, one does have to take chances. And the chances I took never left me homeless, in debt, or bored. So if you have an ambition, even at an advanced age, take a chance and have some fascinating times.


    Alice Herb is a retired attorney, journalist, and bioethics consultant. Having reached the age of 90+, she’s more than ready to share her experiences and opinions with agebuzz readers. Want to comment on something she’s said? She welcomes your feedback at [email protected].

    And do you have something you’d like to say? Let us know by contacting us at [email protected].