Wondering & Wandering
By: Pat Donahue
What’s the first job you ever had?
My first part-time job growing up was working at my Dad’s veterinary hospital during weekends, holidays, and summers. Although I was only eleven, I would go with my Dad to work at 7AM and start cleaning the cages of the 40 dogs and cats at the Churchland Animal Clinic.
I would clean the cages at least three times a day; wash and dry the animals, including flea baths; and hold the animals while my Dad examined them or gave them shots.
Remarkably, over the course of six years, I was only bit four times. Doberman, Husky, and Cocker Spaniel. The fourth was a Dachshund during a distemper shot. That was the same day I was deeply clawed by a tomcat during a fecal test and stung by yellow jackets on my face while trimming a hedge behind the kennels.
For the first and only time, my Dad let me go home early that day, not because I needed to heal, but because I was scaring the customers. A client had come in with his sick Irish Setter, took one look at my bandaged arms, hands and face, and said, “Jeez, I thought my dog was having a bad day until I saw you.”
So what did I learn from that job other than child labor laws don’t apply if your Dad is the owner of the business?
I learned motivation. Once you clean the cage of an English sheepdog with diarrhea, then repeatedly bathe that dog and dry it off with a blow dryer for over an hour, you are motivated to find another line of work.
You should view part-time jobs like getting involved with student clubs and organizations. Some may not be a good fit, but others will help you solve the puzzle of who you want to become in life. You will learn, both good and bad, from all of your jobs.
Being a cage cleaner at an animal hospital taught me how important it is to be empathetic to the customers you serve. Not just the animals of course, but also their owners. Because our pets show us unconditional love and cannot discuss politics, people often love their pets more than they love members of their family.
My Dad was an excellent veterinarian and a savvy businessman, owning two animal hospitals and a pet supply store before he died in 2014. But what made him successful was that he simply loved animals. At his funeral visitation, there was a long line of people that our family greeted, most of them pet owners. They would say, “I was Client #3 when your Dad first started out”, “Your dad saved my dog when he was hit by a car”, or “My cat Mittens didn’t like most people, but she sure loved your Dad.”
Even though I did not become a veterinarian, I learned you first need to figure out what you enjoy doing, then find a career that aligns with your enjoyment. For some folks, that search takes longer than others. Mine was not a direct path, but a meandering one. After college, I worked as a production assistant in the entertainment industry, a legal assistant, and a newspaper reporter. Starting in 1991, I finally found my calling as a career coach and have been working in career services 29 years.
One of the reasons I wandered so much is that I never met with a career coach to develop a career plan. At IU, you have an assigned career coach who can help you figure out what your next steps are and how to make connections with those that can help you achieve your career goals. To schedule an appointment with your career coach, go to https://cdc.indiana.edu/career-coaching/meet-your-coach.html
Please remember that it’s quite normal to wonder what careers you should try. And wandering in different directions, rather than getting you lost, can help you find your way.