Life of Ryan IV: Work

(This is the fourth in a series of blogs by “Ryan,” a person in my clientele who has MS.)

I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. Now that might sound a bit strange because I am grown up, at least by age, since I’m 72. But somehow “I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up” still seems true for me. I think it has always been true for me. I have never had some passionate purpose in the world of work.

Now don’t get me wrong. Until my becoming disabled with MS I always worked diligently, consistently, and honestly. I never was out of work and sometimes worked a second job to make ends meet. I was the sole bread-winner in the family and was rather proud of the fact that I provided my wife with the opportunity to do what she did best, and wanted to do: raise our children. She did a fine job at that endeavor. In my working career, I did a variety of things, usually people-related, starting with stocking as a grocery boy, then landscaping, then after my brief stint in college and longer stint in the Navy, I worked in some kind of sales. I did a sales route for some time and ended my working career at an inside sales job. I think I can honestly say that my work ethic has always been good. For me, “on time” meant “early”, not late that it is for many people. I don’t know if I worked harder than anyone else did but I always worked faithfully. So work was never a problem. Vocation was, however.

I never had what I could consider to be a vocation. My psychologist and amanuensis (remember that word; it means ghost writer), Ron, and I have talked about this several times, and I always end up saying, “I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up.” I still don’t. If I were able-bodied (Gosh, I wish I were), I have no idea what I would do or could do as far as a profession. If I were out and about, I might have another sales job or work part-time for some landscaping outfit, but these would be jobs, not professions. Ron talks about a “profession” as something much more than a job. He told me about a trash collector that he knows who has a profession out of trash. That sounds a bit weird because I think of professionals as doctors, lawyers, and teachers. But the idea that a profession can be anything is an interesting idea. A profession is built on some kind of inner drive or purpose that leads to some kind of excitement and ultimately to some kind of purpose.

I never have had that kind of passion and purpose. My purpose of working was to put bread on the table and clothes on my family. So I worked to do that, and would probably dig ditches (Gosh, I wish I could) or anything if I could do such things. But the idea of doing something that I feel compelled to do is a real challenge. I’m not sure what that feeling of purpose is like. I don’t think I’ve ever really had that kind of feeling, like some people have for hang-gliding, doctoring, or starting some kind of business. If I were to start a business, I have no idea what I might do. I’m not sure I have that entrepreneurial spirit that some people seem to have, but more importantly, I don’t have that thing people call passion to do something great. I wish I did. I wonder how I missed that passion thing that seems to drive people, maybe to college, the military, some special business, or politics.

I doubt that I am alone in this dilemma. Ron tells me that many people are in the same position, i.e. not knowing what they want to do when they grow up. School was pretty easy for me, at least elementary and high school. The Navy was not so bad. You needed to be busy or look busy. You know what they say about the military: if it moved, salute it; if it doesn’t move, pick it up; if you can’t pick it up, paint it. That I could do. I did my jobs in the navy without complaint and rather enjoyed it, but I was never a lifer, and I doubt I could have really committed myself to 20 or 30 years in the navy. Likewise, I never found “it”, whatever “it” was in college. I was there about a semester and a half, but I wasn’t interested in the slightest. After my brief stint in college and longer stint in the navy, I was pretty soon in the work force, got married, and was off on a life of work, family, and bowling. By the way, I actually considered doing bowling for a profession but quickly learned that the time, effort, and money involved was not something I was willing to do. I did make 297 once, however, darn those last three bowling pins.

So here I am sitting like a bump on a log, quite literally by the way, me being the bump and the log being my bed or wheelchair. I sit here wondering what I could have done, should have done, or…(could it be?)…yet could do. Ron tells me that people should “discover” what they want to be or do in life, not “deciding” on what they want to be. I have never been particularly good at either discovering or deciding. I have been much better at responding. I respond to job possibilities; I respond to requirements of a job; I respond to everything. But if I were to initiate, discover, or decide on what I should do for a living, I have no idea as to how to do that.

Another thing Ron tells me to do when trying to find this elusive profession is to see what my “strengths and abilities” are. Here again, I am at a loss. I never have really paid much attention to what I was good at or maybe potentially even great at. I just did what was in front of me and I did it faithfully, whether stocking groceries, laying landscape logs, or selling something. Just did it. Didn’t really think about it for the most part. So I continue to muse about what these so-called strengths and abilities are. What a time to be thinking of such things, when I have, dare I say, a lot less strengths than I did when I was, like 0, or even 10. I am yet searching. Maybe you know how to do this thing of finding passions, purpose, and strengths. I’m certainly not good at it.

Further Reading

Life of Ryan I, II, III