No one ever asked me that question, which was a damn good thing because I didn’t have a clue. I don’t think I was alone in this. Most people don’t fall into the category of precocious ten-year olds who say they are going to be a marine biologist then grow up to become one. I didn’t have a clue when I entered high school. I didn’t have a clue when I finished high school. I still didn’t have a clue after working for a year but I decided to go to community college, which was cheap or possibly free back then because, at that time, they called it vocational school.
“Why do you want to be a secretary?” I was asked this question at my entrance interview to a one-year crash course in office management. A course that included typing, short hand, book keeping, business English and how to make file folders look pretty or perfect or businesslike or whatever it was we did in that class. “I don’t,” I replied. “I just want to pick up some skills so I can get a decent job until I figure out what I want to do.” I was very surprised when they let me into the program. So I went, did a bit of shit disturbing with my friend Darlene, had a lot of fun, never did learn to spell no matter how hard they tried to teach me and finally became a secretary. Four years later, bored stiff while working as one of two secretaries for the president at a local university, I discovered the shelf of Canada-wide course calendars in the Registrar’s Office. I was twenty three and it was time for a career change.
My mother wanted me to be a nurse. She had a thing for a crisp white uniform and because she didn’t become one herself, she wanted me to live her dream. A NURSE! ME! A person who ruminated on things for obsessively long periods of time. A person who really, really, really didn’t like waiting on other people. And a person who didn’t like to be told what to do. A Nurse! You have got to be kidding. Nothing against nurses. I just wasn’t cut out to be one. Not to mention that I had spent a few young years working part-time at a medical clinic that had its share of cocky physicians with a god complex. There was no effing way I wanted to spend my life around doctors unless I could be a doctor and that certainly wouldn’t work with my science-challenged brain.
To put it all in prospective, I grew up in rural Nova Scotia in the 60’s and 70’s. A place and time when options for women were usually limited to teaching, nursing and office work. The other option was to become a pharmacist. Pharmacists run in my family. My mother became a pharmacist. My birth father was a pharmacist. I have an uncle who was a pharmacist and one of my older brothers became a pharmacist. Pill counters and drug runners. (Ok drug store runners. There is a difference.) But I was not interested. Plus, I was going into debt for my own education, so I felt I had the right to choose what, when and where.
Well I disappointed my mother and I am sure she never forgave me. It was all down hill from there. So I really have a problem with parents who think their kids should have it all figured out; and if they don’t, feel it is ok to push them to do something that they probably won’t like. I have a friend who’s son liked computers and was a bit of a geek, which meant he was a nice kid who was smart. The kids in this family were expected to go to university directly out of high school, so we’re talking seventeen or eighteen years old. They decided that this kid should take science. After all, he looked the part. A year later these parents were lamenting over the waste of money for their son’s first year of university because he wanted to change majors. He wanted to study business. He once told me that he had always liked business.
Then there were the parents in my circle who had a daughter that wanted to study science, and they tried to talk her out of it because she was a girl. Honestly, I nearly shit my pants when I heard this. Luckily she got her way, but in the end she followed her mother and became a stay-at-home mom. She has a very opinionated old-fashioned mother.
Another kid I know, who was expected to go directly to university, spent two years partying instead of working on the business degree that his father wanted him to get before he was finally able to quit. This kid is now a successful plumber with his own business. He just needed the time to figure it all out.
These lucky kids had parents paying for their education. But perhaps because of that, some of these kids didn’t want to disappoint their parents by insisting they get to choose their own careers. Or by waiting until they felt more sure about what they wanted to do. Honestly, what’s the rush to send kids right out of high school to university. If sixty is the new fifty, then eighteen could very well be the new twelve. How many twelve year olds are ready to make those kinds of life decisions?
Over the years, I changed my career and added to my education several times. With each job, I learned new skills and something more about myself. To this day, I still use skills from my first post secondary venture of office management, though short hand and pretty file folders are not among them. Typing has turned out to be one of the best things I have ever learned. How to use a comma is also a useful skill. Then there are things like designing and marketing and writing. Skills that I picked up through further education and during my career journey. Things I had no idea I had an aptitude for at seventeen. I was a very late bloomer. My point is the most of us don’t know what we will end up doing in life. It is normal to change careers these days. My Osteopath used to be a medical sales rep who went back to school in his fifties to change his career. That is admirable.
This is what I told my son, also a late bloomer: Take your time. You are never too old to change your mind, change your career or go back to school.
Thank you for reading.
Photo: Tanaphong Toochinda, Unsplash