"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
July 16, 2012
Career Guidance Nobody Needs
by Kathryn H. Kidd

I got a phone call today from a friend whom I’ve never met in person. Our friendship is almost entirely over the phone. She is the only person who calls me on a regular basis from Beijing, or from Italy, or from wherever she happens to be at the time.

She’ll call two or three times in a row, usually to offer a postscript to some topic of conversation from the last telephone call. I know never to leave the telephone for an hour or so after she has called me, or I’ll be scurrying back to the phone the next time she calls.

Today, as often happens after our phone conversations, she sent me an email afterwards, thanking me for changing her life. She is fervent about this. The thing is, I don’t think I did anything for her that anybody else wouldn't have done. Anybody but a guidance counselor, that is.

I met her when I was working as associate editor for a magazine a few years ago. She called me out of the blue one day and asked if we’d be willing to run a weekly column if she submitted it. I almost had to pinch myself over my good fortune. Hers was a name I recognized immediately. Her books had been national bestsellers, and she had appeared on more television shows than I could shake a stick at. I never watched “The Today Show” or “The Tonight Show,” but she was a regular on “The Today Show” for many years and she was discovered by Johnny Carson.

I told her I’d publish anything she wrote, sight unseen. She responded, “I don’t write very well.” I said, “I don’t care about that. I can edit.”

Then she said, “You don’t understand. I really can’t write very well.”

“How many best-sellers have you written?” I asked. “I own three of them.”

“That’s how many I’ve written,” she said, “but I had a good editor.”

I said, “I’m a good editor. You get the ideas and put them on paper the best you can. I’ll do the rest.”

She went on to tell me that she had a severe learning disability. Her ability to write was so poor that when she was in high school, her guidance counselor said the only thing she might be good for in the future was to be an auto mechanic. Have I mentioned that she was a girl? Growing up in the fifties? In rural Utah? What was that guidance counselor smoking?

Not that there’s anything wrong with being an auto mechanic. If that’s what you want to be, go for it! But to be told you can’t do anything except be an auto mechanic just because you have a learning disability? That’s cold!

Fortunately, my friend did not listen to the guidance counselor. She went off and started a cottage industry relating to outdoor adventures. She was discovered by Johnny Carson and has now been on more than 5,000 television shows. That’s a whole lot of television for somebody who was told that all she could hope to be was a small-town auto mechanic.

She sent me her first columns, and she was right. She has the worst writing disability I’ve ever seen. “So what?” I told her. “Any editor can clean up your copy. You’re the only person in the world who has the ideas you have. Keep sending me your columns and your pictures, and I’ll make them look beautiful for you.”

The two of us worked together, every week like clockwork, until I got laid off during the recession. By that time, a newspaper had also picked up the column she was writing for us. She still keeps in touch, having called me a half dozen times last week from China and this morning from her home in Utah. The reason she called this morning was to say she is sending me her new book, as well as a glowing review of her book that she wanted me to read.

All in all, she’s doing pretty well for someone who was told by her guidance counselor that she didn’t have much of a future.

I understand about guidance counselors. I took the career placement tests when I was in high school, and the results came as a real shocker. My tests revealed that I was either destined to be a minister or a stripper. Yes, you read that right — a stripper.  That's not a furniture stripper.  That's a "let me entertain you" stripper.

I have often wondered what kind of aptitude test would even suggest that sort of career path for a high school girl. And how in the world did I answer that series of multiple-choice questions to reveal that I was either going to be a person of the cloth or a person whose job it was to take her “cloths” off for an audience of salivating men?

Of course, I could always have combined the two careers of being a minister and a stripper.  I'm sure that would have a big impact on the collection plate.  It would have been a lot more lucrative than journalism!

I can't help but wonder how many people are told by someone in authority that they'll never amount to much — and then go on to fulfill that prophecy.  How many creative geniuses have been shut down by a careless word from somebody who couldn't be bothered to think of something positive to say?

One of my favorite comic singers (maybe my only favorite comic singer, come to think of it) is a Harvard math professor named Tom Lehrer, who sprinkled comments before and after the songs on his record albums. Before one of his songs he bemoaned the fact that people are always talking about how they can’t communicate. Then he added, “I say, if a person can’t communicate, the least he can do is to shut up.”

That’s how I feel about guidance counselors who tell people they shouldn’t set their sights any higher than to be an auto mechanic or an exotic dancer. And that’s how I feel about the rest of the population, when they try to tell people not to reach any higher than the floor. Who’s to say what a person can accomplish when he sets his mind to it? Does it really cost so much to say, “You can do it,” when someone faces a challenge?

If you want to make someone’s day, offer a word of encouragement. Everybody needs a cheerleader. Why can’t that cheerleader be you?

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About Kathryn H. Kidd

Kathryn H. Kidd has been writing fiction, nonfiction, and "anything for money" longer than most of her readers have even been alive. She has something to say on every topic, and the possibility that her opinions may be dead wrong has never stopped her from expressing them at every opportunity.

A native of New Orleans, Kathy grew up in Mandeville, Louisiana. She attended Brigham Young University as a generic Protestant, having left the Episcopal Church when she was eight because that church didn't believe what she did. She joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a BYU junior, finally overcoming her natural stubbornness because she wanted a patriarchal blessing and couldn't get one unless she was a member of the Church. She was baptized on a Saturday and received her patriarchal blessing two days later.

She married Clark L. Kidd, who appears in her columns as "Fluffy," more than thirty-five years ago. They are the authors of numerous LDS-related books, the most popular of which is A Convert's Guide to Mormon Life.

A former managing editor for Meridian Magazine, Kathy moderated a weekly column ("Circle of Sisters") for Meridian until she was derailed by illness in December of 2012. However, her biggest claim to fame is that she co-authored Lovelock with Orson Scott Card. Lovelock has been translated into Spanish and Polish, which would be a little more gratifying than it actually is if Kathy had been referred to by her real name and not "Kathryn Kerr" on the cover of the Polish version.

Kathy has her own website, www.planetkathy.com, where she hopes to get back to writing a weekday blog once she recovers from being dysfunctional. Her entries recount her adventures and misadventures with Fluffy, who heroically allows himself to be used as fodder for her columns at every possible opportunity.

Kathy spent seven years as a teacher of the Young Women in her ward, until she was recently released. She has not yet gotten used to interacting with the adults, and suspects it may take another seven years. A long-time home teacher with her husband, Clark, they have home taught the same family since 1988. The two of them have been temple workers since 1995, serving in the Washington D.C. Temple.

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