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
From 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
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?