Pipe Dreams

This article first appeared on HumbleDollar.com please visit the sight and check out the many comments. I think you will find them interesting.

Richard Quinn  |  Mar 20, 2023

AS A TEENAGER, I wanted to be an architect. I took six years of mechanical drawing during junior and senior high school, and I was good at it, earning nearly all As.

At another time, in my 30s, I thought about becoming a lawyer. People told me I’d make a good one. A lawyer’s opinion seemed to carry more weight, even when the subject was unrelated to legal matters.

I also wanted to play a musical instrument. All my children played more than one in school, and a couple kept at it through college and after.

I often thought it would be cool to speak another language. I was always amazed that, throughout Europe, it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t speak English. Russia is the exception.

The thing is, I accomplished none of these goals, although in some parts of the U.S., I’ve been told speaking New Jersey is a foreign language. Same to you, Tex.

When I was in high school, I was advised to take general courses because I wasn’t going to college. That meant basic math, bookkeeping, typing, English, history and shop. You should see the copper ashtray and wooden salad bowl I made. Years later, I had to take remedial courses to begin college.

Not pursuing architecture may have been a good thing. My son started college in architecture and finished as a civil engineer—too much math for me.

Being a lawyer was a pipe dream. I doubt I had the necessary patience. Besides, after spending nine years of nights and weekends getting a bachelor’s degree, I was burned out. More years of night law school would have been too much for me, although I know at least two colleagues who managed it.

As far as playing an instrument goes, I never actually tried beyond a plastic trumpet at age 10—but I still think it would be cool. A couple of years ago, I met a woman in Starbucks who offered to teach me to play the bagpipes. I love to hear Amazing Grace played on the pipes. You need a lot of hot air for that instrument and, of course, that’s not me.

I toyed with going to Berlitz to learn a language. I even tried a language app on my iPad, but to no avail.

Here I am, going on 80, and I’ve achieved none of my youthful dreams. My quest after high school was to look for a job, any job, just as my father had done.

Whose fault is this? My parents, who didn’t guide or encourage me, or my school counselors? Not my wife. She encouraged me to learn a language and said she would support me going—or at least trying—law school.

No, I’m responsible. I made all the decisions and excuses. I changed direction. I could have overcome every obstacle. I could have found a way, as many others do. But I didn’t.

By most measures, I did better than okay. I’m fortunate, but it could have turned out differently.

These days, many people claim to be victims. They’re told that opportunities are few, and that the system is rigged. Many Americans see only a bleak financial future, yet seem to do little about it.

Times are tough, people tell me. Really? Get out your history book and go back a century or more. Life in America—and the world—has been much more challenging. There have been multiple wars, financial collapses, depressions, high inflation and more.

Many of the great achievers who changed the world had to overcome physical or other obstacles. Many recovered from early failures, and most started with next to nothing.

Don’t let your dreams slip by, and don’t let anyone offer you excuses or tell you what you can’t do. Reject being a victim, and don’t blame the system. Don’t get derailed envying others, many of whom worked hard and overcame obstacles. More than anything else, it’s the decisions we make—or don’t make—that determine our life’s trajectory and financial security. And that’s a fact.


  1. Dick
    I love reading your life stories. This one was very poignant. The title is fitting in more ways than one.
    Cousin Eleanor

    Sent from my iPhone


    1. Thanks, A new book will be out next month. I wrote one chapter about my life. We have a copy of the book to give you.


  2. Re: welfare fallacy?.
    Speaking of fallacies, I may have mentioned here before the opinion of California Gov. Jerry Brown.

    We need more welfare, not less.
    Due mainly to industrialization we can produce much more now with less labor. Agriculture may be the best example. What once required eighty percent of the population to produce now only requires two percent.
    We need things; like food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, entertainment, security, etc. We do not “need” jobs, per se.

    “The fallacy of production for its own sake.”

    “Although production is essential to consumption, let’s not put the proverbial cart before the horse. We produce in order that we may consume, not the other way around.”

    “A bad economist who falls prey to this ancient fallacy is like the fabled pharaoh who thought pyramid-building was healthy in and of itself; or the politician who promotes leaf-raking where there are no leaves to be raked, just to keep people “busy.”

    Busy work. In the railroads they called it featherbedding. In the Navy we called it make-work. Either way, it is a waste of time and resources. Better to pay a person to stay home, like they paid my sister and her husband –not– to plant crops.* You could use the time to learn to play guitar.

    If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a hundred times. It’s not socialism, it’s enlightened self interest.

    * Thousands, if not hundreds of thousands over fifty years.


  3. Interesting aside; my last two years of high school were work/study half days as a mechanical draftsman, and I won a partial scholarship for architectural engineering technology. Sidelined by two years in Vietnam.
    Blue water Navy, I learned the electrical trade and that defined the rest of my life.*

    Your life trajectory and many of the others here and on the Humble Dollar are encouraging, but…
    I have a fear that some have the attitude that if I can do it, so can you. This may have some policy implications in the near future. Apparently, Social Security and Medicare cuts are now off the table. Somethings gotta give, and indications are it will be many of the social welfare programs. Why not? America is the land of individual responsibility. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. I did it, why can’t you? (Math, that’s why.)

    I have been trying to express the premise that in America, anyone who makes the effort can become financially successful, but everyone can’t. What works for the individual may not work for the group. I remember the concept from several econ classes, but had trouble finding the reference. It’s called the fallacy of composition. What works for the individual may not work for the group.
    The example has often been given of one who stands up during a football game. True, he will be able to see better, but if everyone else stands up too, the view of many individual spectators will probably worsen.

    The poor, as a group, will always be with us and require income redistribution. More, not less. I just glanced at an article claiming the rich are getting richer and the poor… are actually getting richer also (slightly). This is no time to increase the income inequality. Bernie has a point. Tax the rich, even the semi rich. Tax me. Tax you. Even many of today’s rich and middle class agree. I’ve worked hard, as they say, and I have been lucky. Abstractly, literally they could double my federal income tax (state too, now that I think about it) and I could visualise that money going to my sisters (literally) or others like them. I have zero problem with that.

    * Much later, I took the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory and discovered I was a near perfect match, and never regretted the move. No Doctor here. The world needs electricians.


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