I spent a lot of time out at the Santa Fe Community College this past week talking to its leaders and teachers about career counseling for students and such. Some of them admitted that when they come across a student who does not have a particular talent for the topic he/she is pursuing – let’s say, nursing – that they, as counselors and teachers, have to be honest with that student and urge them to perhaps consider a different career path. They suggest these students, who may not possess strong academic skills, attain a certificate that ensures them of a job, be it as a plumber, auto mechanic, or tourism/hospitality worker.
Which brings me back to 1979 when I was attending Orange County Community College in Middletown, New York (about a half hour from where I grew up). I decided to study accounting and business to join the family business as bookkeeper – all the men in my family, going back at least 100 years, have been carpenters, and it was clear I did not possess any carpentry skills, so an effort was made to get me to handle the finances.
I didn’t like accounting or book keeping or math or business but I struggled along for a year, stumbling through most of my courses. I had a computer-science teacher – let’s call him Mr. A. – who was patient and congenial and pretty wise. He once hired me and another friend to do some trim work in a new house he had bought for some under-the-table money, and when we got there, we were astounded to see that all of his furniture was made out of cases of alcohol and beer. He had a huge chair built out of cases of beer, for instance, and it was obvious that he was dipping into the alcohol along the way, because one of the arms of the chair was kind of weak because the case was empty. I found it funny at the time. Now I find it sad.
He ran into me one night at a downtown diner. It was raining out and he didn’t look too good. We chatted about this and that for about 2 minutes, and then he said, out of left field, “Don’t become an accountant or business person or computer programmer. It’s not for you. You’re a writer, an artist. Go after that or you’ll end up miserable.” I don’t know how he knew all that.
And that was the extent of advice I got from him, which is more than my counselor (whose name I forgot almost immediately, since he forgot mine right away) ever gave me in community college.
I changed majors the next semester – from business to writing. It did take me an extra semester to earn my associate’s degree though. Career-wise, I’ve been pretty darn happy ever since – and that’s 35 years ago, more or less.
I never saw him again. I heard he died. He was a good adviser.