It was a dreary day much like this, several years ago, when I found myself tracing the raindrop trails down a window looking out onto a gray, lifeless parking lot. I was on my break at the not-to-be named restaurant in Connecticut where I was working as a server, and I just couldn't shake the bad mood I was in. Lunch was slow, I had another nine hours to go, and it was an overcast, depressing day. All that had less to do with my mood, however, than the discontentment that was slowly pervading my entire outlook. As I watched another raindrop land on the window and snail down its self-made path, I blurted out, "I do nothing that matters."
"Whoa, you're in a crappy mood," Sam commented. He was one of our most bubbly servers. He was super-enthusiastic about waiting tables, and about life in general. These traits were sometimes endearing, but more often annoying as hell. "What do you mean?"
I sighed. "I mean, I just realized that nothing I do matters. Nothing I do in my day to day life has any positive effect on anyone else's life. This sucks."
"What do you mean, you don't have a positive effect on people? You make everyone here laugh, and we're all happy when we work with you. That's important! And look at the kids you taught. I'm sure your influence has future effects that you don't even know about. Also, okay, maybe we're not doing brain surgery here, but we are providing a service, and when we do it well, people leave happy. You don't think that counts for anything?" He waved his hand around the empty restaurant to demonstrate his point.
"Actually, no. I'm sorry, but providing a quick route to a coronary doesn't satisfy my altruistic side. And teaching sucked. I hated every minute of being there, and I'm sure the kids knew that. And great, you all like me. I'm glad you don't all think I'm a wretched beast, but that's still not enough for me. I need...something. A major life change."
At that point, the hostess wandered over. "What's up?"
"Marisa's having a mid-life crisis. She's thinking of becoming a man." Sam, such a comedian.
"Funny. Actually, I was just talking about changing things up. I'm malcontent. I'm tired of living an inauthentic life. Which philosopher came up with that, Kierkegaard? I can't remember. Whatever, the point is that I'm not going to sit on my ass and live a life that I don't want. If I'm not happy, I need to do something about it and quit whining."
"So what are you gonna do? Hey, how about nursing? You keep talking about wanting to help people. Or, maybe even med school? You're smart enough."
"I don't want to be a nurse. You know what seems like a really interesting job, though? Acupuncture."
Sam stared at me blankly for a moment. "Acupuncture?"
"Yeah, acupuncture. It's when you use needles to..."
"No, I know what it is, I'm not an idiot. It just took me a second to process because it was so out of the blue. You always have to do something different from everyone else, don't you? Why acupuncture?"
"It just seems like it would satisfy me in so many ways. I would ease people's pain, which would make me feel like I was doing a valuable service for society. It's so mysterious and weird, I feel like I'd never get bored. And it probably pays well."
"How would you even do something like that? You're gonna move to China now?"
"No...maybe. Why not?"
Sam laughed. "You are insane. Are you having your period?"
Everyone had a good laugh over this, and I joined in. The next day, I googled "acupuncture schools in Connecticut." I found one that was within driving distance, applied, was accepted. The rest, as they say, is history.
So what is my point here?
Listen to your instincts, and don't be so quick to write off your whims. That tiny glimmer of an idea that seemed so far-fetched way ended up guiding me to my passion. If I had let my friends' opinions of my aspirations sway my own opinion that day, I wouldn't be in a career now that brings me so much fulfillment. Sometimes one moment, one conversation, can end up changing the entire course of your life-so pay attention!