Imagine Your Dad Loving His Work

In memory of my father, Wesley L. Nicholson, (1929-2012) 

One morning, when I was in about the 4th grade, there was a knock at the front door shortly after my father left for work. It was him, standing on the porch without his shoes. He was laughing, saying he’d been so engrossed, thinking about a project at work; he hadn’t realized till his feet touched the pedals that he had forgotten to put them on.

Growing up, my father Wesley L. Nicholson frequently talked with me about his career satisfaction. I think he realized that his experience wasn’t particularly common and he wanted his kids to know that it was something to strive for. We might be sitting in the backyard and he would usually begin by saying how much he loved being a statistician, how interesting the work was to him and how much he respected his colleagues. He was “having a ball” tackling the problems he was called on to solve, enjoying considerable variety project to project, as well as the opportunity to travel. Then there were the math games he brought home, another way he shared his joy of arithmetic with us.

His message stayed with me. Coming home from Eugene on a bus years ago, I decided to pursue a career in counseling, even though I’d given up studying psychology, gotten a business degree and was currently pursuing a career at a natural foods grocery in Portland. Deep down I realized that counseling was what I felt strongest about, and I was getting in trouble at work for spending too much time talking with the customers.

In the world of career counseling we are aware of the power of parental modeling when it comes to things like career choices and patterns, and work ethics. My clients sometimes struggle to claim interests that are outside the realm of Dad or Mom’s approval, “what people in our family do.” If Dad was overly consumed by work you could be “Type A” yourself or perhaps the opposite; find yourself overwhelmed at the prospect of committing to a profession. If Mom was raising the family herself, completely stressed-out by life and work, it might seem impossible for you to imagine a good career fit.

What message did you receive about the nature of work life from your parents and other key figures growing up? Draw your Family Work History Tree, including influential others and write or think about what they did for a living and how they felt about it. Upon reflection, what influence can you identify and how is it affecting you now? How was success defined? Take time to separate the influences that seem helpful to you from those that don’t. Share your thoughts with others and ask them to join the discussion. Remember you have choices regardless of how it feels. What might you do if you were free of a perspective that’s holding you back? What kind of support would be helpful?

Feel free to follow my father’s advice and imagine being encouraged to pay attention to what interests you, to not force yourself to do what doesn’t seem right. Go after the education and training you want.

Thanks Pops. Is it a wonder I became a personal and career counselor?


Originally posted on Career Transition: The Inside Job