Monday, February 22, 2010

Is yours a job, a career or a calling?

Every so often, I like to ask my kids what they want to be when they grow up. I never know if I'll receive the same answer as I did a day, a week or a year ago. My nine-year-old daughter's most recent career choice is to become either a lawyer or a bartender. Why not both? I wondered. She can offer discounted legal services and dollar well drinks during happy hour.

As flippant as this sounds, however, how long did it really take some of us to decide on a career, let alone when we would actually be "grown up?" It seemed so much simpler back in our fathers' eras of working for G.E. or G.M. or 3M or IBM for 35 years, and retiring with a shiny, gold watch and even shinier pension. I'm sure it wasn't all that simple nor easy, but the word "loyalty" did hold a larger status among employers.

Today's youth don't seem to possess the luxury of feeling things out during those first two years of college, and then declaring a solid major and plowing full-steam-ahead toward a corporate executive position upon graduation. It seems that presently, kids' career paths begin in high school, with running start programs or international baccalaureate pursuits, and let's not even delve into the sporting arena, with AAU teams, personal trainers and traveling all-star teams encouraging specialization at a young age.

Even when I attended college almost thirty years ago, my peers and I were faced with choosing between a well-rounded, liberal arts education and vocational training, otherwise known as a business degree. It was during the full-blown glory of the Reagan years, and the young Republicans bloomed at the University of Washington campus like azaleas at the Masters. An individual had to be extremely cautious walking the halls of the business school, or his or her eyes risked being gashed out by some guy's pink, vampire-like IZOD collar.

The word "vicious" is probably a little strong to describe the atmosphere within my chosen major of accounting, but I'll also say we didn't all join hands with a big, purple dinosaur, either. One of my fondest memories was looking over at my adjacent classmate as he spied the numerals "2.5" across the top of my mid-term exam. With a satisfied smirk, he looked at me and simply stated, "Bummer." I came hauntingly close to removing my penny loafer and pile driving it into his mouth, the penny hurling from the shoe tongue and lodging against his uvula.

A common behavior among my fellow accounting pledges was to occasionally wear business suits to class. This indicated only one thing—that you had an interview that day with a big firm, like Price Waterhouse or Deloitte & Touche, and didn't have time to change before the big meeting. Color me bitter and/or jealous, as I never had the good fortune of wearing a suit to class, but, many years later,  I took a slight bit of pleasure when the largest accounting firm in the world, Arthur Andersen, imploded in a blaze of humiliation along with Enron, its partner in crime. Take that, you cream-of-the-crop scholars. Bummer.

Okay, time to pull the cord and jump off the vindictive bus. Honestly, I'll never regret the education and five-year accounting career I embarked upon following my graduation from the U.W. I don't think my subsequent twenty-year stint as a graphic designer could've been possible any other way, and I learned some valuable lessons about the difference between the words "job" and "career," as well as the difference between the words "career" and "calling."

Here's to all of us discovering our calling.

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