She had been quietly doing her homework in the family room, and I was tucked away in the corner making some payroll adjustments or completing a bank reconciliation, I’m not entirely sure. I was sitting on a broken chair using an old computer and grumbling quietly to myself. This is NOT the favorite part of my work.
And then her little head popped up over the back of the sofa. I don’t think we’d ever really talked before. And she said, “I want to be a veterinarian when I grow up”. And I said, “That’s wonderful. How did you become interested in that?” and “How do you think you’ll feel being a veterinarian? Is it because you love animals?” Some simple questions to show her I was interested in her.
And the stories tumbled out. Then she said, “I like it when you’re here!” I said, “Really?” “oh yeah! When you’re not here my Dad is really grumpy in the office. He doesn’t yell and stuff when you’re here.” I just listened.
Her Mom did a lot of the paperwork and data entry, and her Dad ran the company and was stressed out a lot. They ran a very successful business though, so it seemed to be worthwhile. Sometimes they even got to go on vacation together.
Then she looked at me really intently and said, “When you were little like me, what did you want to be?”
“A psychologist!”, I said.
And she said, “Well, then when did you know you were going to help people like my Daddy?”
And I sat there for a moment and evenutally said something like, “When I was your age computers were really new. They were big and sat on a desk and all I only knew about playing silly games on them. This kind of job wasn’t even invented yet. I had no idea I’d be able to help people using a laptop and my education. But what I did know was that I was curious about people and I wanted to help them. So, in some ways I am doing exactly what I wanted to do when I was your age.”
She thought about for a little while, then turned around and went back to her homework.
But what she said changed me for the rest of my life. Why was I doing this work? Is what I said really true? Is this the reason I do the work I do? Or do I do it because I’m good at it.
I stopped working with that client shortly after. I began to question every new project I took on for the value I could provide and if it was bringing me closer to my long term goals – although many days I couldn’t say exactly what those long term goals were.
A year later I heard her Dad had become ill, someone said it was a heart attack. I hope he’s okay, because he’s a really lovely man who loved his kids like crazy. I know that’s why he was working so hard to build his business.
I sometimes wonder if she’ll even know how much those questions impacted my life.
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