About a week before school let out, Aden had one last field trip. She got to participate in a large scale Junior Achievement "Work" simulation. The kids were taught how to manage money by using a checkbook and debit card and do some form of job. Which meant a week or so before the trip everyone had to apply for the different jobs available.
Aden wanted to work in one of the restaurants. Even though she wouldn't be cooking for real, she likes the idea of making things for people and organizing that kind of activity. She held out hope for the job she wanted up until the day before the field trip when the assignments were given. And then Aden found out she was going to be a bank teller.
She was really depressed about it.
I started off by telling her that the good part about her job was that she would get to see everyone. Everybody in every job would have to visit the bank. And that depending on the people she was with and details of the job she didn't know yet, it would probably be a lot more fun than she expected.
And then I told her something I'd never considered talking to my children about before, even though it seems obvious: People seldom end up in the jobs they want.
We tell our children to strive toward the things that interest them, and they can see that I'm happy to run a violin store and that their uncles work in science and my parents had an art gallery for forty years. All of those things involve elements that are still hard and frustrating (bookkeeping, grant writing, difficult customers) but are in essence things we enjoy. However, the path to those careers has been varied and complicated and littered with jobs we took because we needed them, not because we wanted them. I had a summer job on a road crew once. I've waitressed and prepared food and worked behind sales counters and put in time at a factory. To help put me through school Ian made pizza, did a lot of work in hotels, and--I found myself telling Aden for the first time--worked in a bank.
Aden had no idea.
The truth is, I told her, I doubted any of the tellers at our bank would say that was the job they dreamed of while growing up. It was possible, but unlikely. All of them probably imagined something else, but then rent had to be paid and health insurance was needed, and the next thing they knew, they were applying simply for any job available and were happy to get one. And that for many people that works out okay. Most of the jobs out there that need to be filled are not in and of themselves particularly interesting things to do. But a sense of purpose and doing your part and interacting with others and using those resources to support your other interests outside of work can make it all just fine.
The things we want and the things we don't both have elements that are unexpected. We never know for sure where we will find joy or disappointment. We can only control what we, ourselves, bring to any situation.
So I told Aden to go in with an open mind to her bank teller job and see what she could make of it. No, she didn't choose it, but that was more realistic than anything else that could have happened, and she should learn from it.
And she had fun.
Turns out all but one person (the one who applied to be the CFO) working in the bank had hoped for other things and were disappointed not to get them. But they pulled together and did their jobs well. Aden said it was interesting how the work went in waves, where everything would be quiet for about forty minutes at a time, and then people in other jobs would have a break and rush to the bank all at once. She did like getting to see so many people, and she liked her nice steady paycheck that she used to buy odd little things at some of the pretend stores. (She also got a coupon/coin for a free frozen custard that we need to redeem before the summer is up.) She liked the people she worked with, had a little time to read her book, enjoyed the lunch she packed for herself, and came home happy.
I really like being at my violin store. Five years in and the number of bad days there I can count on just one hand. There are certainly times I'd rather be somewhere else but for the most part where I work is a space designed around me and what I enjoy. I'm fortunate, but it also took a long time and a lot of hard work to get here.
Talking to Aden about not getting the job she wanted got me thinking about all the little things that I liked about all the jobs I've ever had. For instance, my days working at the art supply store in college. I would not want to go back and relive any of it, but I liked the quiet walk to work on Sunday mornings where I would pick up donuts for myself and my fellow art-counter sufferer on the way. I liked my 30% discount on supplies and still have some of the things I bought there that I wouldn't have been able to afford otherwise. I still laugh thinking about some of the jokes we told to make the hours pass more pleasantly. And having dealt with so many kinds of customers still serves me well today. Time is wasted only if you choose to waste it. Every odd job I've ever had helped get me to where I am now, and I love this place.
In my mind there are two basic ways to aim at having a job: Either you manage to make a living at what you would choose to do anyway, or if that doesn't pay enough to survive, you find something that you can live with that enables you to do what you like. I have a friend who was a fellow music major in school who announced to me one day that violin was fun, but he was going into law because he'd also like to own a boat. If you are a poet, nobody expects you to make a living at it, so going into retail could be a fine choice. Even if all you need your job to do is provide you enough security to have a home you enjoy and space to relax, I think that's great. I'm glad I've found a way to do what I like and pay the bills while doing it. (To all those who made fun of my music degree as a ticket to starvation may I just say HA.)
I will be very interested to see what kind of work my children end up in as adults. They could be anything at this point. But I know they will have jobs they didn't dream of along the way, and I think there's a lot to be learned from that. As long as they approach their work honestly and always find a way to do what interests them regardless, their lives will be fine. Even if they end up, without expecting to, in a bank.