Key choices in the direction of a career

My worst subject in elementary school was penmanship. My handwriting has always been bad for two reasons. First, when I was young, my fine motor skills were, well, not very fine. Second, my mind moves much faster than my hands, so I am always in a hurry to get things written.

My parents, consulting with my teacher, decided that I would practice handwriting at home. I had a set time for penmanship practice, a certain number of minutes each day. They had me copying sentences out of my favorite books, which made sense for a while. Eventually, I wanted to go beyond copying what others had written; I wanted to create my own material. Even in the third grade, I sensed that everything I wanted to read had not yet been written, and I was determined to write those books myself. My parents permitted me to write my own stories. I doubt that decision helped my penmanship—once again, my mind was racing far ahead in the story, and my hand couldn’t keep up the pace. But my career as a writer began in that way.

In spring of my fourth grade year, the music department tested our hearing to determine which students had the best perception of differences in pitch. Also, the music department brought in middle school students with their instruments to encourage us to join the band and orchestra. My pitch perception tested very well, and the music department told my parents that I would be good at string instruments like the violin, or at the trombone. My parents thought they would prefer a beginning trombonist in the home over a beginning violinist and encouraged me to volunteer for the trombone. I accepted their challenge and was a trombonist from the summer between fourth and fifth grade through my first year of college. I think a lot of other families in our region followed the same process. It seemed that competition was high among trombonists everywhere I went, from high school honors bands to summer camps to municipal summer programs. Even when I was the best trombonist in my school, I couldn’t always stand out from the crowd in larger groups. My life might have been different if my parents had encouraged me to play the violin.

Still, I loved music almost as much as I loved writing. My sophomore year, I had to choose between two after-school activities. I had already become involved with the high school newspaper, a natural place for me to land as a budding author. But I was also active in the music department, and the spring musical was a big deal at our school. That year, the department had chosen Music Man. I could not play in the orchestra for the musical and also work on the newspaper. I know I thought about it for a while and weighed both choices. In the end, I chose to go with Music Man, making me one of three trombonists to represent the seventy-six trombones of the script. I never regretted that decision. My high school friends were in music and drama, not in the newspaper. I worked up the courage to appear on stage my senior year. I had many good experiences and still have many good memories because of that choice. I cannot help wondering, though, where life might have led me had I stuck with the newspaper and given up the music and drama.

Either the summer before or the summer after that choice (I cannot remember which summer it was), I made another important choice. As a child, I had dreamed of many possible careers: astronaut, fireman, pastor, writer, and other possibilities which do not come to mind at the moment. One night, my parents and I were in a motel, returning from a family vacation. My mother and father were sound asleep, but I could not fall asleep. I thought about what I wanted to do with my life, and I prayed. I asked God to guide my decision. Somehow, during that night, I concluded that I wanted to write, but I wanted to write for God. I wanted to write for the Church. I wanted my writing to matter, not in the realm of my favorite writers (including Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll, Mike Royko, Kurt Vonnegut, and Roald Dahl), but among Christians.

Later that summer, I discussed that thought with my pastor. He knew me well; even when I was a confirmation student, he had been impressed with my thinking and my ability to handle difficult concepts. Pastor Hoffmann thought I could be a valuable theologian in the Church. Generally, theologians teach in the seminary, which means they must first receive a seminary education. Pastor Hoffmann also told me that the best seminary teachers have served in the parish. They are more helpful to their students because they have done the work that their students are preparing to do.

I did not think that I could be a pastor. Speaking in front of people was not my strong suit. Nor did I expect to be able to handle the other duties that are expected of a pastor in the congregation. My peers had spent several years telling me—and reinforcing the message emphatically—that I was different, that a lot of people did not like me, that I did not belong to the “in crowd.” For this reason, I wanted to write. I enjoyed writing, I seemed to be good at writing. I would be able to write in solitude, and I could send my books out to speak for me. But, because Pastor Hoffmann assured me that the seminary degree and some experience in the parish were important preparation for the writing I wanted to do, I began to chart my course in that direction. From that point in high school, and on through the college years, I was aiming to be a pastor—not as my final goal, but as steps on the path to writing for God and for His people. J.


7 thoughts on “Key choices in the direction of a career

  1. The first thing God did for Adam is that He made Him a gardener. It seems that among other things we were made to work.

    Doesn’t hurt to dream. Wanted to be an astronaut. Tried to be a pilot. Got into space operations in the military, and that was fun for the most part.

    My hearing was not good enough to be a pilot. In retrospect, I was not suited to be an astronaut. I was a decent officer, but not field grade material. However, as I struggled to be what I wanted to be, I learned a great deal, I gained wisdom, and I learned about myself.

    We call it the right stuff, not the perfect stuff. The people who become astronauts or reach the top of any profession must work intensely both to improve and maintain their skills and to demonstrate their competence.

    Yet if work is so difficult, why should we give more to our work than is needful? Work is part of the discipline God imposes upon His children. At the same time, there is joy in work, especially when we learn how to serve our neighbors.

    Our destination is important, but we don’t get there without the struggle of a difficult journey. The gate is narrow and path is constricted on the way that leads to eternal life. So, we must learn to work hard work to stay on the correct path.

    Thank you for sharing some of the challenges you have face.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your thoughts. Some work is labor (ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration), but work can be a joy. When we find the tasks which we enjoy–those we can do without noticing the passing of time, those we would do even if no one paid us to do them–we are, perhaps, practicing what we will do in the new, sinless, eternal world that is coming. Meanwhile, if someone pays us to do those things today, we are doubly blessed. J.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have always loved the written word both reading and writing. Like you though my penmanship is horrible, but mine is due to the fact I am left-handed and my third grade teacher tried to change my hand preference by smacking the back of my hand with a ruler until my mom found out. By that time though the damage to my mind had been done and I no longer care what my handwriting looked like. I now print everything but my signature because my writing is so hard to read otherwise. I never wanted to write for a living and I still think it had to do with that third grade teacher (she by the way looked just like the wicked witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz). I did not come back to writing until I went to college and by then I had a typewriter and no one really knew I was left-handed.
    What took my heart though was being a mother and if I could have kept my children little forever I would have. I enjoyed the work of raising them and even the struggles hold some endearing moments. My daughter was a difficult child, but I would raise her all over again if need be. I never played an instrument, but love the flute. I am partially deaf in my right ear and I have a really hard time with low tones, but hear high ones a little to well ( I could actually hear the sound a picture tube made when going out of a TV the repair guy asked if I was a bat). I have done various things since my kids grew up, but now I am disabled so I raise insane cats three of them. I think many people hold many roles in their lives some we love and others not so much.

    Liked by 2 people

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