Not long ago it occurred to me that I might make a damn good dog trainer. It would be my fourth career change, each one accompanied by a different sweet little bit of patter to justify my decision – to others and myself.
The dog trainer thing may not be something I’ll pursue. It came to me when I was sick last winter and was clicking through a particularly reluctant, jerky and uninspiring TV screen guide. Frustrated, I settled for a marathon of “Dog Whisperer” episodes, and became enthralled, perhaps because of medication I was taking. As Cesar soothed one troubled dog after another, I began thinking “I could that”. And then thinking “No, seriously, I could do that.”
See, for me the hurdle here has always been more than finances, education and whether you’ll really like “working with your hands” or “giving back”. It’s about the reason. It’s not about any satisfaction from transforming snarling pit bulls to happy lap dogs, its about explaining it to your current boss, an ambitious couple you just met at a party or your wife. And it’s about convincing yourself as you step on the elevator with the box of stuff from your desk and a final paycheck.
My choices — from newspaper editor, to freelance illustrator, to a Hopkins-trained head of a middle school counseling department — caused me to gird myself with justification. In the past, career shifts meant a lack of conviction or nuttiness. It hinted at a person with too many periodicals in their house, and too many cats.
Lots of people thought about changing careers – work for themselves in slippers all day or spend more time with the kids, or themselves as they help people they’ve seen in National Geographic or Shelby Lee Adams photos. But they didn’t want to look like idiots and really do it
But things have changed. Now it’s acceptable, even advisable and trendy. Look at ads for insurance, dental hygiene and constipation relief — all full of beaming people living their dreams and starting cup cake bakeries and bike shops and organic farms. Slick, teen-targeted phone ads also hint at such fluidity, but usually the kid is starting his or her smart new own online service or rock band.
This has to be a good thing – all these people self-fulfilled and doing what they love, so many of them helping others and providing us with healthy food and well-tuned bikes. But it also worries me just a bit.
What if the surgeons at Hopkins who have skillfully operated on me (and may have to in the future) decide invidually that they want to deliver mail, build furniture or carve chickens rather than me. What if some key state department operative, negotiating with an informer for information about a horribly dangerous sleeper cell decides he just wants to write porn. What if they folks really studying and preventing horrible infectious disease decide to teach 7th grade science or become personal trainers.
Wait, maybe there is a career here – speaking about and advocating for the new stick-to-itiveness. There might even be a book deal….