How I Hacked My Way Out of Career Guidance

Photo by Wayne Beck

“I can go anywhere. I can be anything.” -Reading Rainbow Television Theme Song

Mentors: Santiago (fictional), Paulo Coelho

The Diagnosis and Prescription

At fourteen-years-old I passed a career guidance course on my report card. And yet I was a failure, labelled as indecisive and without purpose. Is that something like being useless?

Problem: I hadn’t picked a career.

Diagnosis: Tools: a lengthy questionnaire, a #2 pencil and a ‘Scantron’ form: I dutifully filled in the little bubbles that corresponded to my answers to a myriad of questions about whether I liked being inside or outside, or talking to people or not, or preferred this or that, over and over again.

Prescription: I was told that I should be a dairy cow inspector or a tree surgeon. That laid out pretty flat on my scale of excitement.

My Failure to Comply

Yes, there was a dairy farm just down the street. I loved the dairy store and the chocolate milk, but had no thought of inspecting the herd. A couple of years later I moved to a rural dairy community, still no interest. That was influenced in part by my speech class; three quarters of the students picked the chore of milking for their pet-peeve speech. Their stories of cleaning the tits before milking at 4:30am in sub-zero weather left quite an impression on me. I found working in the apple orchards more to my liking; pruning trees was included in the work. There was my answer. Not really, I just happened to graduate at a time of a slump in the industry and moved on to other things.

While in the process and not convinced that I would prune trees for a living, I took an elective course in college, ‘find your career.’ I read a book about the color of my parachute. The book talked about my freedom, but the course seemed designed to just put me into some box and call it good. Their job was done. It turns out that I wasn’t such a conformist as I thought I was. No matter how much science went into it, I just didn’t fit. Subconsciously I just wanted out of the boxes; the system wanted to put me back in.

One day I was bored out of my mind while the instructor was jabbering away. He didn’t really seem to be enjoying himself at all. I silently asked myself, “if he knows so much about finding a career, what is he doing teaching this class?” Maybe I just wasn’t ready to give in. I wanted to be a good boy, a conformist, but it just wasn’t working. Without much thought I opted for a path that has led me to other paths and on adventures and through experiences that I could have never predicted by filling in bubbles on a piece of paper.

After more than four decades, I think that parachute book is still stuffed away somewhere in the attic, or maybe in the shed, IDK. I’m thinking of cracking it open. Maybe I just wasn’t open-minded enough or prepared at that time. After all, the book is still in print with a new edition out this year. Maybe it can explain why I’ve made the choices I’ve made that have brought me so much fulfillment to this point in my life. Could it give me insight into the coming decades of my life now that I’m retired in the traditional sense? Quite possibly.

Breaking Free

Years later a fictional character came on the scene and taught me more than I had learned from those attempts at career guidance. I could relate to the character, Santiago, in Paulo Coelho’s masterpiece, The Alchemist. Though my paths are very different than his, the key is to learn from your own experiences. Santiago took cues and gained experience along the path while searching for his ultimate treasure and personal fulfillment.

Just as I was distracted during a lecture, I pictured Santiago staring out the window during a boring class. That was just before he stepped into the unknown. That step changed his world forever. Before I check my parachute again, I think, first I’ll re-read The Alchemist, allowing Santiago’s story to confirm and inspire my own, then revisit the parachute.

Having been on the frontlines, I’m deeply familiar with life’s challenges and traumas. I’m inspired by courageous people who triumph and succeed.