And to make it even worse, I followed it.
Life wasn’t going as planned.
I had followed the rules, gone to college and graduated with a business degree. After graduation I worked hard, establishing a small accounting business of my very own. I liked the flexibility of making my own hours and the work appealed to my need for order.
Then I fell in love and got married. We were good at first, but when the babies came our lives together weren’t good enough for him anymore. He had no patience with them and even less patience for me. Things got worse until at the not so wise old age of 34, I was a single mom of two boys under three years old.
I struggled to pay the bills, working out of our home at night so that I could take care of the boys during the day. When they were old enough to go to school I realized I had a chance to change the direction of my life.
The book: What Color is Your Parachute by Richard Nelson Bolles is a popular manual for job seekers and career changers. It promised to help me figure out my purpose in life. I took a copy out of the library and worked through the exercises, discovering some interesting things about myself in the process.
I liked to be outside. I liked math. I loved gardening. I always had, but never considered it as a career. Science fascinated me and I was interested in insects and forest systems. I wondered if landscaping might be a good fit, or permaculture. I was willing to consider a completely different direction from the path I was walking down.
I went to the local college and met with an advisor.
With excitement, I told her what I had discovered about myself and gave her some of the ideas I had from doing the exercises in the book. She asked me a few questions about my current situation and made some notes.
She leaned back and looked serious. “May I be frank with you?” she said.
“Of course,” I replied, wondering what exciting new direction she was going to recommend.
“You’ve already got a degree and experience working in accounting. It’s a good career. People will always need their taxes done. You’d be crazy to change at this point in your life.”
I was dumbfounded. I had been so inspired and excited to embark on a new path, and she was shutting me down. “You mean, I shouldn’t think about going back to college? I shouldn’t try something new, even if I want to?”
“Yes,” she said. “I wouldn’t do it. It would be a lot of work and you don’t really know where you’re going with it.”
Later that week I dropped the book off at the library. As I slid it in the return slot, I could feel my dreams slipping away.
I settled for safety. I settled for a job that I didn’t like very much, for the security and the benefits. It let me raise my boys and pay my bills but I was never excited to go to work each day.
“Mom,” said my oldest son Mark, when he was fourteen. They were having career day at school and he had to write an essay. “Do you like your job? How am I supposed to know what I want to do? How did you choose?”
“You follow your heart,” I said. “Don’t let anyone stop you from trying new things. It might not be the right thing in the end, but if you keep following your heart, it will lead you to something that you love.”
Looking back, I wish that’s what I had done.