Musings + Essays

What Does Your Job Say about You?

By: Jen Shoop

A friend of mine recently posited an interesting observation: that people often work through childhood issues by way of their chosen professions. She shared that her father always started projects around the house but never finished them, and that her home felt like a construction site. She is now training to be an architect (and has worked in the home construction / design world for many years already) and commented that “fixing people’s homes is soothing to me.” Connecting the dots is not difficult. Just earlier that day, another friend had talked about the long-time acrimony in her family related to differing political views. She is a YA novelist and it occurred to me that her first novel is a Romeo and Juliet story in which the two families are divided by politics, and love in the end conquers all. Again, not challenging to follow the breadcrumbs.

I recognize that not all of us have as much agency in selecting our own careers. And sometimes, a job is just a job. And that’s fine! I still tire of the prevalent message that our careers must fulfill us in some profound way. I have some friends who are pursuing careers fueled by passion, and I have others who are satisfied with a job that puts a roof over their heads and does not extend beyond 5 PM. I admire both. I think sometimes ambient culture forgets that there is a lot to be said for an impermeable wall between work life and home life.

Still, I find my friend’s theory intriguing. I spent some time reflecting on my own chosen vocation from this lens. I observed that my twin interests in writing and entrepreneurship were shaped (nurtured!) by early patrons I have written about many times over. Were it not for my mother, grandfather, uncles, and a few teachers urging me to submit my work to competitions, to “keep writing…!”, and to take writing classes, I don’t think I would be here. Those “early wins” spurred me on, normalized and substantiated what would be dismissed as “wool gathering” later in my life. But I was pot-committed by then. Decriers could not deter me thanks to an early foundation in respecting the craft.

I also remember well a conversation with my Dad (an attorney) in his wood workshop behind my childhood home when I was maybe eight. He worked long hours at a high stakes job and once traveled 50 weeks of the year. He would retreat on the weekends to that workshop where he would happily work with his hands, building bookshelves, repairing things. I recall standing in the door frame, watching him, and he told me: “Build something. You don’t build anything with law.” I internalized that command. I have always been drawn to working in small, entrepreneurial settings where I can see — quantify — the output of a single day of labor.

Perhaps, then, in some way, I am living out the wishes and values of my parents. Which tracks, you know? Eldest daughter and all. At 38, I can’t bear the thought of disappointing my parents.

I can’t say I much mind, of course. I am deeply fortunate for this perch. I love what I do.

But I also observe that my work life is informed by elements beyond my parents. I am a worrier by nature, and I find writing soothing in that it “fixes” and “locks in” the wild and unknowable. It staunches loss. It stops time. It runs against those forces that fray and obscure. Writing, for me, is an act of preservation. I wrote elsewhere that “When I write about the past, and particularly those beloved deceased who belong to it, I am able for a moment to unstrap myself from the present. I find things lost. Sometimes these unearthings are only shadow and dust: there are details, for example, of my friend Elizabeth that have atrophied to the point of disintegration. I mourn those degradations intensely. I wish I had written them down when the grief was keener and the memory sharper. It is, I realize, a mad task, to believe that I might somehow resurrect her in her entirety through language. But it can sometimes feel that way, when I am sitting at my screen, and she appears on the page wearing my own words.”

Writing is, in other words, a roborant.

What about you? What might your chosen career say about you and forces from your childhood?


+On the English discipline.

+On encouragement from my grandfather.

+On pursuing a career in the humanities versus the sciences.

Shopping Break.

+Recently heard that Lumify eye drops are a major beauty secret — I just ordered myself. (Maybe sort of similar to having really bright white teeth?)

+Contemplating making another knitwear investment this season, possibly with something from the small, female-founded business Kilte — I love this funky rainbow colored one and this classic cashmere blend one in ivory.

+OK, these embellished slingbacks are fab — and under $100.

+Love this sherpa “lady jacket.”

+Chic quilted mittens at a great price.

+THIS GAP SWEATER has entered the chat. Wow!

+Are you warm-weather bound? Pack a cute woven tote like this or this…!

+Fun little mushroom necklace.

+These hot pink velvet pants are now under $80.

+I think I need this Dudley Stephens in the black. Been wearing so much black this season!

+LV vibes for $12.

+Totally obsessed with this metallic jumper dress. Love how they styled it, too!

+Into this cheerful striped button down.

+Have you heard of beauty brand DIBS? I’m intrigued by this award-winning dual-sided blush/bronzer stick.

+Found some moon boots for girls on sale!

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6 thoughts on “What Does Your Job Say about You?

  1. I’d never heard of this potential connection between childhood wounds and career paths, but I can totally see it! How interesting. I totally agree, though, that some peoples’ jobs are a true vocation, whereas others’ jobs are just a job. What privilege some of us have to be able to have a vocation.
    Merry Christmas, Jen!

  2. An uncomfortable but intriguing theory! Have been carrying this with me for a couple days and can see how it applies- and maybe some personal areas to work on in therapy!

    Love your mix of probing and light writing. Looking forward to more in 2023! Merry Christmas.

    1. Thank you so much, Kate! Agree, have been sort of tugging at this thesis on and off since my friend first floated it. It is a bit uncomfortable but in some case, I think it really resonates.


  3. I hadn’t really thought about how the positions I’ve have held have been shaped by childhood. I have held a few different positions so far (4)and my Mom influenced me in that she didn’t give her opinion on what I should or should not be doing. Her own parents had strong opinions on what women should be doing and they influenced her. My Mom was a primary school teacher. I wanted nothing to do with teaching as I have little to no patience for children or the parents who drive teachers nuts. I did tutor children in reading and writing in both high school and after grad school. ,tending to gravitate towards the students who exceled in these subjects and it is second nature to them.
    I started off pre-med, which in retrospect I’m not sure why, as no one person influenced me in this. Looking at the places I’ve worked, the mission statements are what resonate with me, places I believe in, which do good and meaningful work, and which do to a certain extent feel like ‘home.’ Places I can be myself and am not stifled. I’ve been a clinical research assistant for both CU OBGYN and a non-profit specialising in reproductive health. I’ve done volunteer management and program management for a non-profit in the water sector. And my current position is back in reproductive health care, being the referral specialist for patients by connecting them with resources. I also manage and oversee a few of the grants we have. I’m actually starting a new position in the new year,(suggestions on an outfit for first day welcomed,) and in some ways it’s coming full circle for me. My undergraduate degree was in philosophy and I ended up with a minor in English. The pre-med courses and biology degree ended half-way through college for me and it’s taken a long time for me to know and appreciate my skillset. I’ve always been a book-,worm and enjoy seeking and finding meaning in things. My MA is in Bioethics, something which my interests and experiences from childhood did influence, yet those interests aren’t what most parents would like their children learning about; And the many deaths (most of old age but more suicides than I’d like to count and a car accident which had a profound effect on me)I’ve experienced starting at a young age are not things most have experienced. The parents of my friends at Catholic school probably wouldn’t approve of what books I read and I remember very clearly in middle-,school a boy was asking why I read so many books on the Holocaust and he thought it was inappropriate and not ok for me to read. Perhaps that spurred the interest even more who knows. My Catholic upbringing has influenced me in that I look for things which serve the greater good and a Jesuit education both in undergraduate and graduate school has shaped where I work even if the Church opppses the work I do or have done. One can know and understand the teachings of the church and respectful disagree with them when. My Mom though was very open and encouraging and instead of stifling or repressing my interests, provided age-appropriate materials.
    I haven’t known what my professional path would be and it has not been linear. The only thing being similar is the reproductive health care work I do, have done, and will continue to do as a volunteer as I also have learned that for me passion and interest does not line up to a career in this line of work. I also am acknowledging my privilege in that I am fortunate to have received a liberal arts education and to work in non-profits and serving the greater good as not everyone has the choice and some things are just jobs. Such as working retail during the holiday season or being a nanny/babysitting in college and grad-school both things I’ve done. Also being able to voluntee as an Americorp after grad-school is also a privilege in that the pay is hardly anything and I am thankful I was able to do that. I was the prescription assistance coordinator in upstate NY.
    So yes long comment but overall I have been influenced and shaped by experiences and upbringing and my beliefs.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing this introspection, Michelle! So fascinating to root around in our backgrounds/memories to see where things might have originated. I’m glad this prompt sparked some thought for you!!


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