Dalene Bickel is a ghostwriter, editor and speaker who served as coauthor of Charles’ book, Driving Force: The X-Plus Factor to My Success.
Charles Johnston, at age 82, has no intention of slowing down or restricting his future pursuits. Throughout his life he has recognized the joys and benefits of staying active and trying new things, and is a firm believer that life is what you make of it. You can choose to allow circumstances and the limiting beliefs of others define you or you can choose to pursue your own goals and take advantage of opportunities that arise. He has always chosen the latter.
Charles grew up in multicultural Columbus, Ohio following the Great Depression in an untraditional home: his mother was a divorced working woman who owned her own home and was a union representative for 300 employees. “A woman ahead of her time,” Charles says.
His parents’ absence, however, allowed him to spend more time on individual pursuits than school. The resulting consequences ultimately led him to a moment of decision: remain on the same life trajectory or seek out a new frontier.
So, at age fourteen, Charles seized the opportunity to join the National Guard and dropped out of high school. “If you looked 17, you were considered 17,” he explains.
Opportunities for Advancement
Following the National Guard, Charles continued on into the Air Force, the Army and the corporate workforce. Work was where he found an outlet for his analytical mind; it was the constant challenge of discovering solutions and making things work in a consistent manner that satisfied him.
Driven by a passion to continually push himself to achieve more (something he later termed “The X-Plus Factor”), he became a consummate company man whose goal in life was to rise through the ranks. Yet despite his exceptional work ethic and documented results, professional advancement continued to pass him by. Eventually, he realized that his lack of a high school diploma was holding him back.
At that point, he took the necessary steps to obtain his high school GED and followed it up by enrolling in night classes to earn his undergraduate degree. After several years, at the age of forty-two, he earned his college diploma. Almost immediately, promotions began coming his way and he ultimately earned the position of area manager of manufacturing.
Lifelong Learning Opportunities
Life at any age has its share of challenges, but never was it more difficult for Charles than immediately after his retirement. Without a job, he found himself without a sense of purpose. “All of a sudden, there I was: no longer needed, no one calling me, no longer having everything at my fingertips, no need to make any important decisions, and worst of all, no longer being at the top. My pride had been immediately—and painfully—stripped away.”
In a new city and without a meaningful schedule, Charles soon found himself bored and turned to alcohol. But even while in the grips of addiction, he found within himself enough fortitude to recognize he had a problem…and sought help.
Realizing that he could no longer wallow in self-pity and that he had to do something productive, he enrolled in lifelong learning courses at his local community college. True to form, he immersed himself in each of the classes and found renewed joy and a sense of accomplishment.
Culinary school served him well, as he continues to use the skills and processes he learned there. His wife Valerie freely admits that he is the cook in their home, and he is mindful of using fresh ingredients. Good nutrition and exercise, Charles believes, have been instrumental to he and his wife’s longevity and active lifestyle.
Classes in photography, however, were what truly captured Charles’ heart and imagination. While in his seventies, he established a professional-grade photo studio in his home, replete with pull-down backdrops and soft-box lights, that he continues to use on an almost daily basis. He has never billed himself as a professional photographer and never charges his subjects for their photos; he just enjoys sharing his craft with others.
Yet he still felt compelled to do more with his acquired knowledge and overall life experience. After taking a couple of creative writing courses, he decided to write his life story. “Not just for my children,” he says, “but especially for me. To help me get it all out of my head and have my life make sense.” The result is his book, Driving Force: The X-Plus Factor to My Success, which he self-published in November 2016.
Now that his life story is complete, his next project is a book about mute swans and he is considering skydiving. “There’s still much to experience,” he says.
How about you? Share your biggest accomplishment or future goal in the comments!