Column: The job makes not the man

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Although I no longer work as a substitute teacher, one of my great joys is running into my “kids” from Brookpark Middle School. They’re older now. Gangly, awkward teens now walk with the assured step of early adulthood and while I may not always immediately retrieve their names, it’s easy to recall their mark on my life.

I recently ran into one favorite former student behind the meat counter at Kroger’s. Truthfully, I was not in a great mood. I felt tired, my back hurt and I was on a mission. I was buying ham for a funeral.

My mood immediately lifted as I approached the butcher. I recognized the tall, good-looking man behind the counter. (Get your mind out of the gutter. I’m an old woman.) Josh was a particularly memorable Brookpark student. His heart is kind and generous and even at a tender age, he had a sense of personal responsibility to himself as well as others. 

Fortunately, Josh seemed equally pleased to see me. I asked him what he was up to.

That’s when he earnestly replied, “Mrs. Kazalia, I don’t know what I want to do. I don’t know what I want to do with the rest of my life.”

Do you remember those days? I do. I vividly recall attending Bowling Green State University’s orientation with my parents in the summer of 1978, not long after my own Grove City High School graduation. We spent the day listening to speakers and attending long, required sessions. That night we wearily retreated to our room in Offenhauer Tower with an armload of papers to complete. Forms that insistently demanded that I declare a major. 

The problem was I didn’t know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I entered college at the age of 17. Who knows after only 17 or 18 years on this earth what they want to do with their entire life? I didn’t. This uncertainty caused some short-term concern for my mom and dad who were graciously underwriting college costs.

Fortunately, after much angst, I declared a major. I even managed to graduate in less than four years. Like many people, I spent much of my 20s and 30s focusing on what I was doing in my career. As a healthcare administrator, I accepted transfers and promotions. I switched jobs if one looked better or paid more. My world spun faster and faster.

Ultimately, I realized that much of life is not about deciding what you or I want to “do” in terms of work. Jobs come and go. It’s not important whether I pursue a corporate career or serve as a substitute teacher. Likewise, it’s not important whether I am a brain surgeon or a bus driver. These career choices, while they might reflect what part of myself  I wish to explore, are immaterial. 

The critical point is to consciously choose who I want to be in any given moment. Who am I in my daily encounters? What part of myself do I wish to call forth? What behaviors and emotions do I choose?

Who do I choose to be when challenges arise or this world gets difficult? How do I choose to respond when someone is unkind or I am having a bad day? This is the issue that defines each of us as it impacts how our individual lives unfold.  

I have no doubt that Josh will figure out his career. I hope that, regardless of what the job entails, it offers him overwhelming personal and professional fulfillment. Make no mistake, however,  that this world is already a better place because of who Josh chooses to be. 

May each of us, no matter what our path, choose to be a light in 2008.

Cindy Kazalia is a staff writer for the Southwest Messenger.

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