My wife, Heather, is about to graduate from nursing school with an RN degree. I’m very proud of her, but also of myself, because now I can wearily exclaim that I’ve put someone through college. Whenever anyone complains about the cost of college tuition, I can say, “Oh, you don’t have to tell me! Believe me, I know. I just put someone through college.” Tuition was actually quite reasonable, and most of it was covered by a scholarship. But let’s not quibble over the degree of my nobility. That’s distasteful.
Nursing is not Heather’s first profession. And, while it’s a wonderful, socially valuable field, I’ll admit that I was content when she sold copiers for Konica-Minolta. She usually hit her quota, which meant that I got to go on the annual reward trip. If that sounds stuffy, remember that Konica-Minolta is a Japanese company, and nobody parties harder than Japanese people on a business trip. One year we went to Dublin, where we saw a U2 tribute band play inside the Guinness brewery. It was an open bar and our drink tickets were in the form of fake money printed with the CEO’s face on it. I’m pretty sure that sort of thing isn’t going to happen much now that she’s working in a dermatology office.
Before Konica she worked for Johnson & Johnson, a gig that also had its upsides, like a company car with a trunk full of K-Y Jelly. After that, she had a job with a medical laser company, which meant that she always had a bunch of demo lasers in our laundry room. One of them looked like the robot from Short Circuit, if the robot from Short Circuit could zap off your pubes.
Since she’s now working at a derma practice rather than, say, an emergency room, you’d think the daily menu of medical problems would be pretty sedate. But already her work stories are way more disturbing than they were when she was hawking copiers. The other day, she came home and said that a guy had shown up in an ambulance; they took a dressing off his chest to reveal a tumor that looked like the Alien. (She didn’t describe it in quite those terms, but this is how I envision it.) The dermatologist was like, “Hey dipwads, how about you take this guy to the hospital? This is a dermatology office, not an alien-removal office.” (She also did not describe his reaction in quite that way. But that’s what I’d say, if I were an exasperated dermatologist.) The upshot is that she now gets to wear Grey’s Anatomy-brand scrubs and have friends show her their moles and ask, “Does this look weird?” Now that’s authority!
Heather’s career-hopping has made me a little bit sorry that I haven’t explored any advanced degrees or alternate careers. Sometimes I pick up the course catalog from the local community college and say, “Welding! I should take that course. That would be a cool thing to know how to do.” And then within a few minutes I’ve talked myself out of it. Welding? You need to buy that dark mask and welding equipment, and then there are the permits, I imagine. Plus, with all the plastics these days, there’s less to weld and, oh, never mind.
From time to time I ponder pursuing some sort of prestigious academic path. For instance, two of my editors have won writing fellowships, at MIT and the University of Michigan, respectively. One of those guys is 6-foot-5, so you could say he’s a long fellow. With the ability to unleash prose like that, it’s a wonder I don’t have Harvard knocking on my door already. I bet I’d be an awesome professor, too, but then I’d need to buy a Volvo and a corduroy jacket with patches on the elbows and, oh, never mind.
Anyway, this is the time of year when new graduates stress out over their jobs, and Heather’s circuitous professional path proves that post-graduation career anxiety is probably misplaced. Don’t worry which law firm you join, because in five years you’re going to be running a charter boat out of Panama, just until the heat dies down.
To cite just one example of how much your job can change, I have a friend who started out working at a consulting firm and now owns a fast-growing hair-extension company. By which I mean, the company is fast-growing. Not the hair. That stops growing when they cut it off the yaks. My point is, “Yak-Hair Tycoon” wasn’t a choice at any of the job fairs.
As for Heather, she decided to go for her nurse practitioner degree, which requires two more years of school. That means a lot of long hours, a lot of selfless dedication and personal sacrifice. And I imagine it’ll be challenging for Heather, too.