Faculty Essay: What do you want to do in life?
It’s a question many of us were asked as young people. The bold among us likely conjured up occupations a far cry from the typical nine-to-five grind, only to learn later in life that job opportunities like astronaut sheriff would be hard to come by.
I first contemplated a serious answer to this question when I was a high school senior, preparing my college applications. This question can be difficult to answer under any circumstance, but I found it particularly challenging to type a meaningful response with my arms immobilized in matching plaster casts. A bizarre baseball accident that summer had left me without the use of opposable thumbs for several months. The accident had ended my baseball season prematurely, canceled my football season that fall, and essentially made it impossible to leave my house without explaining to everyone I met that I had been in a home plate collision and that yes, I had in fact dropped the ball and allowed the winning run to score, thanks for asking.
However, the injury may have done one positive thing: It helped me figure out what I wanted to do in life.
All my life, I played sports. And if you play sports long enough, you will get injured—it’s about as inevitable as death and taxes. By the time my high school athletic career was coming to a close, I had accrued an impressive number of medical bills. This meant I also had the opportunity to spend a fair amount of time with my school’s athletic trainer, shadowing his every move, even running onto the field with him as he assessed injuries. After spending much of my life playing on that field, it suddenly seemed like those same fair and foul lines wouldn’t make for the worst office space.
Twenty years later, I now realize I wasn’t just describing a job; I was describing what I wanted to do in life. For me, athletic training is not merely a career; it’s my calling.
My professional career at North Park began in 1996. My charge was to oversee the health care of all the intercollegiate student athletes and teach a few athletic training courses. I was confident I could handle my intercollegiate responsibilities; I was nervous about the teaching element.
It took a few semesters, but the teaching started to grow on me. At first, much of my job satisfaction had come from the simple joy of returning an athlete to competition. But as the years went by, I realized I now had an even greater sense of satisfaction: watching a student grow from an impressionable 18-year-old into a competent allied health professional I would trust to care for my son should he ever suffer a bizarre thumb incident. Teaching at North Park has taken what I had always enjoyed about athletic training—explaining an injury to a patient—and subtly changed my audience from a patient to an athletic training student with a thirst for knowledge.
There are two distinct elements to my job that make me excited to go to work in the morning: 1) watching the light bulb go on when a student connects the dots on complicated material, and 2) the thrill of watching alumni applying their trade in the real world. North Park athletic training graduates can be found in high schools, college athletics, professional sports, sports medicine clinics, and hospitals across the country. Several pursue additional degrees as physical therapists and physician assistants. But regardless of where they end up, my hope is that they view their jobs as I have come to view mine, and that they don’t see themselves as "going to work" at all.
Maybe it’s possible that the answer to the question, "What do you want to do in life?" is as simple as a child’s statement that he wants to be an astronaut sheriff. We should all aspire to find a vocation where we can’t distinguish the lines between work and play.
Andrew Lundgren is associate professor of athletic training and the director of the athletic training program.