The following summers I worked retail, at the Gap and then at Victoria’s Secret. I liked the folding and organizing and working with customers, but I hated having to touch people. Bra fittings were so uncomfortable for me that I wanted to cry. I figured any kind of career in the medical fields was out – how could I be a doctor if I couldn’t stand human bodies?
A later summer I temped. I worked as a secretary for some sort of businessman. He ordered me around, criticized my handwriting and treated me as an inferior. I realized I was too independent and proud-willed for any sort of job where a boss had much control over me.
In college I briefly considered a career in law. I took a summer internship with a Maryland Circuit Court judge. During one memorable trial, a man was accused of molesting a girl in his wife’s home day care. The child, about age four, was put on the stand and said almost nothing of substance. During a break, and lacking any concrete evidence, the defense attorney turned to me and asked if I thought he should put his client on the stand. I stammered out a non-answer and went home that day knowing that I could not have any career where people’s fates were in my hands in that way – law school was out.
I spent a few months as a copy editor at the Virginian-Pilot and Ledger Star in Norfolk, Virginia. While I enjoyed writing headlines and correcting errors of all kinds, I hated the night shift, I found working alone at a computer all day lonely and depressing, and the monotony of a repetitive job felt soul-crushing.
In my last semester of college, my Law and Ethics professor told us a story. A man called a TV station, saying he was going to light himself on fire in protest of something or other. The station notified the police, and then showed up at the place the man indicated. The police failed to appear, and the man commenced with the gasoline. The cameraman and reporter were left to either film the event, or step in and save the man’s life, therefore altering the event. My class debated, and all but I decided it was the right thing to do as a journalist to let the event unfold without interfering. I loudly dissented, and after class my professor came up to me and suggested a career in journalism might not be for me. I went right back to my dorm room and applied to grad school to learn to be a high school English teacher.
People always say you should follow your passion. Sometimes that works. But sometimes you need to try a lot of things, figure out what you don’t like, and then move in another direction. Either way, you’ll end up exactly where you are supposed to be.