Back in 2012, before I began writing these “Running the Campus” blog posts, I started sending out “Weeklies,” emails to the campus and community that usually included something about what was happening at NECC that week, a perspective on a big issue facing higher education, and a short story about my young daughters, who were known back then as “Big Sis T and Little Sis Z.”
A few of those early “Weeklies” are still in the Archives of “Running the Campus.”
Well, “Little Sis Z” is much older now. She is a junior in high school and, while the COVID-19 pandemic has limited the normal college search process, she is still prepping for the SAT, updating her resume, dropping in on virtual campus visits and, most daunting and fateful of all, trying to decide which career path to follow.
She is entrepreneurial (she and her sister launched a small business last summer that got a boost from some social media influencers and briefly attracted a global following), and a natural leader, so she is thinking about business, or maybe politics.
Our recent conversations about possible vocations reminded me of this piece I wrote back in November 2012 under the heading, “It’s Been an Industrious Week at Northern Essex Community College”:
Let Your Life Speak
Big Sis T is in the seventh grade now—the time when most middle schools are helping students begin to think about that fateful question many of us still ask ourselves every day: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Last Sunday, we attended the Whittier Regional Vocational Technical School Open House, along with hundreds of other students and families from across this part of the Lower Merrimack Valley. And what a treat—Whittier Superintendent Bill DeRosa and his staff are amazingly good at showing off what they do there.
Big Sis T and Little Sis Z and I jostled our way along the halls, sampling snacks from the culinary arts program, watching hair and nail demonstrations in the cosmetology wing, touring the “construction site” of the house the junior carpentry class was building inside the school, and playing with remote control machines in the robotics lab.
They were fascinated by all of it, and suddenly keenly interested in what it means to have a “career.”
“When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?” they wanted to know.
“A community college president,” I joked.
But seriously: My favorite teacher was Ms. Proctor. In the fourth grade, she inspired me to want to be a writer. For most of my childhood, I wrote, and my first declared college major was Journalism.
We talked about all the different jobs I’ve had, a partial list of which includes making pizzas, driving a truck, building roof trusses, laying out newspaper pages, writing for magazines and encyclopedias, designing and building theatre sets, acting, directing, teaching, consulting, and administrating (OK, I made that one up).
As we talked and toured the school, Big Sis T was tugged toward Graphic Design (she loves creating things with Google Sketch and Photo Shop), and Little Sis Z desperately wanted to strap on a welding mask in the metal fabricating lab and sculpt something for the back yard.
“But how are we supposed to know now if that’s what we want to be when we grow up?” they wanted to know.
After all, Dad started out wanting to write, changed his mind a bunch of times, and now does something (they’re still not always sure what) at a college.
Take your time, girls, and it’s OK to try new things along the way.
In Let Your Life Speak, his marvelous reflection on life, vocation, and calling, Parker Palmer encourages, “Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.”
Yes, I held a lot of jobs—and was eventually “called” to teaching and education.
Butcher, baker, candlestick maker—carpenter, designer, teacher, inventor. They are all avenues for making your way in this world, and expressions of individual truths and values.
You don’t have to pick a trade in the seventh grade, but it’s a good time to start listening to your life speak to you.
As you look back on your week, and forward to the one ahead, may you see a hopeful and rewarding world of work, and revel in your calling.