The curse — and blessing — of liking everything

I’ve had many and varied jobs in my life, especially in my 20s and 30s. And I’ve enjoyed almost every single one of them, even when they had nothing to do with my literature major. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t ask myself many a time if I was throwing my life away. I did. But I’ve come to realize that having a meandering life has its advantages, especially for a writer.

This is a partial list of jobs I held before leaving Spain and coming to the U.S. at 33 years of age.

  • Waitress in a hotel in France
  • Nanny in London and Switzerland
  • High school teacher in a Catholic school in Barcelona
  • Receptionist at a urologist office
  • Hostess at fairs, conventions, and so on
  • Tour leader taking Spanish tourists around the world
  • Reader for publishing houses in Spain (I read one or two books a week to recommend or not their publication)
  • Translator and Editor

As you can see, I didn’t have a straightforward career. Neither did I want it. Work, for me, as for many other Spaniards, was not the center of my life. I worked to make a living, not to advance on the road towards “success”. In fact, I don’t think the concept of professional success even crossed my mind. I was too busy reading, loving, dancing, writing, philosophizing, and making lifelong friends.

My goals were simple. A job had to pay the bills, teach me something and be enjoyable. Ideally, it had the three factors in abundance. Sometimes it had more of one than the others.

Here are (some) of the reasons I enjoyed the jobs above and what I learned from them:

  • Waitress in a hotel in France: I learned a lot of French, how a professional kitchen and restaurant operate, and tasted great French dishes for the first time. Plus I loved being a waitress, the immediate gratification of a satisfied client. Bonus: I met my first lover.
  • Nanny in London and Switzerland: I learned a lot of English and that I could survive loneliness. I observed the British upper class way of living, which was quite different from my own. I enjoyed the London parks and museums. Bonus: I watched fascinating opera lessons in Geneva (my employers lent me their pass.)
  • High school teacher: I learned that I was good at entertaining and educating and that I loved teaching. In fact, I may have stayed in that position for quite a while if it weren’t that the nuns fired me, probably for talking about gay symbols in the poems of Luis Cernuda and Lorca (both closet homosexuals.)
  • Receptionist in a urologist office: It paid the bills. It allowed me to study human nature. It came in handy when I needed surgery and my boss asked a buddy to operate on me for free (I didn’t have medical insurance.)
  • Hostess: I got to wear a lovely uniform and pillbox hat that made me look like an old-school flight attendant. My colleagues were fun. I was appointed to several interesting engagements.
  • Tour Leader: I went 34 times to Egypt in three years as well as to a few other countries, including India, Nepal, China, and Japan. What’s not to like?
  • Reader: I got paid to do my favorite thing — reading!
  • Translator and editor: I lived and still live for words. ‘Nuff said.

Sometimes I’ve felt anguished that I started to behave as an “adult” so late in life. My wandering nature seemed a curse. If I’d had clearly defined goals and a dogged determination, who knows where I’d be today? Maybe I’d be a millionaire. Or a famous best-selling author. Or a tenured literature professor always working at the same University and retiring amidst the love messages of his grateful students.

Instead, since I came to the U.S. to study a PhD, I’ve had a more stable life and a successful career, but I still can’t stick to a steady road. I’ve jumped from teaching at UC Berkeley, to being a corporate leader, to launching my own business.

There’s a thirst in me to grow and change that I can never fully placate.

In the end, what I am, more than anything else, is a writer. The rich and diverse work and life experience I’ve had, I could never have gotten had I chosen a major at 18 and spent my life climbing the corporate or academic ladder — or any other ladder — always placed upon the same old wall and taking to the same final destination. (Not to say anything against committed young people with clear goals. Good for them! It just wasn’t me.)

I didn’t climb up from early on. I didn’t advance in a straight line. I zigzagged. And I believe that, in my case, that was a blessing in many ways.

This meandering road has helped me meet and empathize with people of all stripes, given me tons of stories material, and livened my writing.

So for the young people out there beating themselves up because they’re not yet making a mint, publishing best-sellers, or pursuing a clear career path, I have this message: Relax. You already HAVE a path. Pay attention and enjoy each step. Allow yourself to explore the fascinating side trails, instead of obsessing with the finish line. The unexpected twists and turns, as far as you’re learning, growing and having fun, may be the door that opens to the real mission in your life.

This post was previously published in MediumImage:George Hiles on Unsplash