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Choosing a Career, Choosing a Life

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My daughter keeps nagging me about what I wanted to be when I grew up. When I tell her about my dream to be a stay-at-home mother and write and illustrate children’s books, she says, “I think there was a greater desire.” When I tell her about how I wanted to be a famous writer, she says, “That’s really hard to do, didn’t you know that? It’s easier if you already are famous or if you grew up in a famous family.”

I don’t know why she keeps asking as if she hopes I will come up with the right answer. What is the right answer?

When you are growing up, you start to try and figure your life out. You look to the adults in your life for direction. You examine their choices to see if they might work for you. Then you go around and ask again and again until you have to figure it out yourself.

My parents didn’t offer me any clues to what I wanted to be when I grew up. I discovered my dreams through books. I remember being my daughter’s age and wanting to be a writer. I remember entering my short stories in contests I found in the classified section of Writer’s Digest. My mother bought a subscription, and she bought the typewriter, the paper, and the postage. Sometimes she even listened to me as I edited my work. She even took me to the bank to cash my checks.

I try to do the same for my daughter, who wants a different life than the one I have. Last week, we sat down and looked at the job listings for the FBI and CIA. My daughter became discouraged when she discovered the Research Analyst position she wanted required at least a Master’s degree. That’s more education than she thought was required. My husband tried to explain to her that regardless of whether you start out at the bottom and work your way up through experience or bypass the entry-level positions through obtaining advanced degrees, you have to pay your dues. You cannot immediately have the dream job unless your dream job has no requirements.

I remember feeling discouraged too, but for different reasons. I fast-tracked my way through high school, shunning dates and school dances for opportunities to attend Northwestern University’s Cherub program and to work for the San Jose Mercury News. I also remember feeling burnt out and disillusioned by the workforce. Having a certificate from one of the nation’s best universities hanging on my wall and seeing my byline in one of California’s largest daily newspapers did not fill the emptiness within me.

For at the end of the day, all any of us wants after our basic human needs are met is to be loved.

Work will never love you.

As long as my daughter understands this elemental truth, whatever she decides to do with her time, talent, and education will be sufficient. If not, she’s in for a long journey of discovery, like I had.

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