Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 10.01.05
Stanstead, Quebec


Will they be happy watching wattles?

I don't remember there being a guidance counselor in my high school. I'm sure there was and I probably went to see him or her in my senior year. But I certainly didn't fret much about my future.

I had more pressing concerns, like English assignments, Friday nights, and the collected sweaters of Andrea MacKinnon.

I do recall one exercise our class undertook to help steer us towards our destinies. It was a program called Choices that provided computer-generated career options. This was in the early eighties when computers were operated by oversized floppy discs and squirrels, so we didn't put a whole lot of faith in the routine. We did, however, get Physics off to fill out the forms, so it was, like, totally worth it.

The form asked questions such as "What is your favourite subject at school?" and "Do you like working with people?" and "Could you pick your guidance counselor out of a police lineup?"

Among my computer-generated career suggestions was "minister or priest." My friends and I had a good laugh over this, and I didn't consider it seriously. I mean, I look terrible in black.

I wonder, though, what would have happened if I had taken up the suggestion. It probably wouldn't have worked out. With my tendency towards the flippant, I can see myself, for instance, revising psalms to address congregational affairs:

The Lord is my shepherd
I shall not want
Please do not drink
From the baptismal font

So I'm not a minister. I do give sermons, though, but only to my children.

I actually had no clue what I planned to do with my life, short of go to university for the next three to four years, possibly longer depending on the meal plan. Nor was university part of a long-term goal. I simply wanted to study literature for literature's sake. And meet girls.

Consequently, my university selection process was as nonchalant as my career planning. It went like this: my brother went to Mount Allison for a year and emerged more or less unscathed; the brochure was attractive; the school was far from home but not too far; it had a good English program; there were girls. Done.

I only actually saw Mount Allison in 3D when my dad dropped me off at my dorm. Then I met my roommate and immediately wondered if I'd made a terrible miscalculation.

It all worked out, of course. Without getting into the story of my life, my laissez-faire planning led in a roundabout way to my current career, which is somewhat related to my English degree if not exactly something that would readily pop out of a Choices report.

I know, though, that an alternate decision here or there could easily have led me to other careers, perhaps as a minister after all.

Or perhaps as a specialist in the care and monitoring of turkey wattles. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Someone has to be the wattle watcher. What's important is that you be the best darned wattle watcher you can be and that you're happy doing it.

My own children are starting to plan their futures. In the household's lower ranks, we still have an NHL player and a princess, but the senior siblings are getting serious about career choices – law, art, acting, photography, veterinary medicine. Neither has expressed interest in watching wattles.

But what if that's what they end up doing? Will they be okay with that? I wonder.

Young people are so much more goal-oriented than when I was a kid. They're under incredible pressure to stay at the top of their class and avoid falling in with the wrong crowd – and that's just at daycare.

I worry whether such focus will lead to disappointment if, for so many possible reasons, they don't reach their admirably ambitious goals. Or they'll be so focused that they'll ignore those opportunities that could throw them blissfully off course – like the crazy-haired girl with the trench coat and those eyes, those eyes…

So I think I'm going to stop asking 15-year-olds what they plan to do with their lives. Life, I'm sure, has plans for them.