“Do it for the love, not for the money
Not for the guns and not for the honeys
Do it ’cause it makes you feel alive
Like the way we rockin’ on Saturday night
Do it for the love of it, do it for the smell of it
Do it for the joy and the taste and the hell of it
Do it ’cause you love it …”
The song, by Michael Franti and Spearhead, recently popped up on my iTunes shuffle rotation. It reminded me, yet again, of how grateful I am to be doing something I truly love. “Work” is not drudgery for me. I’m not just putting in my time. On Sunday night I don’t dread Monday. I no longer think about “Happy Hump Day” and “Thank God it’s Friday.” My work is challenging, interesting, rewarding, never boring, lots of fun and I’m surrounded by amazing people including coworkers and clients. I laugh daily and constantly reflect on how fortunate I am. When I tell people that I love my work they always tell me how lucky I am. But, while listening to the song and thinking about how I got here, I realized that luck has nothing at all to do with it.
I had a tumultuous upbringing which ended with me living on my own while in high school. I had no relatives and no mentors. I went from being a straight A student to barely graduating. I had always assumed I would go to college. How I would get there was a vague concept. Something for my parents to figure out and help me navigate. Except when the time came, they weren’t around. I had an amazing guidance counselor in high school that I am sure would have helped me—but he passed away suddenly. I didn’t know that you could get into college without assistance from your parents. I didn’t know about financial aid. I didn’t know you could go “back” to college years after you graduate. I just assumed the college door was now closed to me. Instead I went to secretarial school for a few months and landed a job as a legal secretary for a huge law firm in Newark, NJ. Because Newark was a less than desirable neighborhood my salary was high (hazard pay!), especially for someone that only graduated high school. In an effort to make up for my years of being under insanely strict rule at home, I partied like a rock star. I was bored at work and didn’t have any goals or hobbies (other than partying…oh my!). Mentally and emotionally I was a mess.
One day the attorneys in my department started an “intervention”. They explained I could still go to college. They told me about financial aid. They guided me and mentored me. They encouraged me to try just one or two classes at night. If I didn’t like it, no harm no foul. I wasn’t an easy sell. To be truthful, I was terrified. I had no self-esteem and didn’t feel like I had what it takes to be a college student, but the attorneys were not easily deterred and kept at it. Eventually, thanks to their help, I enrolled in a few night classes—and loved it!! I got some financial aid but paid for most of my classes out of pocket by working full-time and lots of overtime. My remaining “free” time was spent in classes and studying. By taking night and summer classes I managed to graduate in five years. I was far from easy. Basically, I worked and studied, ate terribly and slept little, but school was my new passion, and I threw myself into it.
When I needed to declare a major, the attorneys helped me once again. One of them introduced me to physical therapy as a career. Even hooked me up with a relative so I could observe and see if it was something I wanted to do. Getting into a physical therapy program was not going to be easy. Leaving the state was not an option. I lived on my own and needed to continue working. UMDNJ was my only option, and they only accepted 50 students a year.
I needed straight A’s, volunteer hours, and recommendation letters. To say I was stressed is an understatement. Let’s just say I had a bit of a meltdown during my summer Physics class when it appeared I might be getting a B! Fortunately, I was accepted at UMDNJ for physical therapy and graduated.
My final internship was at Kessler Rehabilitation, and I loved the work and the staff. I desperately wanted to work there. Fortunately, I was hired directly out of school. It was an amazing job. Exhausting but fulfilling and challenging. Surrounded by therapists that were passionate about their work. However, healthcare changed, HMO’s took over, and we were no longer able to provide even a quarter of the care we used to. In a short amount of time the majority of therapists left. My next job was starting a program funded by the State developing physical therapy programs for adults with special needs. I enjoyed the challenge of creating a program. Until the government pulled the funding. Thereafter I went into pediatrics as a private contractor. I worked in schools for children with Special Needs and did Early Intervention (working in homes with children ages 0-3). Each job change was nerve-wracking and stressful, filled with unknowns and involved taking chances. As a contractor I was somewhat working for myself, but not completely. For some reason I always wanted my own business. I don’t know why. I tried a number of ideas that didn’t stick…ergonomics consultant, hippotherapy (therapy using horses…not hippos), specialized daycare to name a few. Eventually I had the opportunity to move into canine rehabilitation (physical therapy for dogs) and open a storefront with a business partner. It was exciting but also terrifying. I lived alone, carried a mortgage, car payment and the usual expenses. I had no family to fall back on. I took a deep breath and leaped in.
I kept my job in the school system and drove straight to the canine rehab center after school. I gave seminars for extra income. Eventually the rehab got busier and I was able to stop working at the school. However, I still wasn’t earning enough to cover all the bills. I did multiple clinics a month, each one involving a 5-7 hour roundtrip drive and 7-8 hours of treating dogs. Eventually the business grew to a point where I was able to stop the clinics. What a relief! I was beyond exhausted. Now I was able to focus on marketing and growing the rehab business. Life was balanced for a while and all was good. Life being what it is, things changed with my business partner. Once again, I had to make decisions and choices. Once again, I was worried and stressed. I kept reminding myself that each time I was in a similar position, it led to growth and a more fulfilling career opportunity. And I reminded myself that I typically chose the path less traveled. The more challenging path. Why? Because for me, it was much, much more rewarding. And so, here I am today. I own a boarding facility, a canine rehab facility, teach private lessons on Mondays, run online courses, workshops and webinars. I oversee the business, rehab dogs, manage the books, marketing, and social media, etc. Fortunately, I am blessed with dedicated and motivated employees that are passionate about their work and to whom I can delegate some of my responsibilities. I also manage to squeeze in training and trialing my dogs, meditation, yoga and time out with friends. Hectic, without a doubt! And I wouldn’t change a thing, because it doesn’t feel like work. I enjoy it. I love the challenges and the satisfaction it brings.
Every day I am aware of how fortunate I am, because I know that very few people love their job, and that’s where we spend the bulk of our lives. At work. Am I lucky? To a certain extent I believe so. However, I also believe that sheer determination to live a fulfilling life played a hand in where I am today. A willingness to push myself, take calculated risks, think outside the box and to face fear (often sheer terror). Sure, I could have taken an easier path. But would I be happy? What kind of a life would I be living if I wasn’t happy 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, year after year after year.
In today’s world we have many new and exciting opportunities. They may not always be obvious. Sometimes you have to think outside the box. Sometimes it’s something you’ve wanted to do for a long time but, for any number of reasons, felt you couldn’t. Every day we have the opportunity to make new choices. Yes, change is scary, but it also opens the door to new and exciting challenges and opportunities. It opens the door to a more fulfilling and rewarding life. Take a chance. Who knows—you may end up loving your work.