Thursday, August 18, 2011

When I Grew Up...

When asked as a small child, what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d take a deep breath and answer with the most off the wall thing that I could come up with. Some days it was a brain surgeon for guinea pigs. Other days it might be a sign language singer. The more unexpected of an answer I could come up with, the more gusto I would deliver the answer with. I delighted in nothing so much, as seeing the surprised and amused expressions on the faces of my inquisitors. Rarely did my answer not give them pause and merit me the exact reaction that I was hoping for.

As a teenager, staring down the barrel of college, I realized that I had better come up with a more respectable answer than that, and so I scrambled about, attempting to come up with a real answer and some real clue of what I actually wanted to do with my life. Having grown up relatively poor, I felt a moral obligation to want to follow a path that would lead me to wealth and luxury. Unfortunately, none of the “marquis” professions really appealed to me. “Maybe I could be a doctor,” I would think. Until I considered the blood I’d have to deal with. “Perhaps a lawyer,” I would ponder, but the idea left me flat. Finally, in my senior year of high school, I had a teacher that looked at me directly and told me that I was a writer. A writer! Oh, yes! Everything sort of fell into place for me after that, and I decided that I would major in English. I was going to become not just a writer, but a rich and famous one at that.

Off to college I went, with a declared major of English. Just to be cheeky, I entered a concentration of eighteenth century British literature, and waited to hear the approving noises of my inquisitors. People would ask what I was majoring in, and I would proudly say “English!” and await the obvious follow up question of “Oh, so you want to be a writer?” Instead, I quickly discovered that nobody went to school to become a writer, or at least that was what the evidence suggested. Upon hearing that my major was English, people always, almost without exception, jumped to the conclusion that I wanted to be an English teacher. Knowing that no one ever made a fortune as a teacher, I would wrinkle my nose and say, with no small amount of distaste, “No, I want to write.”

Fast forward a few years, and I found myself at something of a cross roads. Personal circumstances led me to leave the university and attempt to strike out on my own. Never one to aim low, I took on a job as a copywriter, and learned three very important truths: 1 – I was a writer, regardless of whether or not I had the degree to back it 2 – I was neither rich, nor famous and 3 – I didn’t really enjoy writing for other people. If you had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up then, my answer quite simply would have been “old”.

In the intervening years, I tried on many different iterations of myself. I ran a coffee house, I designed brochures for a textile company, I ran customer service groups for insurance companies and financial institutions. I became a wife and I became mommy. At some point in all of these different jobs, I discovered that there was only one thing that I relished as much as sitting down and writing, and that was public speaking. Over time I found a way to channel that love into something that felt very meaningful and “right” to me, training others to help them succeed in their jobs. I found that I could write the curriculum and then present it to people and the end result was that they learned something useful, they enjoyed learning it, and they walked out of my classroom better able to do their jobs, and therefore happier to do them. It was an intoxicating experience. Adding to the allure was the fact that I was very well paid. Despite my lack of a degree, I had achieved what my initial goal was; to make a lot of money. Or at least what seemed a lot to me.

Unfortunately, as life is so wont to do, I was thrown a curveball, and in late 2007, I was laid off from the job that I loved. After the initial shock and humiliation wore off, I immersed myself in the business of being a stay at home mom. Before the ink had even dried on my termination paperwork, I had signed up to be on the PTO, to run the local Cub Scout Pack, to start a Girl Scout Troop and to volunteer at my church. To fill the blank hours in between, I taught myself HTML and started designing and coding websites on a freelance basis. I also picked up a collection of freelance writing jobs as well. I made myself beyond busy.

Over time, I began volunteering in my children’s classrooms, and working with their teachers and the other students in their classes. Without exception, their teachers marveled at the fact that I had never pursued teaching, and admonished me to do something about that. At church, I began teaching Sunday School and before long, became the head of Christian Education. It seemed that everywhere I turned, I excelled at one thing in particular, and that was finding opportunities to “play teacher”.

Three years into this adventure, my husband was laid off from his job. The entire tenor of our home changed, as we began a friendly, but necessary race to see who could become gainfully employed first. With the usual generous dose of irony that life is all too happy to serve up, we both were offered jobs, practically simultaneously. I went back to the company that had laid me off, and began working as a project manager. It took me about 3 weeks to realize that it wasn’t what I really wanted to do. I missed being in the classroom. I missed being able to participate in the learning process. I realized finally what it was that I wanted to be when I grew up.

As a child, I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. As a grown-up I know what I was born to do. I just needed to grow up, in order to learn what it was that I wanted to be. It is for this reason that I want desperately to go back to school, and finish my English degree. Not with the hopes of becoming a rich and famous writer, but with the hopes of becoming a high school English teacher.

Somewhere in time, the college me is wrinkling her nose distastefully.

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