“Do what you love” is not bad career advice

girl writing in journal

Photo credit: Erin Kohlenberg

I put my high school years behind me 30 years ago, but some memories still resonate. It’s not the social ordeal caused by being an introverted, day-dreamy girl with ADHD in a small school seemingly filled with focused extroverts, nor the crisis of self-esteem engendered by feeling huge, if not morbidly obese, at 5’9″ and 150 lbs. (if I’d only known). No, the memories that stick—and sting—have nothing to do with the students I shared my high school days with but the adults who were supposed to be showing me what it would mean to be a grown-up.

The Perfect Storm

I rocked my English classes. My English teachers loved me, and I loved one teacher in particular. Miss U was a zaftig, kaftan-wearing, long-haired pseudo-hippie who taught all my favorite classes—College Prep English, Creative Writing, Journalism. When I was a high school senior, I wanted nothing more than to be like her, a popular teacher, beloved by her students, a guide through the wilds of the English language and written text.  I wanted to be a teacher. And one day I confessed this desire to Miss U, certain she’d be thrilled that I wanted to follow in her footsteps.

Instead, she sighed. “Don’t be a teacher,” she said. “There are better careers out there.”

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The Guy by Walmart (or Why I Give Money to Strangers)

Homeless man

Photo credit: Byron James Bignell.

I posted this on Facebook a couple of years ago, and it sparked a lively conversation. It showed up in my “On This Day” feed today, and I thought it was worth sharing again.

There was a guy by the stop sign on the frontage road that leads to our local Walmart today. He was holding up a sign that said:

“HELP ME. Lost my job. Need money or work to feed my family.”

There was a child with him who looked to be 4 or 5 years old.

I stopped. It’s what I do. When I rolled down my side window, he approached sheepishly and gave me a pained smile. He said hello. I returned the smile, gave him some cash (I don’t have a lot to spare, but I do what I can), and wished him good luck finding work. He smiled that sad smile again, nodded his head, and said, “Bless your family.”

I was holding up traffic a bit, but honestly no longer than a few seconds.The man in the car behind me rolled down his own window and shouted:

“Way to go! Give him money to buy booze. Stupid!”

I couldn’t explain to the guy in the car—and I suspect that, even if I could, my explanation would have fallen on deaf ears—but here’s why I give money to strangers:

I don’t judge them based on how needy they look. I don’t think about what they’re going to do with the money. I don’t weigh and measure them at all because that’s not the point.

Perhaps I’ve given money to someone who’ll use it to support an addiction. Even if this man did have a substance abuse problem, depriving him of $5 wasn’t going provide momentum to cure his habit. I’ll find other means to contribute and help with those much larger issues. But meanwhile, that small sum of money may have gotten him and his little boy a warm meal somewhere.

And I had nothing to lose but a $5 bill.