When I was in the eighth grade, my junior high school administration decided to create clubs focused on career and professional choices. The idea was to bring professionals from the community into the school to tell us about their career fields and afford us an opportunity to ask questions about their daily grind. I joined the modeling club and the interior decorating club. I remember a lady who worked for a local department store spoke to us about the joys of working with modeling boards in her store. We learned about how they selected the women and children who participated in their store fashion shows. The idea of wearing new clothes and receiving discounts on them seemed pretty cool to me.
One day, during our interior decorator meeting, a woman from a different department store visited us to tell us about her life as a decorator. She explained how she assisted people in the store and at their homes or businesses with decorating decisions. She talked about helping clients create an atmosphere that would be compatible with their personality, company, or group. My heart was happy about looking at color palates and selecting colors to set the desired mood or invoke a particular emotion. I began to dream about using my creative juices to cultivate cozy, warm spaces for families using comfy chairs and sofas and dark wood accents. I could not wait to get home to tell my parents that I had decided on my career path.
Well, dinner time arrived and I sat at the table with my mom and dad. My dad always wanted to know how my school day went. With a smile on my face and excitement oozing from my insides I said, “Great! I know what I want to be when I grow up now!” My parents said, “Really?!” I couldn’t wait to tell them the excellent news. “I want to be an interior decorator.” My proclamation was met with silence coupled with looks of shock. After their nonverbal communication of amazement and confusion, my father spoke. He said, “You can’t make no damn money decorating nobody’s house.” Can you say dream crusher?!
He didn’t mean to crush my dream. He was doing what he thought was best for me. He told me how smart I was and how I was so good in math and science and how I could be anything I wanted to be. Haha. I guess that meant anything except a decorator. He encouraged me to consider obtaining a teaching certificate so that I would “have something to fall back on.” His rationalization continued with dialogue about how there was only one decorator at one or two stores in Montgomery and I would have a hard time getting either one of those jobs if those two ladies ever retired. For some reason he never considered that I could live and work in a city other than Montgomery and I often wonder what he would say if he could see all the money being made by decorators of popular television network shows today.
As a result of that conversation, I tossed the idea of becoming an interior decorator, but not my passion about colors, fabrics, textures, and furniture. I dismissed the decorating ideas and focused on my math and science skill sets. I decided I would be an engineer. After two years of engineering school, I called my father to ask if I could give up my scholarship, change my major to English, and use the other side of my brain to make my soul happy. He agreed and gave me his blessing with the caveat that I should consider obtaining a teaching certificate as a back up plan. I can smile about it now, but the back up plan talk feel on deaf ears back then. Haha. Maybe my father knew that my life would lead me to be a villager for a number of children later in my life. Just maybe he had an inkling that I would need the professional education training that I would receive if I sought after that teaching certificate that he believed would create security for me. I could not argue with the fact that he and my mother and my siblings were excellent teachers and teaching certificates served them and many young people well. In spite of his loving wisdom, I was not trying to extend my undergraduate college career beyond four years. I had things to do and places to go.
Although I felt like he crushed my dream, I know that he believed he was the voice of wisdom I needed to hear. His response shaped my decision about how I would handle the discussions with my kids when they came with questions about career decisions or when they came bursting with excitement about their career visions. Instead of telling them that their decision should be based on the amount of money they could earn or limiting their dreams because of perceived limitations in a seemingly over saturated market, I told them to think about their passions. I advised my kids to select career paths based on a two criteria: their passions and the calling on their lives. I tell my kids to pick career fields that they enjoy because regardless of the amount of money they make they will always feel rewarded from their work and they will most often be glad to get up and go to work every day. Additionally, I advised my kids to let challenges in their studies or school environments spark them to think outside of the realm of what seems normal for their chosen field or group. For example, if you chose professional school and you don’t get selected to work in an office in the preferred field right out of school or you figure out you really could care less about wearing suits, pantyhose, and heels every day, think about other places where people with the same training and skill sets can work. While some people plan career path with great detail and find that things line up just as they plan, that is not everyone’s testimony and it certainly was not my testimony.
I am that student who went to professional school and bought into the dream of seeking work in a traditional office. I found that my heart was not passionate about the stiff, rigid, formal environments in which I worked even though I loved the academic pursuits. What I found during my sabbatical from the career pursuits is that my passion and calling was to be a villager for young people. I was most happy and satisfied when my kids were with me and when I was driving the “kid kab” for any kids who needed a safe ride home or to the school. I have learned that when you operate within your passion wheel and the calling of service to mankind that rests in your spirit it will be obvious to others. As a result, more opportunities will arise for you to hone the skills needed to make you the best at whatever you love to do.
As I watch my kids sort through their options for career paths, I had to be very careful to support them through the exercise of decision making on a career field. We had to discuss which colleges offered compatible fields of study. I suggested that their ability to realize their dream be a primary consideration and not selecting a college or high education situation based on the school location or the colors or the mascot or what other people say you are “good at” or the celebrity graduates from said school. I think my kids have demonstrated that classes are much more interesting when you are studying subject matter that interests you. When you enjoy your field of study, the grades are better. In addition, you won’t describe success in terms of how many pay checks you have received, but rather how you have impacted people in your space.
Finally, I told my kids the story of my dream of decorating and their grandfather’s response. I admitted to them that his response shaped my thoughts about dreaming and chasing goals that other people believe unattainable or they don’t believe the dream makes sense for you. I encourage my kids and other people’s kids to dream outside of the neighborhood and be the first in your hood to do something excellent that will inspire others to dream big and achieve. Encourage your children and those around them to be amazingly fabulous while instilling in them the belief that you will be a safety net for them as they experiment with hobbies, classes, sports, clubs, community service events, and uncertainty while they work to figure out. Although I never got a teaching certificate, my father was correct that I would spend most of my life being a villager for young people. He was probably right about a little girl who remained in a small town in Alabama not becoming the next great designer at a local department store. I am thankful that his comment forced me to think larger than my childhood brain knew that it could and he made me believe that he would support me through any choice I made. Ultimately, I knew that he was proud of me just as I am of the kiddos I raised.