Once upon a time, long, long ago . . . when I was a young girl of 5 or 6, I set my mind on becoming a ballerina when I grew up. It was a dream that I am sure was, and still is, shared by many girls of that age.
To prepare for what I was sure would be my destiny, I would put on a pair of tights and my frilliest petticoat (which was my makeshift tutu) and spend hours practicing “pirouettes” in front of my bedroom mirror. To casual observers it might have looked like I was simply whirling around with my arms flailing high above my head, but I wouldn’t consider these people to be true lovers of the art. Still, I must confess that the one and only time I actually tried standing on my tiptoes I fell flat on my bootie and it, and my feet, hurt for days. Such is the life of a prima ballerina I thought to myself.
It wasn’t long, however, before reality set in. As I approached my tween years, it became abundantly – and painfully – clear to me that I was never going to be Swan Lake material. It was time to re-boot my dreams and begin considering another vocation.
VOCATION: noun, a calling, mission, life’s work, purpose or function; a strong impulse or inclination to follow a particular activity or career; a person’s employment or main occupation, especially one regarded as particularly worthy and requiring great dedication; a trade or profession
When I and my fellow baby boomers entered high school in the ‘60s, it was still widely assumed that most young women would marry, have a station wagon full of kids and then spend their days working as full-time homemakers. At the time I thought that this would also be the path that my life would take. I could envision myself happily married, walking my little ones to school, shopping at the Piggly Wiggly on double coupon day . . . I just didn’t want it to happen too soon. In the meantime, I was anxiously looking forward to the prospect of living on my own for a few years. (This turned out to be a good thing as I did not find my Mr. Right until many years later. My poor parents had all but given up hope of ever seeing their eldest daughter walk down the aisle.)
As my female contemporaries and I did not have the plethora of career opportunities open to women today, I began to think about the so-called “female occupations” of the time: secretary, teacher and nurse. After giving it some thought, I decided to look for an administrative position that required some accounting or budgeting skills, as I had always loved math. To my surprise, thanks to a referral from a classmate, I was lucky enough to secure a bookkeeping position with a local firm just two days after graduating.
For the most part, I liked the job. Even though I had many years of experience as a babysitter and a waitress, this was my first real grown-up job and I enjoyed the freedom that it gave me. I was also getting some valuable experience, and my co-workers were supportive and fun to be around. But after two years I had to admit that I was getting a bit bored. The work was no longer challenging and there was very little opportunity for advancement. At the same time, I was also starting to give some thought to relocating. So, being very young, and even more foolish, I gave my notice without having another position (duh?!). But I did have a plan, sort of. I was going to move to Madison and find a job there. I mean, I was 19 years old, had less than $400 to my name and no job — what could possibly go wrong?
Well, as the old saying goes . . . life happens while we’re making plans. Only days into my hunt for an apartment and a new job, my parents received a perfectly timed phone call from my uncle in California. He sounded both exhausted and exhilarated as he quickly informed us that my aunt had just given birth. All went well except that instead of delivering one baby boy — as he had clearly instructed her to do — she gave birth to TWO adorable baby girls. It had been a difficult birth and they were looking for help in bringing the babies home to join their 5-year-old sister who was anxiously awaiting their arrival.
Talk about serendipity! I immediately put my move to Madison on hold and hopped the next plane to San Francisco. I spent four months there caring for the babies and helping my aunt recover, and I loved every minute of it. I also came to love California, especially San Francisco, and seriously began thinking about staying. At the same time, I was also desperately missing my family and I eventually decided to go back home. Unfortunately, upon my return I quickly discovered that the recession that was spreading across the country had definitely hit Wisconsin. Finding a new job took longer than I had anticipated but I finally landed a great position with a CPA firm in Fond du Lac. But in spite of the fact that I found my work there very satisfying, two years down the road, my wanderlust resurfaced . . . and I knew that I had to return to San Francisco, this time for good.
Shortly after arriving in “the City”, as the natives call it, I decided it was time to find what I would come to consider my true vocation. I knew that I wanted to work in accounting or finance, and that I wanted to be part of a large company that could offer a broad range of growth opportunities. With resume in hand, I started working with a seasoned recruiter. After a few fruitless interviews, I was lucky enough to score a job offer with the Federal Reserve Bank as a financial/budget analyst. I accepted it on the spot and couldn’t wait to start my new job!