After 23 years of effort, I’m leaving the field of animal care. I’m turning in my whistle and taking off my watch.
A career with animals I dreamed to hold as a kid. Biology degree with minors in chemistry and behavioral psychology. I poured my heart, mind and passion into competing for minimum wage all for “the dream job” with dolphins, penguins, sea lions and hundreds of other animals.
For years, I struggled with difficult schedules, no weekends, working holidays and limited vacation time at some facilities because “the operation wouldn’t allow 3 consecutive days off.”
“No dad I can’t be home this year. I know it’s been awhile. They can’t give me the days.”
I missed 10 years of holidays with my dad. He died and I won’t ever get any more with him but it’s a “dream job” right?
“Are you coming home for dinner soon?” Clayton asked me that regularly and my response was I needed to give the animals more time. I didn’t realize that the animals would be here past April 16, 2018 but Clayton wouldn’t be. Now I’m widowed but it’s a “dream job” right?
This year I got engaged to a wonderful man. I’ve been given a second chance when many don’t even get a first. However, the past few months I have answered texts from him “I’ll be at work longer” and when my mom asks about the holidays I’ve had to say “I’m not sure this year.”
My losses will no longer let me accept the society forced “9 to 5” norms. I felt deep regret for my past “next times” and started feeling resentment for my future “I can’ts”. Perhaps if I hadn’t lost Clayton and my dad, I would be more compliant to freely give away my time but grief brings the gifts of awareness and gratitude.
So what’s next? Since Clayton passed, I had to grow a second job which blossomed into something I can lean into on my timeline. I’d like to start changing societies mindset on the term “dream job”. Stating someone has a “dream job” negates their actual work and the sacrifices that come along with it. We have to work to live but at what point is work actually stopping you from living?
Growing through grief I realize that happiness, joy and no regret at the end of my days is the real dream. Tomorrow isn’t promised. Most of my life I have been told (and believed) that my only value was as “the cool animal trainer”. This past year has proven that my life and I have much more value. I wish I had learned this when I was younger but I guess I had to learn it all in grief time…