Been a while (in which I bring parenthetical writing to a new and reprehensible level)

It’s not that nothing’s been happening – I’m just finishing the first semester of my second year – it’s just that I haven’t been writing. I think the problem is partly that at the moment I’m talking to thin air, and partly that I get out of the habit, and partly…I’m not sure.

I have two papers left to write, one due tonight, one a little more nebulous but very soon. I am struggling with both. One I’m struggling with because the course was in Vocational Counseling, which I respect and was glad to learn more about, but feel no real commitment to or investment in. There are a lot of kinds of counseling that I think are really valuable and difficult and interesting in the same way that I find details of the entertainment industry or OTC pharmaceutical regulations interesting. I’m a geek, I’m interested in almost everything.

(In fact, one of the things we did in the Vocational Counseling class was take the Strong Interest Survey (the ‘Strong’ is a name, not an adjective, just in case that’s confusing), which was…yes, interesting…and which also confirmed that I’m interested in pretty much everything except sales/marketing and the military.) But there’s a difference between being interested in something and being passionate about it.

I had to work that out for myself, over the years. That’s the problem with being interested in (almost) everything. Given my race, culture, social class, and family educational levels, there’s a presumption that my work, that is to say, my career, would be something I chose based on my interests. (This is the part of vocational psychology I do find fascinating – the way class and other demographics affect one’s perception of work, and the way social injustice and preconceptions block the opportunities of some and favor those of others. When I think about it in relation to myself, it’s a little amazing that I had so many privileges and have still lived hand-to-mouth for so many years.)

From age 7 to age 17, I assumed I was going to write fiction for a living. I was remarkably steadfast in this expectation (and I can’t even call it an ambition, because it never occurred to me that I might not, or might not be able to). Then, from 18 through…28, I think, I went through enough ambitions to more than make up for it. I thought I might become a historian, a civil engineer, a famous essayist and public speaker (it doesn’t really work unless you’re famous – it was a fatuous ambition, but I was reading a lot of Audre Lorde’s and Ursula K. Le Guin’s essays at the time, so perhaps it’s understandable), a plumber (when I was taking a break from school, I called the union about an apprenticeship, but they told me they weren’t taking anyone new at the moment and to try back in six months, but by then I’d gone back to school), an architect (I actually applied to graduate schools, despite having no background at all), and a Unitarian Universalist minister. (I applied to and did go to divinity school, which is where things started to come together, although the UU part proved to be one of a few insurmountable barriers; I think I may be the only person in the country who has really tried to become Unitarian-Universalist and just couldn’t make it. That requires a perverse kind of talent.) I have also, along the way, been a first aid/cpr instructor for the American Red Cross, been EMT certified, considered pharmacy school, considered jewelry-making as a profession rather than a hobby, and considered selling the body butters, lip balms, and herbal salves and other remedies as a real source of income. (Except I can’t sell things. I wish I could.) And I still write fiction.

If I was going to pick a field of endeavor based on my interests, I was going to be changing careers every six months for the rest of my life just to accommodate them all. What I started to understand in my second year at Harvard Divinity School was that there was interest, and then there was passion. Or to put it another way, there’s interest, and then there’s vocation. There’s only one thing I’ve ever felt truly called to do professionally, and I’m studying to do it right now.

And all of that is vocational psychology. That’s ironic, I admit it. But the thing is, there’s a difference between the field of study and theory which is vocational psychology, some of which I find compelling although a lot of which I can do without, and the practice of vocational counseling. I think vocational counseling is an absolutely brilliant thing for people to do, and I’m incredibly happy that some very smart, caring, insightful, and thoughtful people are doing it. I think my life would probably have been better with some good vocational counseling at intervals. I just don’t feel called to do it myself.

I acknowledge that knowledge of the field and practice will benefit any area of practice at least somewhat: even if my practice were entirely with children, I would be a better counselor if I were able to understand the pressures and factors shaping the children’s worlds based on their parents’ or guardians’ work, and there are lenses through which to see things like school as being children’s work, to which vocational counseling practices can apply. But there are a lot of other areas of specialization which will also inevitably have an impact on any work I do – addiction is one, trauma is another, and family/systems dynamics is a third. There’s also group dynamics, which can be applied to families, summer camps, start-up companies, classrooms, and political action coalitions, as well as therapeutic counseling groups. And frankly, I find all of those more compelling and more likely to have immediate and urgent impacts on work I do with kids and their families than vocational counseling.

It’s hard to write a paper for a subject I’m resistant to because I don’t actually care about it as much as it seems I’m supposed to. I think that was the point I started out with.


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