A new career can be the best thing. With nothing to look back upon there is only looking at the present and dreaming about the future. Every tentative step, the checking of the footing as we head into the unknown becomes exciting, thrilling and at times scary as anything you may imagine. The world becomes an adventure, energy abounds and even our setbacks can be exhilarating as we explore ways to overcome them with grace. Sure, there are times when we fall on our faces, but even with the splashing of the mud there is an excitement that makes it kind of fun.
Sometimes new careers are started by accident. Sometimes we have no idea that an adventure is set to begin until we are right in the middle of it all. I remember how my career in human services started. There was no formal interview, no real classes to speak of, the day started as a routine high school day with an assembly. We were having a presentation on teen pregnancy, something I knew a great deal about having just returned to school after quitting prior to the birth of my son Warren IV (I had been blessed with custody). After fighting my way back into school and having tried to have become involved in the teen pregnancy programs, I learned that they were geared towards the young mothers only (some have changed over the years to integrate the fathers but at the time it was assumed that they either would not be around or not be interested in programming). When told that I could not attend classes in the young parent’s program I asked what role that I could have as a young father; they advised me that if I had a car, a license and insurance that I could drop off and pick up the mother when she attended programming…
Sitting in the meeting room I listened carefully to the presentation. They did a really good job but I found myself feeling angry, that it had been one sided and painted an unrealistic picture. I had never spoken out in public before but I found my hand raise into the air. My voice cracking, hands both sweaty and shaking, I proceeded to tell them that though I felt they did a really good job in their presentation, perhaps they should change their name to the young mothers program as they did not allow fathers to participate. I then shared a bit of my story as the panelists faces turned redder and redder. We exchanged a few polite volleys before I noticed that both the boss of the panelists and my principal were looking at each other red faced. Finally, mid sentence I said “and I think I’ll sit down now. Thanks for your time.”
In the next period class things appeared to be getting back to normal. Sure, there were a few folks asking me questions, after all, I was the quiet, new kid in this program and they just learned some juicy nuggets, but otherwise I had decided to simply move on. That was of course until the phone rang and I was told to report to the principals’ office. Upon entering his office for the first time I saw not only the principal but also the director of the program as well as all of the panelists! I thought I was about to be suspended or somehow reprimanded when the director spoke. To my amazement she stated that she recognized the shortcomings of the programs and had for sometime but that no one had ever verbalized it in public before. As I attempted to apologize for any embarrassment I may have caused, she continued talking and said that she felt I did a great job speaking at the presentation and wondered if I would agree to join their panel so that both sides of the issue could be explored. I declined and went back to class. Weeks later I received a call from home, followed by others until I agreed to join them.
Up until that point I had been a high school dropout from a long line of drop outs. I had no idea where I would be headed in life but planned on continuing to work hard and look forward. I joined their group even though it meant that I still could not take part in their programming (something I would talk about on occasion when on a panel); I became a stress management trainer, a peer leader, dropout prevention advocate, police explorer and eventually a high school graduate. I found myself propelled from the school aged panels and instead put on the state, regional and then national presentations. It lead to TV, Radio, newspaper interviews including a few front page articles. In a time before the internet, I learned that I was part of associated press stories as well.
There were many bumps in the road to be sure. I appear to have a natural ability to have some folks like me while having others despise or hate me. Some asked for autographs, others tried to have me banned from speaking. Thankfully I have had more friendly faces to contend with.
The Child Welfare League of America and then Director of Public Policy, Mary Bourdette learned of my work and invited me to their annual conference a few times. Knowing my humble background, the agency or someone at least, paid my way to Washington DC. It was my first time out of my town, my first time on a train, in a taxi and in a big city. I felt like the world had expanded a thousand times and nearly fainted when I read that the room they put me up in went for 185.00 a night (this was around 1990)! I went to my first “real” restaurant. Not only did they have real silverware but they also had cloth napkins and a person assigned to each table whose job it was to keep all the glasses filled! The bill for that mean for our table cost more than my family lived on for a month! This was not reality in my mind, but it was a nice fairytale.
I met some great people, I also met some politicians, a few of them being worth the trip to talk to, some who taught me just how phony people could be and that diapers and politicians need to be changed about as often and for the same reasons. If memory serves, I humbly asked one such politician if they had me confused with some of my kin. When asked why, I mentioned that they were farmers and as such could use all the manure they could get their hands on. As for me, I didn’t have so much as a garden so its usefulness was wasted on me. (My handler quickly changed the subject and later advised me not to bite the hand that fed me, to which I replied, that the politician in question while telling us how great our program was recently spoke out against such programs and voted to cut all funding (which she continued to do throughout her career).
Mary was a delight. I can’t tell you how much respect I have for her or how saddened I was when I learned of her passing. Heaven surely gained an angel when she passed but the earth was left a much sadder place. I returned the next year as well before ending my career with the program. I felt that I had done what I set out to do. In the end I presented for two young parents programs and helped secure funding for both so that they included young fathers and even had specialized programs for them; once this was in place I felt it was time to make room for the next generation. (Sadly, the funding was later gutted).
This work helped lead me to college and eventually to me typing this blog 20 or so years after I raised my hand…
I was honored to have been invited to volunteer for the ACA, to write this blog and to take part in panel discussions at the national conference. Though I have applied, I have yet to be accepted to present on my own. I will continue to try when the conference is within my ability to attend. I will be presenting at the American Mental Health Counseling Association’s annual conference on July 18th. I have never attended one of their conferences but had planned to especially when I noticed that they would be in Washington DC this year. I quickly wrote two proposals, one of which was accepted. Instead of speaking about teen pregnancy, I will be speaking about school safety. Mary will not be in the audience; I am not sure if anyone I know will be, perhaps someone who heard me speak all those years ago?
Sometimes our careers feel as if they have come full circle. When it does, it can be a good thing or bad. It can be the beginning of a new chapter or simply the continuation of what has already been done. As for me, well I am more about moving forward and making a new path. I have no real idea where all this will lead. Then again, I never planned on going this far.
I think in many ways that I have done what I set out to do. I feel that I have helped some folks along the way. I have had a great trip. I built a practice from nothing but the love and support of my family. The not for profit I founded recently bought a farm and started therapeutic programming. I designed and built a few group/classrooms and have day dreamed about teaching again, only this time it would be on the farm.
Time does many things for many people. Sometimes it lets us live a life that we never thought possible and it continues until we fade to black. Sometimes it gives us a life we never thought possible and then allows it to end so that we may begin again. I have no idea where I will be a year from now and I pray that I have at least another 20 years that I can one day look back upon. I do know this, life is meant for living and not simply for doing and I prefer to work on things that fulfill me. My career has come full circle; what’s next?
________________________________________________________________________ Warren Corson III (Doc Warren) is a counselor and the clinical & executive director of a community counseling agency in central CT (www.docwarren.org).