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Dream job and purpose

A dream job…is there really such a thing? From the time we can talk, people begin asking us,  “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

As we grow into our teen and young adult years, we begin to ask ourselves different questions such as, “What is the meaning of life? Why am I here? What is my purpose? What if I choose a career path that I end up hating? What if I miss my chance and never fulfill my purpose? I just want to be happy!”

The top dream jobs for children include veterinarian, teacher, firefighter or police officer. Yet, it’s common for children to change their minds about their dream job, several times over.

However, even today if you ask any of my sisters, they will tell you my dream job was always the same…I wanted to be a mommy.

Dreaming is vital to a fulfilled life. I’ve always loved dreaming. In fact, as a child I would go to bed early so I would have time to dream about what life could be.

The greatest accomplishments begin with dreams. It’s through dreaming that we develop vision. By formulating a vision, we create goals, and goals progress to achievement.

Often, people give up on their dream when barriers get in the way, or when others tell them their dream isn’t valuable. Sadly, many people don’t even know how to dream.

Every person cannot be a veterinarian, firefighter or police officer, but if we look closer at our initial child-dream, we may find the beginning of life adventures to come.

For example, take my childhood passion to become a mommy. I was certain my baby dolls could breathe, and feel, and miss me when I was gone.

I made everything into my ‘children’ including large pine cone babies that I would cover with  thick sycamore leaf blankets.

The truth is, play is the work of children. I remember carrying grass clippings and weeds to make an outline of my ‘house’ in the yard. I spent hours feeding, rocking and nurturing my babies in my self-made play house.

Could it have been that my purpose at this time was to role play my dream and develop my heart muscles for my future caring for other people?

During my adolescent years the dream became muddled. I spent more time trying to figure out who I was and where I fit. I began noticing the injustices of poverty and abandonment. I became angry and frustrated at the unnecessary pain people cause each other.

My mother had taught me that I was created for a good purpose, but I could not justify that any good could come from pain. With this mind-set, I remember the day my dream deliberately became that I was going to grow up to be a counselor so that I could care for hurting people.

I determined that I was going to open a halfway house for troubled teens. I even knew the old mansion in Ironton that I would purchase for my plan. I would never marry, but devote my life to my surrogate children…and have lots of cats. This would fulfill my purpose in life.

However, as the years progressed, things changed. I met a guy that I really liked. He was a city boy–but a really nice city boy. He had similar but different plans, and he is allergic to cats.

I found myself adjusting my dream — not abandoning it.

Together, we worked at a children’s home for troubled teens for several years. But this was too hard for me emotionally. I’d cry when the children had to return to difficult homes. I sat through labor and delivery with teen moms. I worried if they decided to parent their children and worried if they decided to place their baby for adoption.

Though I couldn’t see it then, my purpose at this time was to nurture, and guide, and just be present. Though I developed some wonderful skills during these years, my heart just couldn’t adjust to the pain. I had to revise my dream yet again.

I escaped into an institutional job that let me hide the most tender part of my heart in clinical assessments, report writing, and understanding state regulations. Though this had never been part of my dream, my purpose during this phase of life was to help people receive the services they needed so that they could discover answers to the pain they were having.

But then my teenage child became very ill. So ill that she had to spend much of her high school years in the hospital. The school she attended allowed me to work for them so that I could be more available to her. I was thinking that this was a time that I would have to give up on my dream and put finding my purpose on the back burner.

I became the guidance counselor for K-12 students, teaching character development classes, counseling students through family crises, and preparing students for life after high school.

Though my dream did not include the pain my daughter had to endure, my purpose in this job was to teach, and listen, and guide others to develop their dreams.

Today, decades removed from my little girl dream, I find myself beginning a new phase in my professional career. Now I get to offer hope to students who know what poverty and abandonment mean. I get to nurture adults in their struggle to find who they are and where they fit. I get to celebrate the richness of being born both poor and Appalachian.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the mama to these students. But as I look back at all the previous jobs I undertook, I can see how each prepared me for the next.

Now I get to use those intrinsic gifts I had from youth, the gifts that motivate me and give me energy to make a positive difference in my world.

Life is a journey with the dream job coming in stages. As we experience more of life, a clearer vision of what our strengths are emerges and we discover how we can use these to better our world. And with each experience–good and bad–our purpose is fulfilled.

So what is your ‘dream job?’ It is what you make of where you are today. Every job has its not-so-likeable tasks. Make it your goal to address those tasks as opportunities for personal growth. Let your end-of-the-day-attitude be one that focuses on the ‘sweet spots’ of your job.

And what is your purpose? It is to greet the challenges laid before you today by using the gifts you have honed over the years to better the world you touch.


Nora Swango Stanger, a Lawrence County native and Appalachian outreach coordinator for Sinclair Community College, can be reached at norastanger@gmail.com.