Recently, I had this conversation with my 16-year-old son. It’s kinda long, so you might want to grab some popcorn. Or a pillow. Maybe a bed.
Me: “Any thoughts about life after graduation?”
Him: “I dunno. College, I guess.”
Me: “Good decision. Any ideas about a major?”
Him: “I dunno. Business, maybe. Or computers.”
Me: (pausing) “Because you want to be a business guy? A computer guy?”
Him: (looking at me like I’m just so weird) “Uh, no. But I need a back-up plan.”
Me: “A back up plan for what?”
Him: “In case what I really want to do doesn’t work out.”
Me: “Which is…?”
(And he told me. Which I already knew. Because I’ve managed to learn a little about my kids over the years. Though it’s been difficult what with all the manicures and pedicures and Desperate Housewives reruns I’ve been watching).
Me: (finished listening, now blinking at him like he’s so weird): “So you’re gonna go take care of your back-up plan BEFORE you take care of your actual plan?”
Him: “Yeah. That’s what everyone says I’m supposed to do.”
Me: “Okay, but you’ll be eighteen. Call me crazy, but this might be a real good time to give your actual dream a shot. You know, before wives and kids and mortgages kick in.” (And then I had to clarify that I meant ONE wife. We’re not into the whole polygamy thing around here. Anymore.)
Him: “But what if the thing I want to do doesn’t work out?”
Me: “Well…then go do something else. That whole back-up thingy. But I don’t think now is the time to worry about it. Wait ‘til you’re really old. Like, thirty.”
Him: “Oh geez. If things don’t work out by then I might as well roll over and die.”
At which point I vowed never to speak to my kids again. But that’s not really relevant to this post.
Anyway, raise your hand if you had a back-up plan! I had one. A few, actually. I did wind up with a degree I love (Journalism) and was a few hours shy of a second degree (English), but then I decided one was enough and stopped pursuing it (#97 on the list of Dumb Things I’ve Done). But then I graduated and went to work. Got married. Had a child, and then another. And I loved the people I worked with, and I sorta liked what I was doing. And working is a very honorable thing, and oftentimes doing the things you need to do is absolutely the right decision.
The whole time I sat at that desk, I knew I wanted to try something different. See, from the time I was little, I wanted to write stories. Novels, actually. Which seemed kinda weird to me, because who did I know who wrote books? And who did I think I was, Judy Blume or something? (Actually, I thought I was Brooke Shields, which was a whole other dream of mine. Also not relevant to this post).
Anyway, this dream took major root when I was in seventh grade and my English teacher read one of my short stories out loud to the class. She then submitted it to some writing contest for kids. I never heard what happened next, so obviously I didn’t win. But never mind that, because she planted a seed in me back then. She told me I could write. She encouraged me. Praised me. Told me to shoot for the moon.
But eventually I landed back on earth, stuffed that dream in my pocket, and did the grown-up thing. I wrote greeting cards. Newspaper articles. Catalog descriptions. Again, honorable. A dream job for lots of people. But it wasn’t mine.
I still wanted to write books. But by that point I was a little afraid. A little set in my routine-y ways. Because I had a husband! And kids! And a mortgage! And I needed to do the responsible thing and grow up and quit thinking about writing stories about fake people in made-up situations.
The dream wouldn’t die. In fact, it grew. And grew. Until I couldn’t ignore it anymore. And by ignore, I mean keep making up excuses why I couldn’t possibly give it a try. And since I am of the mindset that God is usually the one who puts dreams inside us in the first place (unless it’s a dream of eating Milk Duds all day while watching movie after movie in a dark theater. I’m pretty sure that one is all mine),
one day not all that long ago, I tried it.
I wrote a book. Took some classes. Wrote another. Took more classes. Wrote another…and another. And I’ve finally found what I love to do. Aside from being a mother, writing is my passion.
And now I’m beginning the whole submission process. And there’s no guarantee publication will happen quickly. Based on things I’ve read about the whole process in general, it’s practically guaranteed to take awhile. In fact, it might not happen at all.
But I’m doing it anyway. Should’ve done it years ago. Probably all those years ago when my teacher said, “You should be a writer.” And so today I substitute teach by day and write by night. Because writing is a lonely business, and though I could close myself inside my house all day and shove my face in a computer without ever looking up, I kinda like being around people. And hanging around high schoolers and kindergarteners a few times a week provides all kinds of inspiration.
So why am I writing this post in the first place? Because I really believe that people should go after their dreams. Chase them like there’s no tomorrow. Aim high, and then take cover if bullets rain on us. But never, ever take the chance that any of us will look back and say, “I sure wish I’d tried that. I wonder what might have happened if I’d at least given that dream a shot.”
And I know I’ve said this once before, but I don’t think anyone is ever too old to get started.
Now, on a completely unrelated note, the ice cream truck made an appearance in my neighborhood the other day. And when it showed up, we were completely unprepared. I was doing laundry. My two younger kids were playing in the back yard. So when they ran inside the house screaming for money, I dropped some socks and frantically dug around for quarters, listening to the sound of carnival music fading in the background. And then we ran outside. And he was gone.
And my four-year-old cried. Big, wailing sounds that threatened to give me a headache. So we hopped in the car and went for a drive. And four blocks over, we found that heavenly white van. And my daughter ordered a Popsicle. And my son ordered a snow cone. And I ordered an ice cream sandwich.
Because deep down inside, I have the heart of a twelve-year-old girl. And that whole growing up thing?
Why would anyone ever want to do something as boring as that?