Salute to Spouses Blog

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Creating a life to love

By Amy Nielsen

“Live the life you love,” the bumper sticker said. “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life,” goes the age old adage. “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work,” quipped the grandmother.

How many of us ever get the chance to say we do exactly what we want to do for a job? More often than not we hear about all of the office politics and watercooler jive. The commute kills our family time and we haven’t actually taken those vacations days in years.

Work bears the burden of responsibility. We are taught that responsibility is arduous and means being boring and underappreciated. When was the last time you walked out the door in the morning with a smile splitting your face like you might crack and a literal skip in your step because the idea of going to your job was that exciting and enjoyable?

I have been lucky enough in my time as a questionably responsible adult to have worked in some really interesting and completely off the wall careers. I have had, at this point, three major careers and one minor hop to the left – time warp fashion. I am pleased to say that I have loved them all for exactly what they brought into my life, both in friends and family, but also experiences I could have had in no other way.

My path was both random and planned. In some cases I decided to leap to a new cloud. In others my job disappeared and it seemed like a good time to try on a new career. Either way, the intent became following the wilds of change and listening to my heart.

When you think back on your first job, what is the very first sense that you remember? I’m not talking about working for family. I’m talking about the first job you interviewed for, even if it was one you resented. I remember walking into the smell of sawdust, cigarettes, cheap coffee, paint, and that slightly sweet smell of dust disintegrating on very hot metal surfaces.

My best friend was a theater brat at the local community theater. One afternoon at the end of freshman year in high school, in those strange, end of year, post-exam, pre-graduation days of early June, she needed a ride to rehearsal and I obliged. It was hot. The road was being repaved out front after the spring pothole season. Inside the theater the cool darkness wrapped itself around me as I sank into the faded, threadbare, velveteen seat. Until this point I had rarely been in a theater as an audience member. I had only seen a few live performances and never a rehearsal.

It seems so very strange to me to write that last sentence. I cannot fathom now that I once had not known the single slightest thing about how a theater worked. Sitting in that prickly seat in the dark, I realized that the thought had never crossed my mind that someone could do what those people were doing in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, in the center of town in June. And they got paid to do it too.

I realized that my paradigm followed that adults went to an office to work during the day. That jobs were dull, the boss was a boob, the pay was terrible, and the prospects of it ever changing bore a striking resemblance to a snowball in – well anyway. I believed that performers of this level did something else during the day. I mean, of course I knew then that people did work in places other than offices for a living. But it never occurred to me that I might be able to do something other than work in an office. The liberation made me shiver and draw in a deep breath.

To say I got bitten by the proverbial bug might better be described as the summer I ran away with the theater for 15 years. My greatest fortune in life thus far has been that the very first job I interviewed for and was hired to also became not only my lifelong passion but also a teacher that all worlds are possible.

I spent this past weekend, as I often do in the warmer weather, at a festival with friends, many of whom were vending or performing. Theirs is a life often glamorized and polished with the rag of gypsy mystery. Both characterizations are patently false as the life of a nomadic performer is as glamorous as setting up tents in the pouring rain knowing that attendance will be meager at best and certainly not pay for the space let alone dinner or gas to the next festival. The Roma might have a few words of caution about the word gypsy. Not a single one of these friends would ever choose willingly to sit in an office building.

Then there is my dear friend, the actuary. She deals with risk assessment and management in a large financial firm specializing in international transactions. To say her job is the polar opposite of my entire existence is an understatement. She spends her days in an office glued to several large computer screens scrolling through numbers, talking about human nature, and assessing how it might affect decision making. Her job is figuring out how to keep the two separate for the health of both. The idea of living life on the road and camping most weekends would cause her anxiety that would rock an elephant.

How many of us have friends who make their living doing exactly what they are best suited for? How many friends do you have who are doing exactly what they love to do and getting paid to do it? How do you weigh the cost to your spirit against tithing homage to a paycheck?

Did you choose your career or did it choose you? Is your heart full when you do what you call your work? Is it serving your greater purpose to do your job? What would it take to live your dreams?

It’s a scary prospect to leap at that moon. It feels like leaving all sanity behind and landing among a pile of asteroids colliding. Sure there are risks and exchanges to be made when you follow your heart. Do you want to feel like you do when you are in your most productive, happiest, strongest place? There is nothing that says you need to stay doing the same thing forever unless you want to. Do you want to?

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