When You Grow UP

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”  Was a standard question adults asked kids in my youth.  I think they meant what job, career, or profession did you want to pursue, not how will you achieve self-actualization.  Anyway, I didn’t know.

I knew from summer jobs I held what I didn’t want to be:  a farmer, a construction laborer, a mechanic, a grave digger (yes, I did that one summer).  I knew I wanted to go to college and get a “desk job”.  My folks encouraged me to pursue college because I always had my nose in a book.  My father said I should become a lawyer because I liked to argue.  I didn’t become a lawyer.  I still like to argue.

I went to college thinking I’d major in journalism.  I ended up majoring in sociology because I found out in j-school you had to take classes in advertising, and I thought advertising was corrupt.  I went to college in the 60s when the mantra was the whole system was corrupt, so I thought sociology was a good avenue for my increasingly radical direction.  I grew a beard and went to protest marches.  I never really thought about what I would do after graduation.

But it didn’t matter. Uncle Sam had his plans for me. The Vietnam war was raging and he needed soldiers.  I was going to submit to the draft, but a friend who had been in the Air Force encouraged me to sign up and be an airman.  OK.  I did. After basic training where I learned to march around and spit shine my shoes, they sent me to tech school to learn how to be a personnel specialist.  Then on to Pease AFB in New Hampshire, not a bad duty station as opposed to Da Nang.

While stationed at Pease I took night classes towards a master’s degree in Counseling at the University of New Hampshire.  There I learned to reflect feelings in counseling sessions, and do group work where we sat around in the here and now and became authentic.  Or not.  After graduation and discharge from the air force, I got a job as an elementary and junior high school counselor, where I did sessions with odd balls, misfits, and kids with behavior problems that were giving teachers and the principal a hard time. My job was to straighten them out. Ha!

Being married and with two small children at home, I felt an obligation to be employed.  We left New England, and after a stint of unemployment, I landed in Rochester, Minnesota, at an agency that coordinated child care and early education programs.  I was a coordinator.  I discovered that as a coordinator I could do pretty much anything, because, well, I was coordinating.  I spent a lot of time going from program to program giving sage advice.  I also spent time with parents who were having trouble with their kids in an attempt to straighten them out, too.  It was a good gig.

Then one day the local County Community Services Director recruited me to supervise the Child and Family Services program.  We did all aspects of child protection and child welfare.  I was supposed to manage a group of authority averse social workers. I was supposed to straighten them out. Good luck with that!  I later went on to be the head honcho director of the whole damn social services division, where I was expected to straighten out the whole damn bureaucracy.  Ha!

Being in a secure government job had its advantages, but I got bored.  So I decided to apply for, and got, a job to direct a struggling non-profit agency, Omnia Family Services, where my job was to manage a group of authority averse child care workers, and to straighten out rasty adolescents. During this time I also found myself on the Rochester Public School board, where my job was to straighten out the delivery of education and to hold the administration accountable, while mollifying anxious parents.  Good luck with that!

One day I woke up and decided to bail from Rochester.  So I ended up taking a position as the Director of a regional mental health center in Vernal, Utah.  Then I woke up and found myself in Vernal.  Cowboys, Indians, Mormons, meth cookers.  Whoopee! Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas anymore. My job was to straighten out the center, which I kind of did, despite managing a group of authority averse therapists.

When the job of the Utah State Director of the Mental Health Division came open, I applied for it.  I must have been pretty good at bull shitting my way through the process, because I got the job, where I was expected to straighten out the state’s mental health system.  I was also expected to ride herd on a group of authority averse local mental health directors, and state employees with the same proclivity.  Good luck with that!  Anyway, I didn’t need to be worried about riding into the sunset with that job, because the new governor came in and swept me out.  Whoopee!

I then landed a job as the Director of a local outpatient center, Cornerstone Counseling.  We treated drug addicts, folks with mental illness, and tried to straighten out jerks that beat their wives.  All this while trying to manage a group of authority averse therapists, and manage a dysfunctional IT system to boot.  How did I ever get here?  I then decided after nine years in Utah to bail and go back to Minnesota, where my daughter, son-in-law and new grandson lived.

I was hired as the VP of the Child Services Department of Children’s Home and Family Services in St. Paul.  It included their childcare programs, the mental health center, and the family support program.  My job was to straighten them out while managing a group of authority averse program managers.  I thought this would be my last gig before the sunset ride, but no.  One day my boss called me in and told me she was eliminating my position and downsizing the agency due to financial problems.  So I was laid off again.  Whoopee!

After several months of collecting unemployment and doing “independent consulting” on the side (translation—desperation work), I landed a job as the Director of AXIS Health Care in St. Paul, and agency that did health care coordination and case management for adults with disabilities.  It was going under financially, and my job was to save it.  Fortunately I had managers that were not authority averse, and they were desperate, too.  Somehow we managed to pull it out of the fire.  Then we got “acquired”, (e.g., gobbled up) by Allina Health, a large health care organization.  I went from being in charge to having to report to a VP, and get decisions approved by layers up the ladder.  You could say that I was developing and aversion to authority, but by that time I didn’t care because things were going well, and I decided to retire.  Which I did.

Looking back on it you might say I never really knew what I wanted to do when I grew up, but somehow fell into jobs where the mission was to straighten things out.  I must have been fairly good at it, I guess.  I now reflect back with satisfaction that I must have done some good, I think.  Anyway, if you need to have anything straightened out, give me a call.  I won’t do it, but would be glad to tell you how.


    1. I’ve condensed a 12 step program into 3. First, admit you have an authority problem. Second, submit to a Higher Power. Third, wonder about the existence of a Higher Power. Next, forget it. You can’t be fixed. Cheers!


  1. I love it! Isn’t it amazing how life turns out based upon our decisions and often based upon those situations life throws at us?

    How are things in Minnesota? We are complaining that Thanksgiving will be in low 30’s. Both kids and grandkids will be here, so we are happy. I’m working on trying to do the first step of a step ladder. Only having a little success, but need to be able to do 2 steps to get in truck with camper for Yellowstone trip.

    Matt’s oldest, Michael, reminded me of Matt the other day. His birthday was October 13th and we went down to see him play soccer. After the match, I asked Michael how old he was. He says “Eight”. Now I’m thinking that he’s 9 and a little stumped. At that moment Michael says “I will be 9 at 7:30”. That level of exactness is just like Matt.


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