But isn’t that the same thing? As life teaches repeatedly, not necessarily.
When I was a youngster, I became fascinated with electronics. Specifically, with radio. The idea that we could use radio to transmit our voices across town, across the state, even around the world seemed absolutely magical to me.
This all began when I was around seven years of age. My grandfather was cleaning out his attic and gave me an old tabletop AM radio that otherwise would have ended up in his trash can. It had a large round dial on the front panel. The range frequencies to which the radio could be tuned were illuminated by a dim amber glow which I found to be remarkably cool when I would cut the lights off in my room at night.
The back of the radio was enclosed by a sheet of thick cardboard containing multiple rows of small circular holes through which I could view the various tubes mounted on the radio’s chassis. Some were large and looked something like light bulbs, while others resembled small test tubes. Each of them were filled with tiny wires, screens, and rods which gave off a mystical reddish orange glow and generated enough heat to warm the radio’s cabinet, as well as to fever my imagination.
I would sit for hours, particularly at night, slowly tuning that radio across the AM band picking out the various stations which would fade in and out between the static crashes. I wasn’t interested in listening to the local stations, but rather those stations coming in from distant towns and states. I remember the excitement I’d experience when I’d tune across KDKA in Pittsburg, WJR in Detroit, WWL in New Orleans; and on and on.
You could say that it was either a simpler time, or that I was just a simpler kid. Take your pick. Both are equally acceptable and accurate assessments.
Soon, I discovered the world of shortwave radio. A friend of mine who lived down the street had a small portable radio receiver which included coverage of a couple of the international shortwave broadcast bands. After borrowing the radio from him over one memorable weekend and discovering the likes of Radio Peking, Radio Moscow, the BBC, and Deutsche Welle; I realized that I had to find some way to obtain my very own shortwave receiver.
After several months of exercising every persuasive skill in my somewhat limited repertoire, my parents finally relented and gave me a Knight-Kit Star Roamer shortwave radio for Christmas. As the name implies, this was a kit that I had to build myself from the parts included. Within two days, and much to the amazement of my parents who had no idea which end of a soldering iron to hold, I had completed building the kit.
Initial dismay was quickly turned to joy unbounded when a cold solder joint on the radio’s speaker was discovered. With a quick whiff of melted solder followed by the crackle of electron tubes warming up, the radio roared to life. This was followed by countless hours of tuning for stations coming in from the far corners of the globe.
In subsequent years, I went on to build many other radios and electronic devices; some from kits, some from scratch. I viewed the occasional missteps, such as near-misses with self-inflicted electrocution, as little more than learning opportunities which I knew better than to share with the other members of my immediate family.
Along the way, I became the “go-to” person whenever a radio, TV, stereo, or telephone needed to be repaired at our house or around the neighborhood. I became known, somewhat inappropriately, as that kid down the street who could fix anything.
All of this led me to believe that my future was going to lie somewhere within the field of Electrical Engineering. When it came time for college, I defied all of the odds-makers and succeeded in being accepted by North Carolina State University’s school of Engineering.
Unfortunately, I had a short, but storied career at State. It wasn’t long before I discovered three very formidable roadblocks in my path to pursuing a career in electronics. They were known simply as Chemistry, Physics, and most intimidating of all, Thermodynamics.
To this day, chemistry remains little more than black magic to me and I’d still like to take a big stick to the guys who came up with the laws of entropy and enthalpy.
But perhaps most importantly, my first few years in college revealed that merely having a passion for a subject did not mean that one was meant to pursue a career in that field.
I learned that there is a very clear and distinct boundary between an avocation and a vocation.
This tale does have a happy ending. I went on to complete a Masters degree in Experimental Psychology. Which begs the question, where in the world did the idea for that career path come from. But that’s probably best left as the subject of a future post.