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My Strange Answer to the Career Question

Sometimes it takes some stretching of the imagination to see that many of us actually became (or are becoming) what we wanted to be “when we grew up.”

When I was young, I wanted to be a spy. I had a special fanny-pack, stuffed with the essentials. My primary tool was a mini-composite notebook plastered in self-important stickers which declared its contents “PRIORITY” or “Top Secret!”. My plastic pair of binoculars (from a McDonald’s kids’ meal) allowed me to see longer distances across our yard or through second-floor windows. I also carried those small, knit-kid-gloves that can be rolled up inside each other. These were reserved for special climbing missions up the sappy, trunks of the evergreens which lined our property like a natural fence, allowing me to see my world for miles, hidden behind a coniferous curtain. As a spy, I would observe what my parents or siblings were doing—and maybe our neighbors if they were out and my binoculars could reach that far—and write down everything I saw. It was my goal to learn to write as fast I could, so I could capture every word of a conversation.

Not long after my spy phase, I wanted to be an author. I was still writing as fast as I could. Every opportunity in elementary school to write a story, I was on it. I would finish my story—complete with self-illustrations—while the other kids were still working, so I’d start another. Somewhere in the deep, deep archives of Indiana, you would discover that I was published in several books of children’s poetry, local essay contests, and school literary magazines. Since I was becoming so successful, I spent one summer going for the biggest gold star: I typed up an entire story, like, with chapters. And I guess I had my first experience of self-publishing, as my dad snuck my manuscript to the local printing company and surprised me with a box of bound books, ready to be handed out to friends and family.

As I moved into high school and college, I didn’t stop writing. I loved essay assignments from classes, and I took up every opportunity I saw to submit prose or poetry somewhere. I no longer thought about writing as a career, though, and had turned my attention to psychology. I was fascinated by the study of humanity, with the goal of helping us all to do it better.

And now, as an active writer and a few short steps away from being a licensed counselor, I got to be what I wanted when I grew up: a spy.

My mini-composite notebook has been replaced by client progress notes and a writing app. But I’m still observing, writing it all down, sifting. Taking the observations that I’ve gathered and noticing patterns, which questions are left lingering, the a-ha! thoughts that draw connections.

But now all of these skills serve a greater purpose than just being super cool or famous. I now hope my words stir something in souls. Whether in the sacred space of the therapeutic relationship or the craft of the written word, what I observe is the raw stuff that makes us all human. How I make sense of it is my personal style or voice. And I hope what I say reflects back truths that challenge, break open, heal. Because, you see, all of these careers—a spy, a writer, a therapist—boil down to the same thing: a truth-teller.

Mary Karr, known for her work with memoirs, points out that this is a bold thing to say these days. In The Art of Memoir, she says:

“I still think a screw has come loose in our culture around notions of truth, a word you almost can’t set down without quotes around it anymore. Sometimes it strikes me that even when we know something’s true, it’s almost rude to say so, as if claiming a truth at all—what? Threatens someone else’s experience? Most of all, no one wants to sound like some self-satisfied proselytizer everybody can pounce on and debunk.”

She’s not wrong. I edited this post several times before I decided if I was bold enough to name myself a “truth-teller.” (oops, there I go with the quotes).

But I’m going to claim it because I practice the hard work of telling my own truths first. Even in the quiet stillness, moments where the sifting isn’t for anyone else, I’ve been spying on myself and writing as fast as I could since I could piece letters together into words. I’m going to need to rent a storage unit soon for the over 30 diaries and journals I’ve accumulated since kindergarten. And luckily for my budget, I can’t store a lifetime of self-aware moments or ruminating thoughts. What one of my friends used to call my weird “spacing out” thing. What I call spirituality.

It’s all truth-telling, in the search of greater connection, wholeness, being awake to this brief and beautiful human experience.

I hope, as a grown-up spy, I can offer you some truth as we journey together.

This post was inspired by a career counseling tool, “Career Memories.” Access this resource if you’re interested in reflecting on the common threads of your own career callings.

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