2018-08-01 / Family Matters

The Long and Winding Career Path

Just like his younger self, David Rockower’s kids dream of careers in sports. But what happens when you realize that might not work out?
David Rockower

What do you want to be when you grow up? I’ve received the same answer from Nathan since he was 5: “I want to be a soccer player, and if I can’t do that, I’ll coach soccer.” Maddie has given a wide variety of answers, my favorite being, “I want to be a tooth fairy in New York City.” Other responses from Maddie include artist, basketball player, paleontologist, interior designer and, most recently, teacher. I suppose I’m just curious, and maybe I ask because once they know, I want to help nurture those interests as much as possible. But I realize what a ridiculous question it is; after all, I graduated from college without knowing what career I wanted to pursue.

When I was asked this question as a kid, my stock answer was, “I will be the third baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies.” Much like Nathan, I didn’t want to consider doing any kind of real work. Why would I when there was the possibility, however small, that I could end up getting paid to play a game I loved? My parents supported this unrealistic dream, but my more practical relatives would ask the dreaded follow-up question: “If baseball doesn’t work out, what’s your backup plan?” I didn’t want to consider that question until I was closer to adulthood, because having a backup plan meant admitting I had self-doubt about reaching my dream. By the time I graduated from high school, I knew I was not going to earn my keep playing baseball, so I began to think about other options.

In college, so many of my acquaintances seemed to have direction; they were there to study engineering, education or business. Their life plans were laid out, and all they needed to do was complete the classes, find a job, and they were set. I had no such vision.

My friends often came to me with their problems, and I assumed I was effective in helping them work through these issues, so maybe psychology would be a good fit, I thought. But when I started taking classes toward that major, I didn’t find them nearly as exciting as swinging a baseball bat or fielding grounders. I ended up majoring in Human Development and Family Studies; for me it was the perfect major, one that said, I have a college degree but I still have no idea what I want to do with my life.

After college, I found a job working with children who had severe behavior problems. I’ll never forget my first day in that third-grade classroom; though I was assigned to monitor one child, I found it impossible to ignore the energy from all the kids in the room. There was abundant curiosity, joy, humor and frustration. There were random stories about moldy cheese, angry grandparents and candy hidden under bunk beds. I started looking forward to going to school. After a few weeks, I wanted to kick myself for not majoring in education. I needed to be a larger part of the school community and interact with all of the kids. For the first time since baseball, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up: a teacher.

There are a lucky few who know their calling from a young age; I was not one of them. In June, I completed my 20th year as a teacher, and I’m thankful I discovered — if a bit later than I’d hoped — what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Just a few days ago, I asked Maddie the question again. She sighed, and said, “You do realize that I’m only 12, and I really have no idea yet, Dad. I only give you all these answers because you keep asking.”

Maddie’s comment forced me to reflect: Why would I want to suggest that my children need to know where their lives are headed? The only thing they need to do now is interact with the world, paying attention to what brings them joy. In time, they will discover what problems they would like to solve, what careers they would like to pursue. Their calling may smack them in the face after graduation, just as mine did when I entered that third-grade classroom, or it may reveal itself slowly over time.

Regardless, I will stop asking the question. Instead, I will walk beside them and observe as they explore, ask questions, and struggle to understand. Most importantly, I will do less asking and more listening. •SCM

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