I was never, ever going to be a bus driver. I am spatially challenged and have had enough driveway fender benders to know that renting a 12-passenger van is not in my — or anyone’s — best interests, let alone attempting to steer a vehicle as large as my upstairs hallway. Along with roles in transportation, there are a whole host of other career paths and positions that in no way align with my innate gifts, developed skill sets, and personal delights.
On the other hand, there is a spectrum of jobs that I could have seen myself doing, had life circumstances lined up differently. For instance, I could reasonably have become a teacher or a midwife. I’m not trained for either of those roles, but had I been, I likely would have enjoyed spending my working hours in a school or birthing center. By choosing not to get a degree in education or go to nursing school, however, I’ve closed the door on those possibilities.
For myself at least, and I think for most of us, we close doors throughout our 20s as we make choices in majors and minors, graduate and other training programs, internships, and volunteer experiences. But even as we close some doors, a certain degree of possibility always remains. Besides the potential of going back to school or seeking more training, in any given field there are various opportunities for pivot and expansion.
I have a friend who, after several years of teaching, shifted to a position in curriculum development. One of my cousins began her accounting career in internal auditing (don’t ask me what this entails) but then switched to an entirely different role in training and development at the same company when the number crunching started to get her down. In my case, as a social worker, I could transition from my role as a therapist to work in a nonprofit or community organization.
I’m ordinarily one to feel both comforted and excited by possibilities. When taking my first job out of school, for instance, it was encouraging to know that this position wasn’t my destiny forever; it was a place to gain experience, develop soft and hard skills, and gather some “grist for the mill,” or opportunities on which to reflect when determining my next steps. This knowledge kept me going when the various insecurities and frustrations that come from a first job (I don’t know what I’m doing! This work is tedious!) arose.
Knowing that possibilities typically give me a sense of spaciousness and joy, I’ve always been one to keep chances open. Sometimes this means keeping in touch with acquaintances in roles tangential to my own or maintaining certain skills and connections through volunteer opportunities. But sometimes it just means knowing in my head that I could always switch to say, a role as a hospital social worker if I got tired of being a therapist.
Recently, however, I had an experience that was new to me: I found freedom in mentally closing the door on a possibility. Here’s what happened:
As I’ve mentioned, I work as a therapist at an outpatient mental health office. Most of the building is full of therapists’ individual offices, but there is one side hallway that includes the workspaces of a psychiatrist and a nurse. I rarely walk down that hallway but every time I do, I find myself experiencing a Pavlovian cringe.
It took a while, but eventually, it dawned on me that my distaste for the hall stems from its medical smell and the memories that it evokes for me of working in a hospital setting (which I did for a few years as a chaplain). I’m not so much repulsed by the scent of antiseptic as I am by the thought of working in a hospital, complete with fluorescent lights, sterile rooms, and loud overhead speakers.
With this realization, I decided one day that I’m never going to work in a hospital again. I don’t like hospitals, so there is zero reason why I need to keep the possibility of hospital social work open in my mind as a potential job. While this decision made no impact on my present situation (I’m not job searching!), I found that it made me feel lighter, happier, and more at peace. I am delighted to have closed this door, even if it is just a mental one.
The experience begs the question, what other doors am I keeping open that are in turn taking up space in my mind and heart that I might otherwise devote elsewhere? For instance, even something as low-stress as a hobby has the potential to take up mental (and physical!) space without leading to a positive end. I’ve kept tennis racquets in my basement for years, and not only is the likelihood of my returning to the sport slim, but I feel disappointed in myself any time I see the unused equipment. Maybe it’s time to rid myself of the rackets and the guilt.
Or take home-location as another example: My husband and I recently decided that we aren’t moving anymore. Unless something drastic happens, we are in the town and in the home that we plan to stay in for the long haul…and it feels so good to have thoughts of UHaul trucks and cardboard boxes out of the picture. Our house and our community may not be perfect, but none are, and I feel a sense of peace and settledness knowing that we’re investing in this community and this property.
Going forward, I’m going to keep considering the doors in my life that are open, and the ones that I can potentially shut, because when couldn’t I use a little more mental freedom? The answer, I suspect, is never.