What causes us to be interested in something?
This question is not as simple as it seems. It has always puzzled and amazed me that people go in so many different directions for their jobs. I know that, in these economic times, people are lucky to have any job at all. But how does it happen that some of us are construction workers, some are teachers, some are waitresses and some are dentists? And why is there approximately the right number of people in each field? OK, obviously, it has something to do with ability. I could never be a car mechanic or a surgeon, because I don't have good hand-eye coordination. I could never be a bus driver or a taxi driver because I don't have a good sense of direction.
Some of it has to do with opportunity. What jobs are available? Where are they? How much do they pay? How much education is required, and are you willing to go through it? Will someone hire you?
But interest plays a large part, too. I am not interested in looking in people's mouths; I like my dentist, but I would not like to be a dentist myself. I want to be able to get from place to place, but I don't really care about the logistics of where roads are built, and so I would never be a civil engineer. I don't like speaking in front of people I don't know, so I wouldn't be a salesman or politician. But some of you probably hate writing, have no interest in poetry, and would never want to be an English teacher. You don't want to be involved in people's problems, so you wouldn't want to be a social worker. And so on.
Are we born with these interests and lack of interests, or do they develop through experience? I can't say I ever had a bad experience with teeth, and yet I have no interest in the dental field. What invisible hand steers us into our life's work? Or our hobbies, for that matter?
Some of it is what we've been exposed to as a child. People who grow up in a family of doctors may end up becoming doctors -- or else purposely avoiding it. Either way, they know what they're getting into or avoiding. People who grow up in a family where the talk around the dinner table centers around the cost of real estate, or crime scenes, or test tubes, may grow up to be Realtors, or police officers, or researchers.
But that can't be all of it. When I was trying to decide what to do with my life, I had an uncle who recommended that I go into banking. I knew, right away, that that wasn't for me. How did I know? Why does banking hold no interest for me (no pun intended)? Why did I almost fail an economics course, yet my older son majored in that subject and finds it fascinating?
I wish I had the answer, because there is something I wish I could get interested in now, but I just can't: football. It is a mystery to me how my husband can sit in front of the television set and get excited when a touchdown is scored. He can yell at the players; he really seems to care about the mistakes they make, and the outcome of the games. He looks forward to those games; he is already lamenting the fact that, after the Super Bowl, there will be no more football for months.
Me? I breathe a sigh of relief. I have tried to be interested; I have tried to sit through games on television and even in the stands; but "downs" and "punts" and "passes" and "fumbles" -- I don't really care. The only time I care is when I know one of the players in a high school game because he is in one of my classes in school -- then I watch and I cheer.
Maybe part of it is genetic. My family is from Europe, where soccer is the important game, not football. No one sat around my house on a Saturday or Sunday, watching a football game. So I never had the experience as a child to model after.
Variety of interests is a good thing. It's what gives us waitresses, cooks, factory workers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, policemen. ... It's what makes life interesting. I only wish that, during football season, I could understand what's so interesting about possessing that oblong ball. My husband says that maybe if they changed the shape of the ball, the Browns would do better.
Debbie Leffler is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.