Letter to the Person Who, During the Q&A Session After the Reading, Asked for Career Advice

Matthew Olzmann

The confusion you feel is not your fault.

When we were younger, guidance counselors steered us

toward respectable occupations: doctor, lawyer,

pharmacist, dentist. Not once did they say exorcist,

snake milker or racecar helmet tester.

Always: investment banker, IT specialist, marketing associate.

Never: rodeo clown.

Never: air guitar soloist, chainsaw

juggler or miniature golf windmill maker.

In this country, in the year I was born,

some 3.1 million other people were also born, each

with their own destiny, the lines of their palms

predicting an incandescent future. Were all of them

supposed to be “strategy consultants” and “commodity analysts”?

Waterslide companies pay people to slide down

waterslides to evaluate their product.

Somehow, that’s an actual job. So is naming nail polish colors.

Were these ever presented as options?

You need to follow your passion

as long as your passion is not poetry and is definitely a hedge fund.

If I could do it over, I’d suggest an entry level position

standing by a riverbank,

or a middle management opportunity

winding like fog through the sugar maples of New England.

There’s a catastrophic shortage

of bagpipe players, tombstone sculptors and tightrope walkers.

When they tell you about the road ahead,

they forget the quadrillion other roads.

You’ll know which one belongs to you because

it fills you with astonishment or ends with you being reborn

as an alpine ibex — a gravity-defying goat, able to leap

seven feet in the air, find footholds where none exist,

and (without imagining it could ever be anything else)

scale a vertical sheet of solid rock

to find some branches, twigs, or wild berries to devour.


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