Childhood Games and Career Choices

You know how sometimes you read that if you go back to what you loved doing when you were a little kid – 4, 5, or 6 – then that will tell you what your ideal occupation should be? Well, in my case, this is exactly true since when I was a little girl, my favorite thing in the world was to teach my imaginary students all about reading and writing.

When I was a little girl, I had my own schoolroom (the south porch) where I “taught” my students. I went to Woolworth’s Five and Dime and bought not only writing and phonics workbooks, but also grade books in which I kept meticulous records of my students’ attendance and grades. I made up names for all of my students and each had marks for participation, as well as homework and test grades. I stood up at the front of my imaginary class and used my little chalkboard to go over grammar concepts. I called on students, reprimanded them for talking, and praised them for trying their best. Clearly, I was a child with an active imagination and a deep love of teaching.

Fast forward a few years, and there I was getting my Master’s degree in Counseling and starting off in the field of Mental Health. Lord knows, I really wanted to teach, but counseling was a close second and paid a bit more. Then my husband came along and lured me into the world of antiques and off I went on the adventure of learning about art, antiques, history, buying and selling, and small business ownership. That was an education in itself, but I must say as much as I enjoyed all of that, I still longed to teach. I wanted my students and my classroom back in my life. I couldn’t shake the allure of chalk dust on my fingertips.

Then, I came to LA and after my brother died and we were trying to figure out a way to survive here, I answered five blind ads for teaching jobs in the LA Times, got five interviews and five job offers. I must admit that it was mid-summer and these schools were desperate for teachers, but somehow I landed a job at one of the top private elementary schools in LA, the movie industry school. I saw Jack Nicholson bringing his children to school and Jamie Lee Curtis walking through the halls. I was hired to teach 4th grade Language Arts and, of course, I was in heaven. No longer imaginary students, but real ones and they were smart and excited and loved to write.

The problem came in the form of money – or lack of it – since even though that school charged a hefty tuition, I was down at the bottom of the totem pole and my salary was hardly enough to help support our family in rural Texas, much less Los Angeles. So, after one year and a long talk with my husband, I decided to go look for a job out in the “real world,” hopefully with a higher salary attached. In the meantime, I had a few deep-pocketed parents who approached me to work with their kids during the summer while I looked for a job. Was I willing to teach writing to their kids privately? They would be happy to pay me well if I would.

That was 13 years ago. Those students turned into more students and here I am sitting in my living room where I sometimes actually pull out a chalkboard and go over grammar. I don’t have to have a grade book, but I have lots of workbooks and I get a stream of students coming in for small group lessons and one-on-one. They range from 4th grade all the way to adults. I praise them when they do well, shush them when they’re too talkative, and generally recreate my 5-year-old classroom almost every day. And I couldn’t be happier.

There clearly is wisdom in looking at what you loved when you were a kid to help you gain clarity about your career. It certainly has worked for me. I could never shake that love I felt for teaching when I was five. I hope I’ll get to continue until I’m seventy-five!


14 Comments Add yours

  1. Caerlynn Nash says:

    Very interesting. I always knew I was creative. I’ve always liked reading, writing, and art. Well, I did manage to do the writing part, but as a technical writer and editor. I got back in to art about 10 years ago but only as a hobby. I’ve been out of (paying) work for more than a year. Lately, the signals all seem to be saying that I need to listen to the universe and do what I’m good at and what I enjoy. I’m seriously rethinking my career. Maybe it’s time to fire up my imagination and creativity again and trust in my talents.

    About a week ago I stumbled upon a web site that lists the #1 song for the day you were born. On my date it was “It’s Now or Never” by Elvis Presley. Later that same day, I heard the song (either radio or TV–can’t remember). It felt like another sign.

    Do what you love and the money will follow? Let’s hope so.

    1. “It’s Now or Never,” ha! Sometimes the Universe has a way of giving you a little prod, yes? Before I left that movie industry teaching job, I was terrified. Where would I find another job that I loved as much as that one? And yet, the money was almost embarrassing it was so low. So, after talking to a career coach, I made the choice to leave. In one fifteen minute conversation with a few parents at an end-of-school party, my life shifted. I doubled my salary by working half within about three months. So, I do know that following your heart does work. Not that it’s always be easy, but it worked for me.

  2. birdmother marcy says:

    OMG Len, when I got to the part where you said you’d “see Jamie Lee Curtis” walking down the halls”–I instantly started choking on the carrot I was eating and had to rush to the emergency baggie of rye crisp to push it down along with a ton of water. Scarey when that happens, huh? I could see the school in my memory and it brought back memories of the night I chaperoned a big dance there….I got some story to tell of THAT. night….whew, baby!
    Maybe we’ll go for a walk and talk. (it’s that rich-ass spoiled kids school hidden above Sunset up in the hills, right?)

    Back to your story. I’ve always loved your writing ever since I first heard your stories.almost a decade ago. Your voice, your words always resonated with me far above the others. That’s incredible…your little porch classroom with the fantasy students. That what you loved came back to you.

    O.K. to answer your question…well, yes, your theory is true for me too . When I was little I’d always be “rescuing” other peoples dogs,on the block, bringing them home to play with them for a few hours. Then a goldfish. My father put too much fish food in and killed it. Then a baby white mouse from my 4th grade teacher. Cost 25 cents. My mother screamed and put it’s shoebox house in a utility sink in the little cold room off the kitchen for the night. When I hurried to get mousie in the morning, he was laying on his back,still. And stiff.

    Then came the birds when I was ten. My first, Pretty Boy, a parakeet. We were inseparable
    On my shoulder even when I went outside. One night I gave him some water from my mouth A second later bubbles foamed from his beak , his eyes rolled back and he went limp in my hand. Dead. I was a murderer of my best friend. I ran sobbing away from home in the dark around the corner and hid in a building under construction. I sat on the wood floor amidst the shavings hugging bird to me until I heard the police sirens.

    For the rest of my life I’ve tried to make it up for killing Pretty Boy.. Over five decades now. So I’ve done my true love from when I was a kid: avian rescue and rehabilitation and have saved the lives of a kazillion both wild and exotic birds, Each with it’s tale of woe. My home is filled with the babies, the aged, the injured ,the abandoned, the lost. And Hey!! I’m pretty damn good, as good if not better than any vet, if you don’t mind my saying so. It’s a soul assignment.

    P.S. Sorry for the too long reply.

    1. Marcy,

      So happy to hear from you! Thank you for your kind words about my writing. I appreciate that.

      Also, I loved reading about your rescue efforts and how they started. I knew you were the premier bird rescuer around, but didn’t know the history behind that decision. Sounds like you love what you do and I know you do it well!

      A soul assignment – I loved that description. A soul assignment, indeed!


  3. JPMc says:

    As a small child I lived with my mother and grandparents all of whom read to me continually. While in kindergarten I told them I wanted to be a chemist. They bought my kindergarten teacher’s son’s Gilbert chemistry set for me. Fortunately I did no damage to myself, our family, friends, nor dog nor cat.

    Granddad read me a story about archeology in Popular Mechanics. Suddenly I wanted to be an archeologist. Fortunately they did not forthwith pack me off to a dig in Egypt.

    And the whole time my grandmother and mother both let me “help” them in the kitchen and I loved it. Because of this, and in spite of an proclivity for both science and math, I majored in restaurant management and became a quite successful suit in the fast food wars.

    1. Parker,

      Sounds like you were surrounded with people who loved you dearly – such a gift! And that shows, my dear, even today. Glad you didn’t blow anything – anybody – up with that chemistry set or didn’t get “packed” off to Egypt. We would have all missed you, particularly my brother, John! I’m happy you learned cooking from your grandmother and mother. I have eaten your culinary delights so I know those skills are securely in place. Thanks for sharing. Fun to learn more about your early influences.

  4. I was a snot-nosed kid in a two-horse town in northern Ontario. By the time I was eight, I found myself in the library and fell in love. I fell in love with the dusty smell of old books and new (not sure there were many of those). I think I fell for the smell of paper and the colourful hardcovers of the old children’s books: Nancy Drew, The Bobbsey Twins,The Hardy Boys. As I looked up at the shelves and shelves of books I said, “Wow” and caused some smiles from the librarian. No-one else read in the family. My mother thought I was just avoiding chores.

    I recall someone asking what I was going to be when I grew up. The only office I’d ever seen was the reception area at our family doctor’s office. I had bigger goals than that although I had no idea what the environment looked like.

    Before that, I wanted to be a singer and be in movies but when I found out that the leading lady probably had to do kissing scenes I knew I wouldn’t be doing any of that. That was too yucky. Plan B was the office career. Where did that idea come from? The funny thing is all the way through school I never changed my goal. I started as a file clerk, went on to be a secretary and then an administrative assistant. This choice allowed me to be creative and artistic.

    I was chosen to create, manage and publish, as editor-in-chief, several company newsletters of which I’d become very proud. I wrote articles, created eye-catching layouts and hounded people for company gossip and moral boosters. By the time I retired, I thought I’d done all I was going to do but then I started writing, keeping journals for my granddaughters of various situation comedies of their growing up (on-going). I took on the job of translating, transcribing and editing my mother’s life story. I started taking classes in writing and I have never been happier. I know this is what my life was supposed to be about. I have no complaints. I’ve done and am doing what I set out to OR what was set out for me. I am still a work in progress but I’m smiling every step of the way.

    1. I love your chronicle here. So glad to hear you too fell in love with those books in the library. I know exactly the ones of which you speak! Thanks so much for sharing your history. I am happy to learn more about you. Keep on writing. You make me smile, as well.

  5. beth Morris says:

    Hi Len, this is Beth, jan’s girlfriend. I’d like to respond to your post.

    When i was about 5 or 6 my mother got me a Lego set, a Lincoln Log kit, and an entire ranch of little plastic animals. I spent hours and hours building towns, cities, ranches, buildings etc…it was always my passion to build things with my hands, and always got the most satisfaction when i did.
    Of course I put these things down as grew older, but, when putting myself through college at Rutgers, I always took a summer job as an apprentice, or worked for the University on their summer Crew. The jobs I learned the most from and enjoyed the best were the ”painter’s assistant”, the ”carpenter’s helper” on remodels, and even the most menial job, which was being the ‘gopher’ for a G.C. who did old farmhouse refurbishing. i kept my mouth shut and learned from the old guys who did things the way their fathers and grandfathers taught them.
    One day, when it was about 20 degrees outside, i was on the roof of an old farmhouse out near Lambertville, NJ, nailing shingles, and a truck backed up to the place. They swung open the back door to the vehicle and i was looking down at the most beautiful cabinetry i’d ever seen.
    Right then and there i knew what i wanted to do with my life.

    ….and here i am. I’ve owned my own business since 1992, and still enjoy building and creating solid wood furniture, cabinetry, and one-of-a-kind pieces!

    I have an English B.A. with a film minor, and although i student-taught up in Jersey, I always desired to do something else with my life. And so i did.

    I got the chance when i moved to Florida to help my parents run their restaurant, as i ended up going BACK to school at night for a two year cabinetmaking program. That’s how i became a cabinetmaker!

    anyway, hope you enjoy this little post, as it’s always intriguing to find out how folks pick a career, or seem to fall into one. I just wanted to say that if i had it to do all over again, i would have done the same thing.

    hope you are well! love, beth

    1. Hey Beth,

      I had no idea you were a cabinet maker. And to think you didn’t come and see the renovation of our Queen Anne Victorian when you were nearby! I would imagine you would enjoy seeing the hand-built cabinetry there, plus hear all about our painstaking, but loving progress on this old gal. I hope you’ll make a plan to come in future.

      Thanks so much for sharing the path to your career. So cool how those early childhood play activities reveal our “hard wiring” long before we come to rediscover it!

      Much love to you and Janet. Thanks so much for giving me a window into your world. Plus, you have to remind me of those musicians you thought I would like. I can’t remember one of the names you mentioned!

  6. Your blog is one of my favorites. I always learn something.

    When I was a little girl I loved my Barbie doll and stuffed animals–never did care for baby dolls and such. I’ve always loved books, reading, and writing; thus, I spent most of my adult life tending bar or as an admin assistant. Finally, at age 52, I am finally in hot pursuit of a writing career.

    Something went terribly wrong for several decades… 🙂

    1. Thank you for the compliment about my blog. I appreciate that!

      Glad to hear you’re now in “hot pursuit” of that writing career. Nothing more fun than that! Happy writing.

  7. buddhafulkat says:

    A lovely anecdote! I admire your love of teaching. I teach ESL (private lessons) in my spare time, but I don’t enjoy teaching the way you do. When I was six I told everyone that I was going to be an astrophysicist, but somehow I lost my enthusiasm for that along the way. Since third grade I’ve wanted to be a writer, but I never believed it was an option for me.

    I love that you’re doing what you love and I hope you keep on doing it!

    1. Thanks so much. Let me just say, you ARE a writer and an artist. I see evidence of that almost every day.

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