Back when I was a senior at St. Joseph High School, they gave us one of those career aptitude tests to determine what direction we should take in life — butcher, baker, candlestick maker or hedge fund manager.
This test was something like a Hollywood screening to determine if you should be on the Game of Thrones or the Living Dead. All that was missing was Harvey Weinstein, although we’d meet people like him later on.
Our guidance counselor, Father Shea, told us there were no right or wrong answers. “Just be honest,” he said. Famous last words.
Whenever anybody tells me there’s no right or wrong answer, I get anxious because it means be VERY careful about what you say, or the thought police may take you away to a remote island off the coast of Maine for a business lunch with Pennywise the Clown.
Since I was a stickler about obeying directions, I answered truthfully to some pretty weird questions like “Do you wear matching socks?” And “Would you rather teach, be taught or go skinny dipping?” And “If you had to choose, would you invest your own money, someone else’s money or embezzle money?” And the perennial favorite, “What’s your favorite color underwear?”
You see, it was one of those assessment tests to determine what your passions and talents were so you could find the best path for yourself — a life of virtue, a life of crime or a life of highly compensated loafing.
Deciding on a career was confusing. There were so many possibilities. When I was young, I often thought I wanted to be, in no particular order of preference; a professional wrestler, a missionary priest, a dog whisperer, a playboy, Dostoevsky or Bob Dylan.
Several weeks later, we got the results, and I was more perplexed than before. If this test was going to illuminate my career path, I’d be better off joining the Merchant Marines even though I was prone to seasickness and would probably have fallen overboard before we made it out of Bridgeport harbor.
The test indicated I was suited for a career as 1. Truck driver (take your pick, an 18-wheeler or a Good Humor ice cream truck) 2. Interior designer (my mother always said I had skills in this area because my dirty clothes were often arranged in ornate patterns on the bed, under the bed and on the closet floor) 3. Writer (Dostoevsky déjà vu)
Father Shea explained that these possibilities weren’t set in stone and we could do anything we pleased, although he recommended professions that were legal and to avoid a life of crime, St. Joe’s being a Catholic school and all.
So at the tender age of 17, I was confused and getting more confused by the day. Then, the fog lifted because one of my teachers, Norman DeTullio, who was faculty adviser for the school newspaper, said I was meant to be a writer, not an interior designer or rock star, which was a competitive profession being pursued by every other Baby Boomer who got a guitar for Christmas.
During your life, you’ll have many jobs. Over the years, I’ve been a landscaper, a carpenter, a laborer, an editor, a reporter, a factory worker, a PR person, and other assorted things my wife calls me from time to time that I can’t repeat in a family newspaper.
Because of this vast experience, or despite it, I recently returned to St. Joseph’s to take part in Career Day, where 35 professionals gave presentations to almost 400 students and talked about their jobs so students could learn “what old people do with their day,” in the words of Dr. Bill Fitzgerald, head of the school.
Dr. Donald Gibson, vice provost for academic affairs at Fairfield University and former dean of the Dolan School of Business, assured students there’s no magic formula to selecting a career. It’s a discernment process with two fundamental considerations — “what am I good at?” and “ what do I like to do?”
During my sessions with juniors and seniors, I was often tempted to say, “Grasshopper, life is a discovery process so put one foot in front of the other and be prepared to stumble.” I think I read that in a fortune cookie or maybe in the training manual for interior designers.
Anyway, at this stage I’m ready for my next career — selling chocolate eclair ice cream bars from my Good Humor truck.
You may contact Joe Pisani at firstname.lastname@example.org.