Back when I was scheduling mammograms for a clinic in Edina, I told a friend about my job. We were at a party, and everyone else seemed to be doing work that made a difference, advanced some social cause, or followed some personal dream. Me, I was scheduling rich, privileged women for a medical test. I tried to make it sound more interesting, more exciting, but it just sounded lame. My friend sort of looked away and said, “Oh. That must be…fulfilling.”
I felt small. I was embarrassed that I was working to keep a roof over my head and food in my baby’s belly. So what if my work experience allowed an income at this job that exceeded what my husband was making?
That was about 8 years ago. My son will be 19 soon, ready to move on and find his own way in the world. I’m still working for the same company, doing even less “meaningful” work – researching insurance coverage for patients that didn’t have their card or information when they came in. I suppose it’s meaningful for the people whose bills don’t end up in collections.
Why did I feel so ashamed that I was doing what I needed to do to keep my family sheltered, fed and clothed? Why was I embarrassed to admit that I was not following my “dream” or working at low pay and high exhaustion for a cause?
I suppose that part of that was that I never really had a “dream”. I don’t think I was raised to have one. You did what you were supposed to do, what you were told. If you didn’t, you were looked down on, outcast. I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I remember wanting to be a veterinarian once upon a time, but it was somehow discouraged. When I was approaching college, I was drawn towards film studies, but ended up in radio/television mass communications because I was told “you don’t want that.”
Not once did I question whether what I was told I wanted really was what I wanted.
So, now I am approaching a crossroads. My husband will be getting his degree in December, and we will be on our own. Our son will be off to live his life. Dave and I will be moving wherever he finds a good position.
I suppose it is time to decide whether I have a “dream”, whether I might be able to figure out what I want to be now that I’m grown up. I’d love to sell some of my crafts. I love writing. Studying the roots and origins of religions around the world fascinates me.
What should I have said, way back when, to that friend that seemed to pity my insignificant career path? Probably this:
Yes, yes it is, if by “fulfilling” you mean taking care of the wants and needs of me and my family. I am not making my family suffer so that I can be “fulfilled”. I have time for that. And I think I will be better able to follow my dreams once I take the time to decide if it is a vision of the path I should follow and what is a pipe dream. Who are you to decide whether my life is fulfilling or not?