“Find the thing you do best in the world, and success will follow.” While growing up this was the advice my parents gave when I frequently asked how I would ever be able to decide upon a career. I was a young grade-schooler at the time but regardless, this advice seemed farfetched. Had my dad really decided that being the editor-in-chief of a text-book publishing company was the thing he did best? He travelled frequently and spoke very little about the daily grind or great fulfillment of his job. So, it was unclear how his choices could be used as signposts to me in the future as I searched for a satisfying career life.
My mom’s career was deeply important to her but equally opaque when connecting it to success or happiness. She had fought tooth and nail to complete her MSW after our move from the East coast to the Midwest, transferring her credits from Simmons College to IUPUI, the first of many “downgrades” she associated with our move to Indianapolis. With degree in hand, next up was her fight to work full-time. My grandparents (her in-laws) offered to send our parents money, to keep my mom next to hearth and home. She indignantly refused. One might naturally conclude that her prized ability to work full-time in the field of her choosing would lead to great satisfaction and pride. Right? Not so much. My mom’s job as a public school social worker seemed to bring her endless heartache and frustration.
All the players involved in this story, my parents, my two sisters, our standard poodle, and myself, would all agree that these were tough times. They were tougher yet when my dad’s job disappeared and my mom decided to open her own private practice specializing in child therapy. My parents’ marriage dissolved soon after the onset of these events but their career journeys were just beginning.
Fast forward thirty-plus years and it appears they actually followed their own advice. My dad who turns 80 in March is a certified Tai Chi instructor and has never been happier at work. On a daily basis, he teaches his fellow seniors in a sleepy college town. He loves what he does and I sense a quiet pride that he has found his path after much searching – from book publishing, to sales, to Tai Chi instructor, it was not an obvious or well-worn path, but he found it.
My mom’s path was more linear – from MSW to PhD in clinical social work – she created the private practice she dreamed of having when she was a school social worker. While she, like my dad, has passed the age most people consider retirement, she loves what she does. She’s scaled her private practice back but has no intentions of giving up a key piece of her identity – her work.
Finding your career path can be terribly confusing at times. Have you seen the bumper sticker “Not Lost, Just Wandering”? There may be some days of wandering as we search for our paths. Listen to your inner voice, find what you do best, and continue to forge ahead is what I tell my kids when they ask, “What should I do with my life?”