THe obvious first thing I could do is teach O&M again. That is obvious because it's the most practical thing and because I have a lot of experience and a master's degree and as far as paying the bills, it's not bad. I enjoyed some things about teaching O&M, the same things I enjoy about my current job: teaching people new skills, being able to improve someone else's quality of life, having to be creative in problem-solving, customizing instruction to the individual, et cetera. The other nice things about teaching O&M include the fact that you can (eventually) get a job most anywhere in the country -- I'm not limited to a choice between freezing cold Michigan or places with the highest costs of living in the whole country (California and NYC metro area)-- and that you can choose between working with kids and working with adults.
The bad thing about O&M is that I just am not passionate about it. I wasn't inspired to seek out the best people in the field and learn from them; I didn't spend hours outside of work time finding and reading and practicing things that would let me do my job better; I didn't feel a need to improve all the time. Partly this was because my clients were pretty much successful in meeting their goals all or almost all of the time, and I just didn't feel like more work was required to give them better service because the service they were getting was already so good. Teaching people with guide dogs is a lot harder. The addition of another living creature of a different species into the equation makes everything exponentially more complicated. But when it's done right and it works, the ultimate outcome is (usually) greater speed, safety, and comfort getting from Point A to Point B than ever would have been possible with a cane. (Not to downplay the value of the cane, or say that a dog is always better than a cane. THE RIGHT dog is USUALLY better for THE PERSON WHO WANTS A DOG AND IS WILLING TO PUT IN THE WORK TO MAKE IT WORK than a cane is FOR THAT PERSON.) I like the constant ongoing challenge to get it right -- first the training of the dog, then the match of dog and client, then, finally, the training of the client with the dog. It is just more interesting to me.
So, O&M is a safe and pleasant career and would pay the bills and comes with benefits and all of that. But there are other things I almost did or wanted to do at some time.
Let's start with being a writer. I love writing more than almost anything. I have been writing my whole life, both fiction and non. I always thought that I would be a writer some day. I never had any desire to write the Great American Novel -- I only actually enjoy about 50% of "great" literature even though I read as much of it as I can -- I just like to entertain people. If I had unlimited time and unlimited money, I would definitely apply to an MFA program in Creative Writing. (The University of Michigan has one of the best ones in the country, just 45 minutes away from me, by the way.) The thought of having no work responsibilities and concentrating only on writing is such a fantasy. It is completely unrealistic in terms of getting my money's worth. The lost salary, the tuition, those are costs I could never expect to get back, ever. Not only that, but being paid to be a writer, no matter how much education you have in writing, takes an unbelievable amount of grunt work. I follow a lot of blogs on publishing. It has never been easy to get published, anywhere. The most popular writers had to send out dozens or hundreds of proposals before ever getting any kind of success, and had to deal with rejection over and over again to get where they are. That still happens today, but today new authors have more options than ever. The opportunities to publish and sell your own writing have never been greater than they are now. But you will never, ever get anywhere without doing the work to get your name out. There are infinite resources on how to do that for people who are passionate enough about doing it to invest the time needed. I guess I am just… not quite that passionate. I care enough to read publishing blogs and to write my own blogs, but I guess I don't care enough to discipline myself to set aside the time needed to write, edit, format, and promote something well-written enough that anyone would buy it (something good enough to compete with everything on the Internet that can be read for free, like boredpanda and Buzzfeed), or even to join a writing group and get myself some accountability. Oh well. If my blogs are all I ever write, that is okay with me, I guess.
Private dog training. The appeal of private dog training as a career is that, as with any privately owned business, I could make my own schedule and have everything the way I like it. There is always a need for dog training, and, if you're good at it, you can charge progressively more and more the longer you do it and the better your reputation gets in the community. I certainly have the skills needed to train dogs and train people. But the downsides -- uncertain/fluctuating income, difficulty of starting out when new, level of effort required to build your business, lack of benefits (unless you want to work for an established company, which negates the biggest reason to make a career of private dog training, freedom in doing it the way you want) -- make it too risky for my comfort level. Of course, I could be training dogs on the side right now, as a hobby and for a little extra cash, but when I add up the hours in my day and the things I already do for entertainment (running, reading, writing, playing with my dogs), there really isn't time for private dog training, too, not unless I was willing to give up something else, which I'm not. Still -- something I enjoy doing, and could do in a pinch if I ever lost my job unexpectedly.
Dog grooming. I worked as a bather for a groomer in Tucson on Saturdays, back when I still thought it would be impossible for me to leave Tucson but knew that I couldn't stay at the V.A. or else my soul would die a slow death from boredom. Believe me, grooming dogs is an art, and doing it right is a skill that you acquire through specific training and experience. Working with dogs for as many years as I have really doesn't give me that much of an edge in learning grooming, except the moving them from tub to table and getting them to stand still parts. All I did was bathing/brushing/blow drying in preparation for the haircut, and even just that stuff is a lot more complicated than you would think if you're talking about doing it professionally. I definitely loved it, though. I loved the hard work that resulted in a finished product -- a nicely groomed dog. It was simple but not easy. Dog grooming is still right up there with jobs that I truly think I would enjoy, but the only way I would ever consider doing it professionally is to go to school for it and learn it the right way. And that's obviously not something that would ever make sense financially, time wise, or any other way as long as I'm still a GDMI. Honestly, though, I still fantasize about getting a part time bathing job on weekends, even while I'm working at Leader, just because I enjoyed it so much.