What Heffalumps and a Career Coach Taught Me
It got me thinking of how my original career choices were laid out before me — either a nurse or an elementary school teacher.
This was after I failed the career test, I took at Drexel University, which showed my supposedly hidden talents were a forest ranger or a physical therapist.
I sat slumped in a dark green chair as the career coach (CC), shuffled papers across from me.
Let’s stack and tap them all official like.
Tap, tap, tap.
The pregnant pause was deafening while we waited to hear the results.
My parents were exasperated bookends — one on each side of me.
Metaphorically propping me up and reminding me:
This is costing us a lot of money. Money that we don’t have, Carolyn. We need to steer you in the right direction. You can’t play ultimate frisbee for a career and being a musician isn’t enough and your writing is silly.
Every word spoken was punctuated with a heavy dark magic of disappointment. Even the florescent light’s buzzing above were in cahoots.
I stared at my shoes and became a bright blue poisonous tree frog. In my thoughts I messed up the oddly neat desk of the CC.
I didn’t have the courage to say the test was super boring and after a while there was a pattern. The questions screamed — You wanna be a dentist? How about an electrician?
I really didn’t. But I liked trees and helping people. (Still do.)
Also, my heart hurt. I was sweaty. And I very much had to pee. I wanted a hoagie or a pizza — alone. And a cup of coffee, please.
What I also didn’t share is I started to answer the questions as if I were a piano and designated each response as a musical note that played a lovely R&B.
At one point I was so concerned others could hear the music too, I closed my eyes and took a wee nap.
Thankfully, I was sitting next to a window and my eyelids are a far cry from darkening shades and I didn’t have an eye mask thingy (which I never heard of until I was in my 20s) but eye closing — on a basic level — was quite yummy.
That’s when I started to see colors — beautiful colors! I was like a Pez dispenser surviving a harrowing affair.
Back to the career coach, mom and dad as well as a welcomed herd of 22 Heffalumps stomping through the room trying so hard to keep me company while I heard from the serious CC who had the commentary of a news anchor:
Most people don’t score this way. Why a forest ranger is a fine occupation but how did you mange to also be a physical therapist as a subcategory? This is strange. It shows me something that I can’t quite put my finger on…. Hmmmm.
[Silence other than my heartbeat — thump, thump, thump….]
CC: Ahhhh. Maybe that’s it. You seem to….
Me: Think out of the box? [Maybe I should be a cat!]
Mom & Dad: Don’t be rude! Shhhhh! Stop talking. Just listen.
Mom & Dad to CC: I’m so sorry for our daughter’s attitude. (life, presence, strangeness……)
The conversation trailed off to a low growl and maybe a little thunder in my tummy.
I started to disintegrate into some sort of fractal geometry because the tangent they were going on — lost me.
My imagination walked me through a portal where I wiped my feet, changed into comfy clothes, and called the Heffalumps to join me.
We had a tiny quiet party.
For my first career, I did become an elementary school teacher because it was the best choice out of the two options given after the career counseling fiasco.
And I enjoyed children; they are little gurus with immense creativity.
We got along well. (We still do).
Nursing would never have worked. I frequently fainted.
Later, I switched careers and became a mental health therapist that works with highly sensitive, often gifted people who are mislabeled as forest rangers but who really want to be respected for what their heart sees.
PS: AND!!!! I finally went back to creative writing.
Carolyn Riker is a poet, writer and author. She has two books of poetry: Blue Clouds and This is Love. She’s currently working on her third book of poetry and a her first novel. In addition to writing, she has a private practice as a highly sensitive mental health therapist. If you would like to read more of her words, follow her on Facebook at Carolyn Riker, MA, LMHC.