About 15 years ago I was a bartender wandering my way to a college degree. I had just that year declared my major for probably the fourth time and still not certain if it was the right one. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. One of my regulars came in and sat at his usual table. He was a funny one. Nice guy, great tipper, but always took his shoes off at the table. As if that wasn't bad enough, he always came in after his weekly match at the indoor tennis facility around the corner and his tootsies smelled awful. But, as bartenders do, I put on my best smile and greeted him warmly. He had a guest. She was reminiscent of Estelle from Friends, Joey's chain smoking agent, but with a few more pounds on her. And abrasive as all get out.
My regular guest introduced her and explained she was a doctor of something or other. She proudly talked about what she did and I politely nodded trying to appear as enraptured with her as she obviously wanted me to be. Then she looked directly at me, pointed her finger at my nose, and asked what I was doing in college. I was a little startled. Not many people asked me that question in that way. I stammered her question back at her and responded, "getting my bachelor's." She asked about my major and I told her. Then she asked why.
I didn't really know why other than that was the degree that would take me the least amount of time to finish. I liked writing. I liked the research and reading. Seemed like an okay fit. But none of that seemed to be an answer that would fly with this woman. I stared at her. Probably blinked a few times. She stared back. It was a long time, or at least seemed that way, before either of us spoke. It was, of course, she who broke the silence. "What do you love?" she asked.
"Horses," I responded without thinking.
"No you don't." She dismissed me with a flip of her hand. I didn't know if I was supposed to walk away or just stand there. I mean, what do you say to that? Plus, I didn't even have their drink order yet. I opted to just stand there. I looked at my regular for some guidance, but he was studying the menu like he'd never seen it before.
"What if I told you I could get you a crap job at Churchill Downs right now? Crappy pay and a lot of hard work, but you'd be with your beloved horses all day. Would you take it?"
Again, I didn't know what to say. It wasn't often I could be rendered so speechless in those days. I was quite a talker. Yet this woman had me not only speechless, but acting like a virtual zombie. Unable to speak, unable to move, unable to think my way out of this conversation. She was a verbal ninja.
Finally, I managed to mumble something like I have to get my degree, blah, blah, blah, grandparents, blah. She snorted. I vividly remember that snort. It was like punctuation in the air. She proceeded to say something else I remember with incredible clarity.
"If you really love something, really truly, you just do it. If you need to get a degree to do it, get it. There's nothing wrong with getting a degree, I have lots of them. But get them with a purpose. If you have no purpose, stop wasting whoever's money and go do something you love. If you don't know what you love, get out of here and go figure it out."
Then she ordered a margarita and ignored me for the rest of the visit with the exception of holding up her finger (repeatedly) for another beverage. My regular tipped me excessively and life moved on. I got my degree in history. But I never forgot that conversation.
What do I love? I love to write. I still love horses, despite being years removed from any serious riding. I don't love sitting in my office staring at the interstate day after day wondering what I want to be when I grow up. The best part about the decision to move to Maui is it is my opportunity to do what I should have done at that moment in that conversation - go figure it out.