Monday, May 10, 2010

What I Want to Be When I Grow Up: An Adult Still Looking for the Perfect Career

As far as I can remember, the careers I have wanted (in the general order I thought of them through my life) goes something like this:

Ballerina (I was 6, okay?)
Paleontologist (I loved dinosaurs, still do!)
Egyptologist (can you tell the King Tut exhibit was a big deal when I was a kid?)
Marine Biologist (studying whales/dolphins, of course)
unspecified scientist of some sort (I was confused about it but I was going to be a big deal in whatever field it was and discover something exciting)
Publicist/Event Coordinator

The last three are the fields I am still pursuing although lately the acting bug has caught me a little again (as a hobby, not a profession, at least).

It is interesting to note that until early high school, I was obsessed with science as a field (except for that unfortunate interest in ballet). In high school (10th grade), I took a drama class and caught the acting bug (which is when I switched to the humanities as an interest).

I think this was partly due to my love of reading and a really good experience with my drama class and partly due to my problems with Marine Biology. You see, when I was in 8th grade, I wanted to be a Marine Biologist. I was very dedicated to the study of Whales and Dolphins. I read a lot about it. I had grown up fascinated with Cousteau (he was my hero!) and had many books on sea life. I visited Sea World often. I did reports on fish. My parents, for an 8th grade graduation present, arranged for me to go for a two week camp on Catalina Island. There I would learn Scuba diving and Marine Biology.

The camp was a great experience for me in many ways. I generally had fun. Two things, however, are my main memories of it. One, I was terribly homesick. I had never been away from my parents for so long. Two, I got a terrible ear infection from scuba diving. This was a real blow. A Marine Biologist who cannot scuba dive? Worse, the ear infection left me so that even going to the bottom of the pool hurt. I can't get water in my ear to this day without annoyance.

I was an avid swimmer as a child; I was a member of the swim team and used to have imaginary tea parties at the bottom of the pool where I pretended I was a mermaid. As a child I worked to see how far I could swim in the pool without coming up for air. I was a water child. That changed when I got the bad swimmer's ear problem when learning to dive.

Worse, I found that my general nervousness about life translated to absolute terror over scuba diving. I was a nervous wreck while learning and often hyperventilated when in scuba gear. I think I would do better as an adult as I am actually much calmer about most things than I was as a child. However, I don't know that my ears could handle it even today. I don't swim as often as I used to because my ears still hurt. I miss swimming.

You can imagine how worried I was about being a Marine Biologist when I had failed to become a great scuba diver. In ninth grade it became worse. Now I not only had problems with my ears in the water but two more things happened. First, I had the option to take a Marine Biology class in high school and hated it. The teacher was awful and I could not stand dissection. Second, I met two Marine Biologists (a married couple) at an event and talked to them about my desire. They discouraged me. They said I was unlikely to be able to study whales or dolphins (saying everyone wants to study the cool stuff) and I would probably end up being like them, studying either snails or worms on the ocean floor (I can't remember which they did, now). Also, they told me that my field paid horribly and they didn't recommend it.

You can imagine how frustrated I was by this point. I no longer knew what I wanted to do. For years I had dreamed of Marine Biology. I spent a year or so having vague thoughts of science and imagining myself in a lab coat, discovering some wonderful thing (cure for cancer, anyone?). Meanwhile I had a wonderful English teacher who next year was taking on drama classes as well. Within a year, I had the acting bug.

I wonder sometimes how life might have been different for me had the Catalina camp not ended with an ear infection or if I had found more encouragement in 9th and 10th grade for my interest in Marine Biology.

Or if my interest in dinosaurs or hieroglyphics or King Tut had been more encouraged, what would I be doing now?

My love for acting brought me to do even more reading of the classics (I had always been a bookworm) and eventually led to my becoming an English major in college. By my sophomore year in college, I knew I wanted to teach literature. That is a long way from wanting to study undersea creatures.

Of course, today, I am 41 and unemployed. I have a graduate degree in English and years of teaching experience at the college level. Unfortunately, the economy makes it almost impossible to get a teaching job at a college right now (30% layoffs at our local schools!) and I am no longer certain what will make me happy.

When I was 10, it was expected that I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but, at the age of 41, I find that people are a little less tolerant.

It is funny how life turns out. I certainly never would have pictured where I am now in my life when I was a child. The funny thing is, I'm generally pretty happy. I've been very lucky. I was able to pursue education in a field I loved for a long time, with little worry about finances. My husband supported me, financially and emotionally, for years. Even now, when I had thought that I would be gainfully employed in my chosen field and be bringing in the good wages expected of a college professor, I can't say I am sorry that things turned out this way. It's been pretty great.

Sure, I'd like to have a good job now, but I still hope that it will come. It just won't be one in Marine Biology. I've come too far down one road to go back to the one I left all those years ago. When I was younger I could explore ANY option but now I have to stick to the options closer to the path I chose to follow. Anything I do today will be related to the fields I have studied as an adult.

The options narrow as we make choices. That is the way of life. I don't regret it, even as I look back and wonder, what would life have been like had I followed my hero, Cousteau, and had explored the oceans instead of exploring literature.......

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