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Career Fair

Last week, I had the opportunity to present at a middle-school career fair. With about 10 other professionals, tradespeople and technical sorts, I was asked to share my vast wisdom and experience with the changemakers of tomorrow.


These future changemakers—all eighth graders—represent, in my opinion, one of the toughest audiences an adult can encounter. (It’s not their fault, it’s just part of who they are at that point in life.)


I arrived in my assigned classroom a few minutes before my first group strolled in, settling in for the first of four brief presentations on who I am, what I do, and how I got here; all things we adults find interesting (at least when talking about ourselves), which is often the polar opposite of what eighth graders find interesting. (I didn’t ask them if this was true, I got it merely from “reading the room” as I presented to the various student groups.)


This is especially when you’re a writer, and you’re trying to compete with the likes of an IT specialist (because so many kids are into tech), a pastry chef who brought samples (brilliant idea) and a firefighter who brought, well, another firefighter with him, both in full “let’s-go-out-and-kick-this-fire’s-ass” gear. (When it comes to superhero potential, writers and firefighters aren’t really in the same league.)


Anyway, I did my best presenting to a population who is generally taller (and likely smarter) than myself, and when it was all over, in an attempt to regain a bit of the confidence I lost throughout the morning (let’s just say I didn’t have them rolling in the aisles with my charm and wit or leaning forward in their seats as they absorbed every word of my suspenseful tales of writing ad copy, annual reports or even the several books I’ve authored), I asked my host teacher, “How did I do? I’m not sure I got to them. They were a pretty quiet group.”


“You were fine,” she replied as though she’d heard the question a million times before. “You got eye contact. Take it as a win.” So, I did, thinking that something, somehow got through to some of them.


A guy can dream, right?


As I pulled out of the school parking lot to head back home to my desk and my “career,” I thought about my life when I was a kid, and specifically, what I wanted to be when I “grew up.”


When I was a kid (long before I hit eighth grade), I had two and only two career tracks on my mind: truck driver or game show host.


When I was little, I loved trucks. I had a couple of scale-model 18-wheelers I’d tool around, loading and unloading my cargo, hitching and unhitching the trailers, and generally wearing out the knees of my pants as I scooted them around on the floor or in the yard.


One was a horse carrier, with two plastic equines I could put in the back and tool around like I was heading to a local rodeo (even though where I grew up, finding a “local” rodeo would have been about as likely as finding a “local” shaman). The other “rig” was a green car carrier, replete with four small sedans I could load up and transport from the living room to the kitchen and back again.


My love of trucks came from my dad and brother, who both drove 18-wheelers. Dad was home every night after making deliveries to various companies in the area, while Mark (my older brother) drove “over-the-road” to places like New Jersey, Georgia, St. Louis and other parts of the world I’d heard of but didn’t figure I’d ever see, since at that point in my life I hadn’t really been anywhere.


So, you can imagine my excitement when one Friday afternoon, Mark pulled up in his Kenworth with a full trailer of “something” and asked me if I wanted to ride with him on an “overnight.”


Mom said yes, and before I knew it, my five-year-old butt was riding high in the passenger seat of that rig, with Mark steering and operating the CB radio with his right hand as his left arm hung out the window, taking in summer sun and heat. Hours later, we were eating “breakfast for dinner” at a truck stop, and without boring you with all the details of the trip, let’s just say it was one of the most memorable 24-hour stretches I’ve ever experienced.


It was then I decided a life on the road was what called me.


Unless, of course, Merv Griffin called first and offered me a job as the next host of Concentration, High Rollers, Gambit or To Tell The Truth. (From an early age, my love of game shows was superseded only by my love of soap operas. I’m not saying that was typical for a five-year-old, but it worked for me.)


At that point in my life, it was tossup whether I’d choose the freedom of the open road or the bright lights of Burbank, helping ordinary folks win money and prizes by answering questions, rolling oversized dice or spinning massive wheels that had no practical application other than being massive spinning wheels used in game shows.


Those early dreams slowly faded for me, and over time (circa eighth grade), my mind and body drifted to other activities, skill sets and endeavors that finally landed me where I am today, far from the open road with one deeply tanned arm (a trait and occupational hazard of truck drivers), or the bright lights of “TV City” and the excitement of crowning champions and sending home losers with consolation prizes.


It just goes to show how things—and dreams—change over our lifetime.


As I drove home Friday, recalling my formative days and those early and now unfilled dreams, I realized something. I probably had gotten through to those eighth graders on some level. Maybe it wasn’t apparent to me, simply because I don’t work with kids that age and thus, I don’t understand their body language and how they present themselves when in a group.

And then I remembered back when I was 12 or 13. I remember how I sat in my chair, and how making eye contact with an adult wasn’t always (if ever) easy.


And I also remembered some of the people—the adults—who talked to us back then. I remember thinking, “Wow, look what they’ve done and accomplished,” or “That guy told a cool story,” or “I didn’t know you could do that for a living.” And when I recalled some of those experiences, I also remember that back then, I probably didn’t jump out of my seat with excitement as those people talked about what they do. And I likely didn’t raise my hand when the speaker asked, “Are there any questions?”


Yet, I know those people—teachers, invited speakers, aunts and uncles, parents—got through to me, maybe not right away, in the moment, but later, sometimes months or years later.


It was then, just as I pulled into the driveway, that I started to feel better about what had transpired that morning. Maybe I hadn’t influenced many (or any) of those kids “in the moment,” but hopefully someday some of them will remember something I said, and it will inspire them to pursue their dreams, whether that’s as a tradesperson, a writer, a firefighter, a pastry chef, a nurse or physician, or even a truck driver or gameshow host.


I got eye contact. I’ll take it as a win.


© 2024 David R. Haznaw

















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