Nothing is more interesting to ourselves than…. ourselves. Best not to assume, though, that the rest of the world shares the fascination. Indulge me. Something happened recently that got me thinking about “time and chance.” To tell you about that, I’ll have to risk boring you with my own story.
Recently, I came across a box of photos that had been sitting patiently for decades, waiting to be put into an organized album. Among them was my junior high class photo. Familiar faces, aglow with dreams of the future, smiled out at me. i imagine most of them had no clue at to what it would bring. Me? Even as a ninth grader, I pretty much knew. My Jewish mother made it clear what job was best. I’ll concede being a doctor is right up there, but the best? During my early teens I saw an article about a race horse who’d been “put out to stud.” I asked Mom what that meant, and after getting the answer I said, “Now that’s a great job.” Unfortunately, that opportunity didn’t materialize, so I suppose medicine was a decent fall back.
Choosing that path, though, came at a cost. The commitment the profession demanded didn’t leave a lot of time to explore other possibilities. Eventually there came a time when I was comfortable and competent enough in my day job to make time to pursue other interests. These included honing musical skills and being a frequent curmudgeon in the editorial pages of my local paper. As I approached the end of my medical career, the music led to some performing and the writing led to the novels, many letters to editors, some published op-eds and this blog site.
How it all came about seemed kind of random until I discovered among the photos the results of a Strong Vocational Aptitude test I’d taken as a college junior. The test compares the test taker’s personality traits and interests to those of people already in a variety of different careers. If your temperament matches with those of people in certain professions, it’s likely you’d like the job. The test doesn’t measure, however, whether or not you actually have the talent for them.
At that time I was already on course to becoming a physician and was pretty sure I’d like to be a psychiatrist. Don’t ask why unless you feel like reading for the next few hours. (If you’re really interested I’d recommend my loosely autobiographical novel, “The Brief Long-Term Therapy of A, Lester Lord–only $2.99 on Kindle)
The first thing I noticed about the test was that it showed I was best suited for being a lawyer. I have no idea why, but at the time I took it I must have rejected that out of hand. Next was musician-performer, (which would have been great except for not being anywhere near an accomplished musician and the certainty of dying from starvation.) The test also pegged me as suited for journalism, real estate or life insurance salesperson, advertising person or the ministry. None of those rang my bells at the time. So when the results showed a cluster of strong preferences — physician, psychologist and psychiatrist, I figured I’d stick with the original plan.
Now, holding that piece of paper in hand, I’m looking not at the future, but at the present. Seemingly randomly, I went on to embrace music and writing. But was it just by chance? Could those other careers I had rejected have more in common with the one I settled on than a superficial glance might suggest?
They all have to do with helping people in a creative way or by convincing them of something they may not have previously considered. Think of a lawyer arguing a case, a life insurance salesman convincing someone of the need to protect their family, an ad person persuading people to buy a product, or a clergyman giving spiritual guidance and comfort to people in distress. ( Or preaching self-righteously as I too often do in my blogs.) Music may not seem to fit the pattern, but, in a way, it does. My musical heroes were singer-songwriters like Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and Tom Paxton. They wrote thought provoking songs they hoped would influence people and change the world. So, aside from singing and song writing just being fun, it could have the purpose of editorializing and making people aware and inspired. And, of course, it’s another way of being a writer.
On that piece of paper, like an incubus, lay my future. My yet unborn self went on to develop as it had to, naturally, in its own time. Fate? Maybe. Religious people say God has a plan. If you’ve read my novels, you know where I stand on that idea. I’d like to think it mostly had to do with having the courage to follow my heart and to take risks.
Yogi Berra said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” I did. Several times. And I’m enjoying the road I’m on now. What lies ahead for me? For all of us? I guess we’ll have to keep our eyes peeled for that next fork and be brave enough to heed Yogi’s sage advice when we come to it.