When I Grow Up

If you would have told my 19- or 20-year-old self that at the age of 50 I would still be in school and embarking on a new career, I would have either laughed or cried.

I don’t remember exactly what I was thinking way back then, but I’m pretty sure I thought I would be settled by the time I hit my fifth decade. I probably pictured myself with a dog or two, married, and perhaps with children. I remember thinking that by then I wouldn’t have so many questions, and I wouldn’t feel so uncertain about where my life was headed.

In the fall of 2013, the life that I had been living came to a complete stop. The company I had been working at for the past 20 years shut its doors. That company belonged to my husband, and the realization that our blood, sweat, and tears had been poured into something that could no longer withstand the recession was a crushing blow. I was only 47 years old and not in any position to retire. I had skills, but no education to back them up.

I never had that aha moment in middle school or high school, never realized, “This! This is what I want to do when I grow up.” I don’t know if it was a lack of mentorship or of enthusiasm, but I simply focused on graduating from high school with no idea of what I would do next.  I filled out all the college applications like everyone else, but I knew the chances of my parents being able to afford college were slim to none. Here, unexpectedly, was my second chance at college—whether I wanted it or not. I needed to finally answer that question that had been knocking around in my head for so many years: “What do I want to be when I grow up?”

My local community college advisor showed me what classes I needed to transfer to a local four-year college. I started small and took a summer sociology class. I was the same age as the professor and old enough to be the mother of most of the kids in the class. That first day nearly sent me running for the hills. I went home feeling completely lost. I had thought a summer course would allow me to get my feet wet slowly. Turns out, I had to hit the ground running.

The thing about going back to school later in life is that you appreciate it so much more. I was shocked to see half the class missing by that final exam date. Where did they go? Why didn’t they stick with it? Maybe I felt more desperate, but for me the only option was to show up and make it work. That summer was overwhelming, but it started me down a path I never expected.

Fast-forward three and a half years, and I am now a speech language pathology assistant. How did that happen? Believe me, I am as surprised as you. Before going back to school, I had no knowledge of what a speech language pathologist did. Basically, the job entails helping people improve their communication and work through speech disorders caused by speech delay, brain trauma, autism, or stroke. Pathologists work with a wide range of ages, from children as young as 18 months to adults of all ages.

I found a program, took the prerequisite classes, and graduated in May of 2016.

Change, growth, following a path you are not sure of—it is all part of this great journey we call life. There are times when the change can be overwhelming. My first anatomy exam left me second-guessing everything. There were moments of doubt, fear, and concern as I walked this road. Balancing school, housekeeping, and motherhood required an adjustment for everyone in my house. The saying “it takes a village” never felt more real than during finals. But I also learned so much about myself during these four years. I learned that I am capable of more than I imagined, that believing in my abilities enables me to move beyond barriers that I didn’t even realize existed. Even when I felt my lowest and was ready to throw in the towel, I had people around me who supported me and encouraged me to press on.

I was hired as an assistant and am working in a field that changes lives every day. My life may have progressed a little differently than I imagined in my twenties, but I’ve finally answered that nagging question and I learned an invaluable lesson in the process:

You are never too old to change the course your life is taking.

I hail from southern California, but feel I belong in the Pacific Northwest. My favorite time of the day is early morning while out running or walking with my dog. Favorite vegetable is cucumber and favorite fruit is mango! My perfect day is a lot of reading along with a lot of tea.  I love both dogs and cats equally and can never volunteer at a shelter for fear of bringing every single one of them home with me (my house is just too small for my heart). I started writing about a month ago and this is my first published piece. So basically, I have no idea what I’m doing!