Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

March 30, 2012

There’s More Than One Way To Skin A Cat

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 10:57 am

“There’s more than one way to skin a cat, Kara,” he said.  I can still hear my dad’s voice, offering up the advice that would change my life’s direction more than once.

I was eight or nine the first time I heard him say that.   Back then I was going to be a veterinarian.  I couldn’t spell it but I was determined to be it.

My friends who are older than me have often lamented that their life’s limited options were to become a nun, a teacher, a housewife or a nurse.  But, by the time I was old enough to even imagine, I was going to be a vet.   Sure and simple.

I don’t recall the instance that inspired my dad to offer up that phrase.  Up to that point, my decision to be a vet was based largely on the idea of me getting to pet kitties and puppies my whole life.   The perfect job.  I would hold them and pet them and put Band-Aids on their ouchies.

The day my dad told me that, not only were cats going to be skinned, but that there were several ways to achieve such a horrific end, I decided I was absolutely, positively NOT going to be a vet.

Fast forward forty years and I am currently winding up one of four jobs I held this winter, hearing my dad’s voice in my ear yet again.

I conduct phone interviews for former students from my high school.    The job is perfect for me because I am able to schedule my calls around the symptoms of my injury.   I am able to work out of my home and not have to perform when I have a headache, my balance is bad or my speech isn’t having a great day.

During these interviews, I am reminded again and again that “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

These young people have reported their future plans and many of them are choosing medicine.  But they are no longer restricted and constricted to the narrow possibilities that so many from my generation and those before me suffered.

In answer to my question about what they are pursuing, I have heard doctor, nurse, and even dentist.  But I have also heard anesthesiologist, radiology technician, pharmacy technician, plastic surgeon, cardiac surgeon, medical research, gynecologist, surgical nurse, medical administration, optometrist and more.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat.

As we recover from brain injury and begin to restart our lives and, hopefully, our work lives, it’s vital that we recognize that our options have not become more limited.  They have grown.

I have written on blogs before and have included in my speeches the dozen jobs I’ve held since my brain injury.   They are as diverse as my abilities and interests.   They are as abundant as my imagination.

My dad is chuckling somewhere.

I saw a news story a few weeks ago about a company in Ohio that is trying to fill two dozen welder positions starting at thirty-three thousand a year.   I  thought, Hmmmm…..

I didn’t think to myself, “I’ve never been a welder.”  I didn’t think, “I could never do that.”   I was more concerned with being a Michigan Wolverine in the state of Ohio during football season.

Seems we have come to believe that there are no jobs in this economy when, in fact, there are a lot of businesses trying to hire people but having a hard time finding those with a complimentary skill set.

We brain injured are not the only ones needing to find other ways to skin cats.  People are downsized and severanced.  Businesses close.

Somehow we have to find a way to jump that emotional hurdle and open ourselves up to more possibilities.   We have to be the newly-unemployed dentist or soldier or caterer or teacher who is able to say, yes, I can be a welder.   I can do phone interviews.  I can work landscaping.

I just saw on the news the story of a couple out of Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan who sold their wildly-successful computer business and have now built (literally) a village in Detroit that helps poor and disadvantaged people get a start to a successful life.   They started with one house and now have purchased and transformed an entire block of houses in order to provide services to those in need.

There are cats everywhere without any coats on….

In a world that boasts so many breath-taking destinations….In a day where there are so many miracles just outside our back windows….In our bodies where there are so many countless, complex, mind-boggling mechanisms….

I find it hard to believe that we have to be just one thing our whole lives.   That we are incapable of doing more than the one job we held before our injuries or before we were downsized or our business closed.

At a speech I gave a few weeks ago, a woman asked me for advice on how to get started again.  How to choose.   I told her simply to do something she loved.

If you love animals but can no longer be a vet, maybe you can teach veterinary medicine.   You can write for a dog magazine.  Work for a pet store.   Be a professional dog sitter or dog walker.  Get a job on a horse ranch.   Raise assistance dogs.   Breed puppies.  Milk cows.  Paint dog and cat feeding bowls.   Volunteer at the Humane Society.   Get a job on Animal Planet.  Work the vaccine drives.  Go work with the Iditarod in Alaska or in the penguin aquarium at the local zoo.

We weren’t all meant to live in a ranch in the suburbs.   On a farm in the country.  In a tiny apartment in a city high-rise.

We weren’t all meant to watch the same thing on TV.   That’s why there are eight hundred cable channels.

There are a million different ways our lives can go and a million different ways to be happy and successful.  We can feel free to strike out in new directions because everything we have ever done was done without having done it before.

That first taste of broccoli.   That first time up as a batter.   That first free throw.  First painting.  First song.   First kiss.  First road trip.  First time on a plane.   First job.   First house.  First serious relationship.

New is what sculpts us.   What grows us.  New is what gives us a fresh layer of perspective and experience and understanding.  It makes us interesting.   It makes our lives interesting.

Stepping out of our comfort zones offers us the opportunity to learn about different people, different lifestyles, different areas.   Too many times we shrink away fwith fear when, really, we need to embrace the myriad options.    A former caterer from Michigan CAN be a welder in Ohio.   A former caterer can write books, can paint bird houses, can make jewelry, can give speeches, can announce sports games, can do phone interviews….

When we were fresh out of high school, we all chose paths to take.   Some fit us, some did not.  Some we stayed with, toughed out, suffered.  Some we enjoyed, relished, were made for.

Now, again, after brain injury or after losing a job in this economy or for whatever reason, we are those fresh-faced teens again.   But with experience and perspective!!!!

We are capable of doing more things than we’ll ever have the time, in one lifetime, to do.

Spring came too early to Michigan this year.   I was watching, incredibly, robins hopping around on an eighty-degree day in MARCH.   Hopping, hopping, hopping….I thought to myself, “Why don’t they fly?”   “Do they even know they can fly?”

Maybe we need to ask ourselves the same questions.

Just ask my dad.  He’ll tell you.  😉

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