I was asked to speak at my daughter’s middle school for their career day. When I got the call from the school, the teacher who called asked me if I wanted to come in and speak about being a dog groomer. I assumed that my daughter, who is 14, wanted me to come in. How else would they know I was a groomer?

When she came home from school, the conversation went like this:

“Hey, I got a call from Mrs. W today. She asked me if I would come in and speak to your team about being a dog groomer.”

My daughter looked at me like I said I was planning on coming in to shoot up the school.  “I HOPE you told them NO.”  That’s when I realized that the school looked up my occupation on the registration forms.

“Well, honey, I already said yes because I thought you wanted me to be there.”

“WHY would I want you to come in?” she replied with all the drama of a middle-schooler.

“Well I am coming in to speak and I can’t back out of it,” I told her. “Besides, everyone’s path is different. Being a dog groomer is a great job. I never have to dress up or wear makeup. I work out of the house so my commute is 2 seconds. How many other occupations can you train for in 14 weeks? It can be a full time career or a flexible part time one. Think of all the kids that are going to college and have a huge debt load? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to work at a job that paid more than minimum wage while you went to college? What about the kids that can’t afford to go to college or decide that college is not for them? Or what about those who graduate and find that there are no jobs available for them? Dog grooming schools place their students.”

None of my kids want to be a dog groomer. That is fine. I don’t expect them to. I had no idea I would be a groomer, either. I have a graphic arts degree. Life at 18 or 22 is a lot different than 42. Your needs change. Your expectations are different.  How many of you work in the industry that you studied in college?

There were 8 parents asked to speak – 3 women and 5 men. There were 2 speakers in each class and the kids rotated from room to room. The other woman that spoke in the classroom with me was Scribble Jane, a professional singer for the kid’s band, Scribble Monster. They sing songs for 3-8 year olds and have 4 CD’s. She played a song for the 8th graders called “Chocolate Milk”. My son would have loved it when he was 3 or 4!

Jane and I both told the kids that it is hard to know at 18 where your life will take you or what skills you will need. The leader of her band was a marketing guy. He always wanted to sing and write songs but he had a teacher in high school that told him he had no talent and had no business picking that career. He thought marketing was a “normal job” and that is where he headed. After he was laid off, he decided to pursue his dream. The band headed by the “untalented” man will play at Lollapalooza this summer in Chicago. Look how different his life is than the one he imagined in college.

Many of the 8th graders wanted to be rock stars. Jane told them that to be Katy Perry is nearly impossible. However, making a living in the music industry is attainable if that is what they really want to do. She told them to keep practicing and work really hard and a door will open. She told them that the leader of their band wanted to be in a “big boy band” but found too much competition. He has since found success taking another road in the same industry.

My own speech went well. Clearly I don’t have the kind of job where I speak in front of a crowd, but I knew my subject matter and told my story. The kids were all interested and many asked questions. The most popular question I was asked was “Have you ever been bit by a dog?”(The answer is yes.)  We were all asked to talk about the good and bad parts of our jobs, what education we needed, salary range and how our jobs are affected by the economy.  That is another good thing about my job – it is recession proof.

The careers of the 8 parents were:  singer, photographer, FBI agent, pharmacist, nuclear engineer, firefighter, phlebologist and a dog groomer. (For three of us, this was a 2nd career.)  It was a nice variety of careers for the kids to hear about. At this point, the 8th graders want to be teachers, nurses, doctors and engineers. Not one person said they wanted to be the Midwestern United States Sales Director for a global paper company. (Sorry, honey!)  I don’t think the kids in this primarily white-collar neighborhood are considering a trade as a career or a stepping stone. (However, when the plumber comes to the house and gives you a bill, the trades look like a pretty smart idea.)

I went to share my story with the kids to let them know there is more than one path to success. Lack of money or a low SAT score does not eliminate you from the race. A four-year degree does not guarantee you happiness or a six-figure income. It is never too late to take another path if the road you are taking is not what you hoped it would be. Trust in your dreams and let them lead you to your own road to success.

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