This week’s theme for the October Memoir and Backstory Challenge hosted by Jane Ann McLachlan is Gratitude and Regrets. On Sunday, I imagined a more adventurous childhood while appreciating the conventional one I had: Childhood Abroad (Not) — October Memoir Challenge. Today, I’m thinking about my early career choices.

A Road Not Traveled — Helping Career

cover of Karen by Marie KillileaFrom the time I read Karen by Marie Killilea in the 7th grade, I wanted to be a physical therapist. Karen was a girl with cerebral palsy who, with the help of physical therapists and others, developed her capabilities to be highly functional. I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up but I was desperate to help people and PT seemed like a good way to do it. My fantasy was that I would connect with my patients on a deep emotional level. Plus, the equipment was cool — like gymnastics.

During my freshman year in college, I volunteered at a hospital in the Physical Therapy unit. While wearing a pink smock, I wheeled patients from their rooms to the department. I quickly discovered that my shyness made it impossible to develop relationships with patients in the time that a physical therapist had with them.

My shyness disappeared on my 40th birthday. I swear, it was like a birthday present. What would my career have been like if I’d found a path to confident interactions early enough in life to continue toward a physical therapy degree in college?

I recently watched a PT work with mother-in-law after knee surgery. If I had stayed on the path toward PT a few years longer, I would have discovered another reason that it wasn’t a good career choice for me: I’m not good with physical stuff. I would have found the kind of observation and motor control required to be a good physical therapist very difficult.

I might have worked my way toward a different helping career, though. They hadn’t invented the profession “life coach” yet when I graduated from college, but I think I could have been good at that, maybe starting off as a career counselor at a high school or on a college campus.

The Road Taken — Computer Science

Displaying the product on the exhibit floor at SIGGRAPH in 1988. You can't tell from the scan, but the original photo is a hologram. I got to see lots of early technology in my years of work in the computer field.

Displaying the product on the exhibit floor at SIGGRAPH in 1988. You can’t tell from the scan, but the original photo is a hologram. I got to see lots of early technology in my years of work in the computer field.

My second choice, Computer Science, was designed to get me as far away from interpersonal interaction as possible. As a college major, Computer Science worked well for me because, at that level, it uses similar skills to solving pencil puzzles in one of those variety magazines, something I was pretty good at. In the workplace, though, I failed miserably. If you’ve heard about the combative managerial styles of Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos, you’ll understand why. The small company I worked for gave lip service to collegiality but it rewarded arrogance over pleasantness. Miss Congeniality, here, was like raw meat to sharks. As ill-suited as I was, however, computer science gave me much to be grateful for:

  • a salary that got me off to a good start in life and opened up other options early
  • my husband (I was on the interview committee that hired him into the same company — that’s how we met)
  • technology skills that supported every adventure since, including my library career

What careers might you have pursued under different circumstances?

Signature of Joy Weese Moll


Career Steps and Mis-steps — October Memoir Challenge — 7 Comments

  1. Wow! It must have been so exciting to be in technology at that time. (I hear that people were mercilessly competitive too, which would have been awful.) I worked at BPA as a student aide at the time. We had just gotten our first computer–a HUGE, room-sized contraption. I had a very very early word processor that really only typed that I tracked all the BPA government mileage and gas usage on. How times have changed!

    Funny how your two career choices were at opposite ends of the human engagement spectrum.

  2. I have a tough time picturing you in the computer field–though you are pretty savvy blog-wise and with all this internet business. Shows a natural affinity for it all I think–plus it is information which I think is up your alley. I understand the desire to want to directly help people as well. I think it’s good to let ourselves try these career paths out and then decide it’s not for us vs. not trying and having it be a big question mark in our lives.

  3. I love this subject because I have thought about this before. I may have pursued being a hairdresser, a radio disc jokey, studies world religions, or gone to Hollywood and worked in the industry doing just about anything.

  4. Interesting. I figured I’d become a financially-successful writer very soon after university (still waiting). My day job is teaching, but if I’d known I’d spend over a decade in a day job, I’d have picked advertizing instead of teaching, I think.

  5. I only wanted to be a writer all the time I was growing up. In university, I debated between psychology and English, finally settling on English – mostly, I think, because I was shy then, too. Psychology required exactly what you realized PT did – the ability to make quick intimate connections with people. But I was very academic, so I decided to become a university prof. Then got very sick while going for my M.A. Although I finished my M.A. I realized I couldn’t take on a PhD, with my health issues.

  6. Nice to have options available. My dream job growing up was to be a vet. My mom always instilled in me the idea that it was too tough to get into vet school. Instead I finish college, and work in a grocery store. I don’t live in regrets though. Had I stayed in college I wouldn’t have met my husband and thus had my son, how can I regret the path I chose?

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