We are Not Our Careers

During childhood, I wanted to be a veterinarian or an astronaut. Not only were these careers respectable enough for my immigrant parents but also, and more importantly, animals and space would keep me from people. In adolescence, I discovered writing. That led to dual degrees in journalism and literature, but with little idea about what I wanted to BE. Do we ever know what we want to BE?

Tiny Steps: An Attorney’s Career and an Immigrant’s Life

I do not recall a moment when I thought, “Yes, I want to spend the next 30 years of my life as an attorney.” Instead, I took steps; more steps appeared as if on a magic staircase. Law school. First job. First cases that I liked. Opening a law firm so I could do more of the cases that I liked. Clients referring clients. Approvals. Denials. More approvals. More clients. Decades passed. Only in the rearview mirror do I see an enjoyable career.

Likewise, it is only in the rearview mirror that my parents became Americans. They left Cuba in 1967 on the largest airborne refugee operation in American history, the Freedom Flights. They believed they would return after a temporary stay. Immigrants often assert they will remain in the United States temporarily. Even those running from horrific threats by international criminal organizations tell me they want to remain only “until things calm down.”  Kaizen explains that the brain accepts miniscule changes, but not permanent ones.

My mother is the only person I know who fulfilled her childhood career goals. Almost. When my mother was eight years old, a nun at a private Catholic school set my mother on her career path. Sister Pilar — wearing a black tunic topped by a white wimple and veil — lit like a kind eagle, my mother says, among the children in her class.

Becoming a Teacher Begins with a Seashell

In 1942, Sister Pilar gifted my mother a large seashell to celebrate the feast day of Saint Candida, which would have been August 9th.  The nun said there was a little worm in the seashell, so my mother should tip it over carefully. When my mother did, a small pendant with the image of the Virgin Mary came out.

My mother’s siblings received gifts on their saints’ feast days, but my mother did not even know that Saint Candida existed. Truthfully, my grandparents may never have known Saint Candida existed either. The first phase for Saint Candida’s sainthood process began in June 1942. Sister Pilar probably knew about it is because she, like most religious workers in Cuba, was from Spain. Saint Candida was also a Spanish nun, who founded an order of Jesuit nuns devoted to children’s education.

Because Sister Pilar made her feel loved and listened to, my mother initially wanted to become a nun teaching elementary.  Was Sister Pilar a Jesuit nun recruiting future teachers? Perhaps. If so, the conscription failed. Upon learning that nuns could not marry, my mother changed her mind, but her obsession with education remained. All her life my mother referred to teaching as “her calling.”

Disclaimer – These entries are based on real life events. Family member names, when used, are real. Client names are changed for privacy.

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