DOING WHAT YOU LOVE, LOVING WHAT YOU DO – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My mother was a psychologist and my father was a psychoanalyst. They both practiced as therapists. It seemed like the greatest profession and I grew up wanting to be a therapist too. You get to help people but you can be your own boss and set your own schedule. I always thought I would go to medical school, like my Dad, and become a psychiatrist or psychoanalyst.

Unfortunately, it turned out that I sucked at science. After my first year in college, I realized that I would never get good enough grades in the sciences to get into medical school. So I followed my interests and became an American Studies major, with a minor in history. Toward the end of my college career, I announced that I would become a therapist by going to social work or psychology grad school.

My father went ballistic. He was actually famous in his profession. He was devastated at the thought that his daughter would not go to medical school. ‘Just’ being a therapist, without a medical degree, was unthinkable for any daughter of his. I would have been an embarrassment.

Like a young, insecure idiot, I bowed to his wishes and gave up my dream. I realized I could go to law school if I just took the LSAT exam. So that’s what I did. I basically chose a career based on where I could go to grad school — with the least amount of hassle. I was interested in the law, but not excited. I had no idea what it meant to be a practicing lawyer, day-to-day.

I made it through law school, still not really motivated to practice law. It turned out that the only kind of law I was really interested in, found intellectually challenging, was litigation, or trial practice. But litigators had to put in crazy, unpredictable hours and my husband was already doing that. I wanted children and didn’t think I could handle a demanding career, a demanding husband, running our lives and bringing up kids. I don’t thrive on stress and hyperactivity – they sap me and overwhelm me. I ended up being overwhelmed anyway, at home, with a bi-polar husband and one child with psychological and learning issues.

So I opted for a small, general practice law firm in New York City. I did contracts, trusts and estates, some leases, etc. I was bored out of my mind. Lots of paperwork and endless bureaucracy to negotiate. Not stimulating or gratifying in any way. I couldn’t wait to get pregnant so I could quit and become a stay at home Mom. Being a Mother was the one thing I was really excited about.

It turns out that the day my son was born, two months prematurely, I found my ideal career. I loved being a Mom and managing a home for my family. I worked hard, with no weekends off and few vacations. I was never bored. I always felt challenged by whatever phase my kids were going through. I was happy and satisfied with my life style.

I never looked back or regretted my decision to leave the law for motherhood. The decision I regret was appeasing my father and not pursuing the career I really wanted, in whatever way I wanted. Had I found a career I loved, my life would have played out differently. I could have worked part-time as a psychologist while my kids grew up, like my Mom did. (At that time, part-time work or job sharing was almost non-existent in law firms). I would also have had a career to go back to when my kids left home. It would have been nice to have a job I loved to fill the empty nest years, in my 50’s and 60’s.

What is depressing to me now is that I gave up the chance to fulfill my dreams of being a therapist. And I gave it all up to assuage my father’s ego. I wish I could go back now and tell my 21-year-old self to stand up to my Dad. To just go for the life I wanted. What makes it worse is that my Dad and I had a very limited and strained relationship. He was not really involved in my life. Except to step in and put the kibosh on my career choice.

I loved my job as a home maker and Mom. But I could also have loved my job as a therapist. And, I would have never felt I missed out on a big part of life.

25 thoughts on “DOING WHAT YOU LOVE, LOVING WHAT YOU DO – BY ELLIN CURLEY

  1. I suppose the one really positive thing about having a very rocky relationship with parents and really ghastly one with my father is that it never crossed my mind to let them make any decision for me, ever. In any case, I’m so stubborn, even if they were 100% right, I’d STILL have done it my way. Fortunately, I knew what I wanted and I got lucky and was able to do it. My brother tried to do what they told him to do and it was a disaster.

    My mother was sure I should be a teacher because “even during the depression, teachers always had work.” Funny that’s not true these days, isn’t it? It is as insecure as every other profession.

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    • The key is that you were stubborn and would never do what your parents wanted you to. I was obedient and always did what was expected of me. I’ve only recently learned to advocate for myself and put my needs up front. So this story says as much about my character, then, as it does about my parents!

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      • The stubbornness didn’t always work out well, but I took my lumps and dealt with life. I think a lot of it was that I didn’t think my parents had done well for themselves or each other and doubted they really understood the world in which I was living. Things had changed a lot by the 1960s and were continuing to change very quickly. I really believed I could push my way into a writing career and luckily, I was right. I don’t know if I could have done it so easily now. Times KEEP changing. But in the end, I think the whole point of parenthood is to give wings to your kids so they can do their own flying. Even when it’s painful to watch … and sometimes, it really is painful.

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  2. It’s curious that as we age we tend to have poorer eyesight, yet can see with greater clarity where we went wrong and what we should have done back then 🙂 But then it’s like in my recent post on Photography – the less you see of somethings, the more you see of others 😉

    love

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    • It’s funny but it wasn’t until recently that I looked back on that incident and thought “what was I thinking?” I’ve always accepted the line that that was what had to happen. That I could never be a therapist without becoming a doctor first. I’ve had to get a lot older than most people to see some of the mistakes I made in my youth.

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  3. I really think if parents would temper their own hopes for us (which often include a huge amount of ego) and let us find our own path, as Marilyn did, the world would be a much kinder place for us all.

    We only get one chance at most things, and no matter how much anyone reminds us that we CAN’T go back, we always wonder, don’t we, what if what if what if. Terry Pratchett’s Pantlegs of Time. =)

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    • Becuase of my parents heavy hands with me, I always made sure that my kids followed their own dreams. My daughter has been only partially employed in LA pursuing a career in TV production for over 8 years now. This is her dream and however long she wants to pursue it is fine with me. I personally wish she’d opt for a more stable life with more successes for her and less rejection and unemployment. But I would never interfere. Right now, it would be worse for her to give up and move on. So be it.

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  4. Sadly, I liked this, Ellin, because I can relate. Other people always seem to want what’s best for us without asking us what we want. The smile on your face says you were happy being a mom, though.

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    • I’m not even sure that my father sugar coated his pronouncements and said it would be best for me. He was openly advocating for himself and what made him most comfortable. I don’t know where my mother was in all this. She usually at least pretended to want what was best for me. I’d feel less stupid now if my father had tried to tell me this decision would be better for me. Than I could at least say that I believed him and that’s why I so easily gave up my dream career.

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  5. I strongly believe life turns out as it should even if you’re going in the wrong direction. Being able to do what you love is a blessing. Sometimes doing what you love doesn’t pay much, but if your soul is happy that doesn’t matter. I’ve always just worked to earn a pay check, I love being a Mom to my 3 kiddos but there is always this dream inside that my creative side will someday earn a living, until then I am working as a part time waitress and a full time Mom. Life is still pretty grand. Love what you have!

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    • You have a wonderful attitude! You love your life even though you don’t have everything you want. You have to love what you have even if you don’t have exactly what you love. Everything turned out fine for me. I found my calling as a Mom and I’ve been satisfied and fulfilled being a caretaker/homemaker. My regrets are more intellectual than soul wrenching. I have been very lucky and I know it!

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  6. Ellin you looks so happy with your two children there.
    It’s so difficult for children to chose a career now. Will there be any work left by the time they finish their education? Everything seems to be in a state of change.
    Leslie

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was very happy being a Mom. And I still love running a home for myself and my husband, though there’s less to do these days on our own. It’s scary to think about our kids’ generation. They may have to go through several career changes and training programs to make money throughout their lives. My son is established in a relatively secure career and my daughter is still struggling to find steady work in TV production. It’s hard to watch her go through periods of unemployment. But she wants to keep trying for her dream career and I’m certainly not going to try to stop her!

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      • It is extremely difficult for young people to find their way today. I think the school system is failing them badly. They do need a lot of prolonged help.

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        • I think in addition to problems in the education system, kids are maturing later these days. The line today is that 26 is the new 18. In our parents’ generation, an 18 year old was ready to be an adult and go out on his own. Today, that doesn’t really happen till closer to 26. I’ve found that true in my family and with my friends and I’m not sure why. Maybe because the world is so much more complex and so is the job market. Also high prices on places for kids to live on their own and low income from starter jobs.

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  7. Another great piece, Ellin!!

    I did NOT go with my parent’s wishes and followed my heart to pursue my dreams. It doesn’t always work out. I had a lot of luck with timing and opportunity on my side.
    On another note: I’ve always believed that parenting is the hardest and most challenging job in the world. So KUDOS to you.

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    • Who knows what would have happened if I had followed my dreams career wise? It certainly would have strained my relationship with my parents. And that was important to me. So my life would have been stressed even if I had not listened to my parents. There are always consequences to everything we do. And you can’t always tell what they will be.

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      • Most parents stop fighting about careers when you are already doing well in it. Even the parents of actors and other artists — and nobody’s parents seem to favor the arts for a career — eventually recognize reality. I’m of the opinion that if you never stress the relationship with your parents, you’ve left out a little piece of growing up. There’s a point when I think we are supposed to rebel, supposed to pull away. That Kaity hasn’t done it is part of her problem. At nearly 21, looking to family for everything isn’t healthy anymore.

        But you did do your own thing, just not professionally. You didn’t stay in your parents house until you were heading into serious maturity. There are ways and ways.

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    • I know some people who have good relations with their children and the children do still listen to their parents. Parents just aren’t “obeyed” without questioning. You have to earn your adult kids’ trust and respect. And when I was growing up, a lot of kids totally went against everything their parents wanted for them. So I think things may not be as different today as they seem.

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