Terri McCarty Jones, a friend of mine from church, recently asked a series of questions on Facebook:
“Just curious. How many of you feel that you are doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing with your life? Do you have a career or a calling or a combination of the two? Is there something else you wish you would have done other than what you are doing now? What factors charted your course?
Working with the high school CYF and knowing they are going to be going forth into the world and making decisions that will impact their futures makes me curious as to how many of us are overall truly satisfied with what we are doing with our lives. I’m sure some of you took a circuitous route to get where you are now while others seem to have known from childhood the path to take. Any wisdom shared will be greatly appreciated!”
I found it an interesting topic for conversation and decided to present it to a wider audience. I personally, wanted nothing except to be a wife and mother when I was a teenager. I said no when a friend of my mother’s offered to pay for me to go to college. My mother thought I should be a teacher, which was her dream that was interrupted by the Great Depression. Her friend had no children and was well off. I had always made good grades in school and they thought I should have a career. I wasn’t the least bit interested. Instead, the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school, I got married. Two years later, I graduated just one month before the birth of my first son.
I was set on the path I had planned for myself and even the divorce that came ten years and three children later didn’t alter that goal. I found a job, but I also started shopping for a new husband, almost immediately. Wife and mother was what society told me I should want to be, when I was growing up, and it was all I could see then. Why waste all that time and effort in college and building a career, to just turn it off when I got married? Why not just get married and be done with it?
Back then, even girls who went to college were expected to be looking for husbands along the way. We were fully indoctrinated to be wife and mother. Things have changed somewhat since then, but we still hear a lot about “biological clocks,” the search for “the perfect mate,” and the new goal of “having it all.”
While those of us who grew up with limited expectations may be looking around and wishing we had all the possibilities that are now available, things today are much more confusing for young people. That includes boys as well as girls. In those “good ole days,” young men were expected to follow in the footsteps of their elders. If they couldn’t manage a college education, their father, uncle, or family friend would get them a low level job with their own employer, so that the youngster could “learn a trade.” I suppose that still happens to an extent, but attitudes are much different than they used to be.
Today, young people feel a pressure to decide for themselves what career they want. A daunting task for someone whose biggest decision to date has been what to wear to school and which movie to see on the weekend. They are told, “You can be anything you want to be, if you are willing to work for it.” It sounds good to those of us who had limited choices. I’m sure, it can be scary to someone who is faced with that broader decision. I have watched many young people try to decide which way to go and they tend to fail. They will, mostly, give up on their “dream job” and settle for what they can find in the real world. There just aren’t that many positions open for Rock Stars or Ballerinas. Major league sports teams don’t have room for every child who loves to play. Fashion designers are few in number and far away from middle America. In the final analysis, most kids have to “settle” for something along the way and “find themselves” later.
There came a time when I realized that I wasn’t really cut out to be “wife.” It required a level of submission to the needs of a partner that I couldn’t accept. I gave up that dream. Mommy isn’t something you can resign from, but it is a temporary job. The day comes when those precious little toddlers become rebellious teenagers who don’t want or need a “mom” hanging around all day. You still maintain the title, but the duties become more or less honorary.
As a single mother, I had found jobs I could do. None of them were my “dream job.” By the time I found what that could have been, the children were more important and the two were incompatible. It is very difficult to become a Systems Analyst, who travels to distant parts of the country for weeks or months at a time designing and setting up new computer systems, with youngsters in school.
I turned my attention to more sensible jobs, still within my field of interest, and went on with my life. Eventually, my lack of formal education limited my opportunities for advancement even in those positions. So, I retired from my “job” and went back to school. More than 40 years after I graduated high school, I finally found a use for college.
It was while taking basic requirement courses, that I discovered my true passion, a love of writing. I had always loved to read and was in awe of the ability of some writers to tell a story. While I never kept a formal journal, I knew that I sometimes needed to put my thoughts down on paper. I always found it easier to write than to talk. I just never considered making it a career. My English professors were very encouraging. Even those courses that weren’t really about writing required essays, term papers, and research. I came to love research. It’s still one of my favorite pastimes.
I may never become a paid author, certainly not a well-known or “best selling” one. But it doesn’t matter. I am retired now. I get by financially. More money would be nice, but it isn’t a goal. I just like writing. I now spend my days between “mothering” my great grandchildren and writing: blog posts, a prayer journal, plans for a couple of novels that will probably never see the light of day. It doesn’t matter. The joy is in the creation of words, sentences, paragraphs, pages of text. The telling of the story, true or imaginary, is the thing.
So, I guess my answer to the above questions would be: Yes, I am doing exactly what I should be doing with my life. It is a combination of a part of my original goal and what I found along the way. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had been able to make different choices when I was young.
In college, I also discovered a love of Physics. I’m not sure I have the mental acuity to have made it a career but, if I had been exposed to it in high school, I might have accepted that opportunity to go to college. Even if Physics didn’t work out, I might have discovered my love of writing in time to have made that a lifetime career. Either of those possibilities would have made my life very different. Better? There’s no way to know. But, I can’t wish for it. After all, that would wish away my five children, all my grandchildren and my precious greats. I can’t even wish away my two failed marriages for the same reason.
My life went as it should. I didn’t know when I was 15 how it would turn out. No one can. All you can do is the next thing. Expose yourself to as many paths as possible. Take the one in front of you, but watch for side branches. You never know what you’ll find along the way.
How about you? Join the conversation. Leave a comment below.