When I was a junior in high school, my English teacher had us read “Waiting For Godot,” the play by Edward Albee.
If you are unfamiliar, the play involves two main characters who spend the entire play engaging in conversation while waiting for Godot to appear.
Spoiler alert - he doesn’t.
This was my introduction to the theatre of the absurd and I absolutely loved it. I loved that the play was open to interpretation, and my mind was spinning with ideas when we came together to discuss it.
Somewhere in that discussion Mrs. Hostetler asked us all what our individual “Godots” were. My friend Erin said her Godot was to be accepted to college. She did that and more, working now as a doctor in the Pacific Northwest.
My Godot was a book.
I was waiting to write a book.
At least that’s what I thought at the time. No, scratch that. That’s what I knew.
What I didn’t know was that the next 20 years of my life would reflect some level of the theatre of the absurd
There are vocations, and then there are jobs. I spent much of my time in high school and early college thinking about jobs. Then I took every single career test I could find. I looked around at all of my roommates and friends in college; they were education majors, physical therapy majors, occupational therapy, pre-med - they were all heading into helping professions, and most of them are still in those helping professions twenty years later.
But I was trying to reconcile several things: my love of writing, my innate desire to do work that felt important to me, and the ultimate goal of helping people. On paper, that meant I should have been a teacher. But one semester at Erie’s Cathedral Prep, the all boys’ Catholic High School, fixed that.
But if you didn’t teach with an English degree, what did you do?
Well, I can only tell you what I did.
I followed my curiosity. And I’m privileged that I was able to do that. Because as much as I am proud of the fact that I finally found my vocational calling at 39 years old, I also need to be realistic about a few things. First of all, I never made much money in any of my jobs. So when I decided to become a personal trainer, I didn’t throw some high salary job to the side to do so. And second, I have a spouse with a stable job and benefits who has supported me through every existential crisis (and 14 jobs) during our time together. I’ve had double-digit jobs, she’s had two.
I don’t discount that.
I also made a lot of decisions by default. Nothing felt very clear to me, and in the absence of clarity I said yes whatever opportunities came around. So while I followed my curiosity, I was also indecisive, afraid of job commitment, and struggled with feelings of worthlessness that can come along with bouts of depression.
Depending on the circumstance - life can feel hard.
As I come up on my three-year anniversary at Spurling, and reflect on how fortunate I am to be in a calling and not a job these past three years, I can only offer some very basic advice.
1. Don’t confuse a job with a purpose
Jobs make you money. A purpose fills you in a way that’s indescribable. It is my sincere hope that you can experience both. I am not shy about the 29 jobs I’ve had, most of which have made me money since I graduated college in 1999. But I’ve had only a few select “jobs” that have given me purpose. And those jobs have been writing and coaching.
2. Don’t follow your passion, follow your curiosity
Liz Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) speaks about this - how she followed her passion and how some woman during one of her speeches was horrified because life is never so easy as following your passion. But the most interesting people she knows, according to Gilbert, are the people whom have followed their curiosity and done whatever has been asked of them.
I would hope I might qualify as interesting, because I have had the luxury of following my curiosity. But while I appreciate Gilbert’s distinguishing between following a curiosity and a passion, I still think it important to recognize that I A: did not have to choose between leaving a high paying job and pursuing a new career and B: had a partner who made a solid income and whose benefits I could use. So while many people out there may want to ditch their jobs out of boredom, I must confess that circumstances allowed me to do so more easily than other’s might.
3. Be authentic to you
I wish I could think of something more glamorous to write here, but the reality is this: be true to you, whomever you are. I don’t know what that will mean for you. And I want to appreciate that I am fortunate to be able to enjoy the opportunity to be authentic to me. No strings attached.