This week, I’m flying to Chicago for the Professional Skaters Association Conference. While there, I’ll be attending all kinds of seminars and seeing coach-friends (including former competitors and mentors) from around the country. Amid packing for this event and canceling my lessons, I have been thinking about career paths. Mine has been somewhat circuitous.
I’ve mentioned in previous installments that I didn’t know I was going to become a figure skating coach. Not that I didn’t admire my own coaches growing up; becoming one just didn’t occur to me, for some reason. I am certainly glad I chose this particular path but sometimes I just have to chuckle at where I thought I’d end up instead.
For example, when I was very young, it was clear to me that I was going to be a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader. Through watching football (and rooting for the Packers) with my dad, it was pretty obvious that the cheerleaders for the Dallas team had the best sense of style. Their outfits were a little more glamorous (covered in silver stars!), their Keds (and smiles) were a little whiter, and their cheers a little more convincing. Of course, I suppose they had a few other famous “attributes” I didn’t even notice. Perhaps my own pom poms were the wrong color scheme (red and white for the Wisconsin Badgers) and the bleachers on our front lawn were empty (okay, not even set up), but I put in some long hours honing my high kick and my woo hoo! on our driveway.
Someone, probably after asking me, the What do you want to be when you grow up? question, convinced me that becoming a Dallas Cheerleader was extremely difficult, so I decided to reconsider this path and move on to something more realistic. I figured it would be a lot easier to become a…Supermodel. After all, all you had to do was look good. You didn’t even have to do any cheers. As soon as I heard that in order to excel in this vocation you had to basically stop eating, it started to lose its appeal. I figured I’d just hold this idea in reserve as something to fall back on, just in case.
From there, I took a slight left turn toward the sister industry of Fashion Design. I pored over the beloved “Fashion Plates” set I received for my 10th birthday. With these stencil-like panels, I created thousands of different wardrobe combinations and committed them to paper with the help of colored pencils. I’d later go on to design my skating costumes by sketching them out first on typing paper. I’d fold the sheet in half and draw my dress on one half and my brother’s costume on the other. I colored them in, down to the last detail, with that same trusty set of colored pencils.
I eventually discovered that, in order to be a Fashion Designer, you had to know how to sew. It was one thing sewing by hand and quite another when you got a sewing machine involved. In 7th grade Home-Economics class, I discovered that threading a sewing machine was the domestic version of Rocket Science. The few times I attempted to use my mother’s sewing machine on my own, it made a scary whirring noise. The thread flew off the spool and into a terrifying knot in the shape of a skull-and-crossbones. (Of course, now that would be a trendy fashion statement, so I was clearly way ahead of my time.)
For a while there at the beginning of college, I thought I’d be a Lawyer, wearing slick skirt-suits and winning cases like the heroine in a girl-Grisham novel. The problem with this is that I wasn’t exactly one to speak up, either in class or in almost any group scenario. And I certainly wasn’t one to debate things.
From there, illogically, I decided that I was destined to become a Professor. I suppose the distinction for me was that, in a classroom, I could “share” my ideas rather than “argue” them like I’d have to in a courtroom. I was starting to become an avid reader and I had this image of wearing eyeglasses and my hair in a bun. (Okay, well… for those of you who know me, please stop laughing, and for those of you who don’t, I guess I should admit that I usually wear glasses and my hair pulled back in a bun.) I envisioned leading my eager pupils to the shade of a campus tree, where we could gather ‘round and dissect poetry.
In fact, I did eventually go on to teach a college course, Composition 101. It happened to be a night class for adults and I was the youngest person in the classroom. When I walked in on the first night and I put my satchel on the desk (a bag I thought seemed very academic), one of the students said, “You’re our teacher?” She loaded that you’re with disdain. She felt insulted by being taught by someone younger and her attitude was contagious: when I had the nerve to assign reading and essays, I was hit and wounded by many dagger glares over the course of those three months. Right around the time that I had to determine final grades (they weren’t all that great) that would have a ripple effect on GPAs and transcripts of people 5, 10, 20 years older than me, I decided that this was probably something I’d be better suited for once I had some more life under my belt. (Oh…to be too young for something, what a hardship.) So, just like my Supermodeling, I put this on the back burner.
There was also a brief stint as an Advertising Copywriter, enjoyable enough that it created a dilemma. Around the time I started teaching group and private lessons at the rink where I am currently on staff, I was offered a position at a firm on Madison Avenue in Manhattan. I could see it: the water cooler, the Happy Hours, all that hip, creative synergy. And of course the fashion component: the high heels, the slacks, the green leather briefcase purchased at a downtown boutique. But I also envisioned something else that compelled me to turn down the offer: I could see myself coming home at night and not wanting to write my own stuff after sitting at a computer all day writing brochures and radio ads.
Of course, this leads me to the other thing I thought I’d become. A Writer. This fantasy predated (and coincided with) all else, the Cheerleading included. In boxes at my mother’s house, there are laminated “books” I penned and illustrated. One details the adventures of a thumb (my thumbprint included.) Another is about a wounded bird my brother and I found in our backyard. Another is called “A Day in the Life of a Skater.” The protagonist, as you might imagine, is me.
Becoming a writer was probably the craziest idea of all, and, it turned out, impossible to let go of. When I flip through that ancient masterpiece about skating, it seems so obvious that I’d become a Skating Writer or a Writing Skater, but I’m glad I tried out some other vocations along the way, even if only in my mind. Besides, it occurs to me that, as a coach, you have to be a little bit of a cheerleader, a bit of a professor, and sometimes, if meeting with resistance, a bit litigious. Sometimes you have to give input on costume choices or designs, and sometimes, as an ice dance coach, you have to try and get your skaters to strut around the rink with the confidence of runway models. In this job, you get to wear many hats. Literally and figuratively.
The Sociologist in me (yes, I toyed with that for about 10 minutes in college as well) wonders how many people actually end up in the careers they youthfully identified when asked the, What do you want to be when you grow up question. Probably a handful, but it would be interesting to have some statistics…
I posed this question to some of my students today and their answers ranged from Engineer to Orthodontist to Veterinarian to Lawyer. One student, a 9 year-old blushed and answered, “Figure Skater” shyly, as if I might not think she’d qualify. Of course, I was flattered, though it should be noted that she did not say “Coach” – I suspect that her current idea of growing up doesn’t go too far beyond the age of 18. Over the next 10, 15, 20 years, I’ll have to keep track of how many of these abstract plans come to fruition.
I also asked a few coach-friends (all of whom obviously love what they do) to share three careers they thought they were aiming for, once upon a time.
One friend answered:
- Prima Ballerina
- Trial Lawyer
- Boutique Owner
- School Psychologist
- Sports Psychologist
And a third:
- Flight Attendant
- House Wife
And you? Whether you are skating coach or not, please share three “Careers not Chosen” by clicking on “Comment” below.
I anticipate that in next week’s installment I’ll be regaling you with my Chicago adventures. But then again, we’ll see, life doesn’t always turn out as expected….