Friday, August 14, 2009

It's a Matter of Choice

I know we all make choices but I’m not sure we realize the impact a choice has on our lives. This year, I made a choice to evaluate my life and take an honest look at my feelings, expectations, the “who,” “what” and “where” of it. I begin this year in a career counseling course, part of the required courses for a person seeking a masters degree in Community Counseling. Two years prior, I made a decision that counseling was a big part of my daily tasks, though in my current career I’m a software tester. As long as I can remember, people seemed to find me, seek either advice, or a listening ear. And it has always felt strange because I never perceived myself as the classic ‘outgoing’ person. At best quiet, I wear a constant scowl (it feels like it to me) and I’m never in the middle of the crowd, but somehow, one or two people seemed to make their way to me and strike up a conversation. Conversation always lead to further discussions, especially when we share a common place. To shorten my life story, it just seemed right to move down that career path.

This year, realizing each time there was a break between semesters, I wondered should I continue down this path, I decided to ask myself a hard question: is this what I want to do for the remainder of my life. The answer was usually 'no,' especially when I thought of being in a typical crowded, busy, 'administrative heavy' counseling position. It seemed insane! As I mentioned, I began the year in a career counseling class. Knowing one of the tools used in career counseling are the many assessments, I felt before entering the class, I needed to dig up two assessments I took in 2005. I would think about it, consider it, half-heartedly look for them, but quickly get frustrated because my house (life) was a wreck! And without looking ‘it’ popped up; both assessments sort of surfaced while looking for other things. I sat and looked at them; the Meyers-Brigg and the Strong’s Inventory of skills. Both said what I knew in my heart: that I should be doing art. At best counseling was third on the Meyers-Briggs along with some type of encouraging, admonishing related tasks.

A strange thing happened on quite a few occasions in the career class. The teacher would struggle with computer or audio-visual components of a presentation. Though initially reluctant to help (not wanting to appear as a ‘kiss-up’) I jumped up and helped anyway. A few of the students jokingly called me “Super Eddie,” or said something like “Eddie can do anything.” I realized many times I got excited about the concepts learned in the class or more excited about the possibility of people finding work they love to do. I am frequently discouraged by the impression people have to ‘flop about’ in one career or another. A crack in my shell had appeared.

My classmates’ comments sunk in deeper than I first imagined. Simultaneously, I was taking on challenges in my work environment and also gaining success there as well. But the path wasn’t free of potholes and chunks of debris. I still needed to look down the path of classes to be taken. The summer looked bleak as far as courses were concerned and for all I accomplished on the job, the ‘key’ people who needed to applaud and support my successes didn’t seem to care. Disappointment set in; I realized it could take another year before starting an internship and more than likely, all my hard work and ingenuity would be canceled by a job environment intent on mediocrity. I hung my head, almost in utter despair!

But my despair was not meant to permanently disillusion me; a Grand Plan was in the works! In looking down, I looked inward. What had I been doing all this time, all these years? I knew “corporate America” was not for me. I knew this back in 1979 when I took a part-time job as a stock clerk at Sears. Even then, I was planning for retirement, looking forward to the day I would never have to darken the door of anyone’s office or store as an employee. And in this desperate moment, I remembered what brought joy as a child, a teen and as a young adult: ART.

Springtime, the rebirth of all things growing and beautiful. And it felt as if I was coming out of the winter of my life. A canvas purchased months ago, still wrapped in cellophane began to look like a solution and a ray of light. Paints that somehow remained moist and usable and an old art ‘tackle box’ miraculously appeared. Sketch pads purchased over the years, but never used with any sense of purpose, were carried in the car, and brought our for lunches taken in the forest preserve. There I could relax, draw and sketch leisurely, no ‘projected timeline,’ or expectation placed on the effort. There, I could just move the pencil along the paper, hear the scratch of graphite mingling with paper and allow my hand and eye to rediscover one another. And in my heart, I begin to awake again.