September is nearly here. The new school year is starting and this year’s batch of graduates are looking for jobs and inspiration. But how many, I wonder, will end up doing something that they really love?
Sometimes it feels like we’re all in the wrong boxes. I know a dentist who longs to be an astrologer, a lawyer who would prefer to be an architect, and a computer scientist who thinks it would have been fun to be a historian. And even though I’m on my fifth career I’m still not sure which box I should be in.
A recent job that I did, involved writing profiles of over 800 jobs. Fish farmers, crane drivers, Macmillan nurses, dog groomers, ergonomists, orthoptists, orthotists, transport planners, legal executives, mastic asphalters, animators and astronauts were all there. And with such wide exposure to the world of work I used to wonder about what else I could have done. Long-distance lorry driving has a certain appeal. I like the idea of being out and about with plenty of time to think and listen to the radio. But on the other hand, all that sitting down and those unsocial hours might make it less than perfect.
Or perhaps I’d like to have been a lexicologist wading through words and definitions. That might have suited me just fine. Typical work involves identifying words that have recently come into common use and deciding which ones are significant and likely to stay the test of time. But then I read something this week that made me reconsider. The Oxford English Dictionary has just approved its latest batch of 1,000 new words. I don’t like to be reactionary but adding words like awesomesauce, mkay, bitch face and manspreading would be painful. You can read their definitions at the end.
When you’re young then anything seems possible. One of the youngest children ever to join Mensa was 3 years 9 months when she was accepted and said that she would like to be “a ballet dancer, a lady doctor or a mermaid”. Changes of direction get harder with age and I was feeling that perhaps it’s too late for me to become a lorry driver or lexicologist when I read about Mary Hobson. At the age of 56, which is exactly what I am now, she had to spend some time lying on her back in hospital after an operation. Her daughter gave her a copy of War and Peace and she decided that she wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate it until she could read it in the original language. So she went to university to study Russian and graduated in her 60s. She got her PhD when she was 74 and went on to win the Pushkin Gold Medal for Translation.
If you’re in a job where you’re happy then you’re lucky, and this week I met a man who really loves his work. He told me the story of how a specialist interest led to a whole new life on another continent and a type of work that he could never have envisaged when he was growing up. You can read my interview with David Tucker here.
Mkay: Non-standard spelling of OK, typically used at the end of a sentence
Bitch face: Typically used for women whose natural expression is scowling
Manspreading: When a man on public transport sits with his legs apart in such a way as to encroach on neighbouring seats
Find out how new words are added to the OED by clicking here.