Remember your high school college counselor? The one who reviewed your report cards and SAT/ACT scores and advised you on which schools to apply…the same one who pulled out those Career Outlook books for your intended profession? You weren’t interested in what the job actually entailed or what skills you could bring to it–you were looking for the digits that would represent your (hopfully, fat) paycheck.
Well, here’s a backstory excerpt from my novel-in-progress that was cut by my writing partner. (yeah, I am still reeling from this one a bit…I liked it! But she’s got a good point). Onward!! [remember, this is not intended to represent anyone, living or dead. It’s from the author’s imagination. Please do not borrow or steal without first asking permission]
Going to college was never a question. I was going. The problem was, I didn’t know what I wanted to study. I would go to the guidance counselor at school and ask what she thought I should do with my life. Mrs. Clark would press her horn-rimmed glasses up on her face and lean back in her squeaky chair with a chuckle, “Well, Steve what do you think you ought to do with your life?”
In my cocky, self-assured way that I tried to call ‘humor,’ I’d say, “Well, you’re the guidance counselor, shouldn’t you guide me?”
She did. Kind of. Walking me to the college and career center in the counseling center, and sitting me down with a pile of paper she said, “Here. Start here. I want you to fill out this self-inventory and it will tell you what jobs you are most likely skilled at doing.”
I remember sitting at this little cubby with a number 2 pencil in my hand filling in bubbles about my likes and dislikes, “Do you like working with your hands?” “Are you curious about how people think?” Finally, when it was all said and done, the career center guided me to a career in mechanics, chemistry, or physics. (image source: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/20/education/edlife/guidance.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0)
It wasn’t all that surprising. But really, I wasn’t sure how I was going to find a career out of such general findings. I also learned that I was an extrovert (also not a surprise), and that I was more of a thinking person and not a “feeler.”
The funny thing about all of these self-assessments is that they were supposed to tell me something I didn’t know before. I knew all of that. I just wanted the damn test to tell me, “Steve, you should become a brain surgeon. You should apply to Harvard. You will graduate with high honors and marry your college girlfriend. You will have 2.2 kids and have a 2-story home with a white picket fence.” But it didn’t.
Guess those assessments aren’t crystal balls.
I struggled with my college plans. I went back to see Mrs. Clark on several occasions. She would pull my test results from the ACT and tell me that I was really bright, scoring a 33, with high marks in math and science,
“Why not medicine?” she quipped. “You could major in pre-med and go on to med school? Your assessment profile says you’re good with your hands and have a high interest and aptitude in chemistry and physics.”
“Nah,” I shook my head. “I don’t want to be in school forever.”
“You could make lots of money,” She’d counter.
“What else ya got, Mrs. Clark?”
“Hummm…how about mechanical engineering?”
I thought a moment. I did like working on my uncle’s old motorcycle. He had given it to me for my 16th Birthday. I was overhauling the motor and futzing around with it. I wanted to get it in really great shape so I could enter it in the classic cycle show. But basically it sat in a pile in our garage gathering dust and complaints and my mom and sisters were forced to walk by it.
“You mean, be a mechanic?”
“No, not quite. You could work on large machinery, develop new systems and gadgets. Or, I suppose you could become a mechanic if you wanted.”
“And how about you, Mrs. Clark? Is this guidance counselor gig what your high school personality inventory decided for you?”
She shifted her weight in that squeaky chair and cocked her eyebrow, “Steve, this is not about me. It’s about you,” She said as she tucked a pencil behind her ear.
I sighed, “Well, I just want to know if these things are right. I mean, if your inventory said you should become a high school guidance counselor and here you are, clearly loving your job, then I want to know.” My comment was dripping with sarcasm and she knew it.
She narrowed her eyes, “Do you have a girlfriend, Steve?”
“Nope. Not at the moment.” I wanted to retort with something like, “No, you wanna be my sweetheart, Mrs. Clark?” But I didn’t dare.
“Well, someday you might and you better learn that this is not the way to woo her. You’ll want to be very decisive about what you want—in a career, in life, in a relationship.
I remember telling her thanks and that things were beginning to make sense to me. And they were. I needed a high-paying job in the hands-on science field that wasn’t medicine. And I needed to be decisive, girls liked that.
And Mrs. Clark probably needed to get laid.
I am happy to say that I took Mrs. Clark’s advice and became an engineer. Not a mechanical engineer, but a biomedical engineer. I went through 4 long years of intense college courses at a state university. With Annie. And Beth. Organic chemistry was a motherfucker. We all called it O Chem and it blew major chunks. The prof was a hard-ass who was probably going senile. I had to re-take the class over the summer back at home at the local community college.
I started working right out of college at Carmargo Medicine, making money hand over fist. It was empowering. It was thrilling. I would get a paycheck—a big paycheck—every two weeks. I started a 401K plan and loved to see the numbers soar when I received my quarterly statement. I had a nice little nest egg—for what—I wasn’t sure. I was able to run out and get whatever electronic device I wanted—new stereo component systems and laptops, big screen televisions and whatever cell phone was the “in” thing. But I no matter how much money I made or how many shiny, fancy electronics I had, I still didn’t have what I thought I needed.
For more information on guidance counselors and making the grade for your college, see The Ivy Coach.com http://theivycoach.com/the-ivy-coach-blog/teacher-counselor-recommendations/guidance-counselor-recommendation/