I just got done cleaning out my storage room. Good times! But it had to be done. I worked my way through endless boxes of all the kids’ schoolwork that I have saved over the years (“saved” being a loose term meaning “toss haphazardly in giant boxes with no organizational system whatsoever”) trying to figure out what I should really keep vs. what was really a waste of space. I managed to whittle down the kids’ paperwork to only saving those things that are their actual original work (drawings and things they wrote or created from their own imagination) and got rid of the rest. The interesting thing is, as I went through these boxes, I happened upon the box of MY schoolwork that my mom saved from my childhood. From my box, as I went through it, I learned a few lessons.
- I don’t really care about keeping most of this stuff and my kids probably won’t want to keep theirs either. (But I will leave it up to them to make the final decision to throw it away.)
- Somewhere along the way in my youth, as I grew older, I started selling myself short.
The first lesson…not all that important, really, unless you’re short on storage space and looking for an excuse to get rid of things.
The second one…well…kind of made me sad.
This year my daughter (the youngest of our four kids) graduated from high school. Last week we packed her up and moved her off to college. I have to admit I am a little jealous. It has made me reminisce about the time I left for college and this along with that lesson I just learned from the box of things from my youth collided in this perfect storm of self-discovery.
Back when I left for college in the good ol’ days of the 1980s I had one really big ambition—I wanted to be a writer. I loved books, I loved to read, and I loved to write. I started off my college days as an English major. Unfortunately, that didn’t last long as I started to doubt my decision. I started to hear these voices telling me that it was not a feasible idea for me. Maybe it was better to be an elementary school teacher—it gels well with motherhood because then you have the summers, weekends and holidays off just like your kids. Or maybe it was better to go into home economics because someday, as a mother, you’ll be running a household and all that stuff will be helpful. These were the things the voices whispered to me in the dark at night in my college dorm, telling me that maybe, just maybe, all the things I had always believed about myself weren’t true after all and I needed to be “practical”. Three years and 5000 changes to my major later, I quit school and never graduated. Sadly, after leaving my English major the first time, I never went back to it.
Now, as I looked through the box of keepsakes from my youth, I discovered all the things I used to write when I was young. I had stories and poetry that I had written going back into my elementary days when I won first prize in the Reflections contest all the way through my high school days when I was published in the school literary magazine, including things I had written outside of school on my trusty old electric typewriter. I was actually able to remember my feeling of accomplishment with each piece that I finished. It feels like a million years ago.
All of this led me to realize that I need to reexamine my life. I’ve been reading a book by Jon Acuff called “Start”. He talks a lot about the idea of being awesome and how it used to be easy.
When did I stop believing I was awesome?
We all believed we were awesome as kids. Think about that time you were sitting in elementary school and the teacher had you write or draw something about what you wanted to be when you grew up. Did any one of us draw a picture of a mediocre life? Did we dream of growing up to work in a mail room, or sit at a receptionist’s desk answering phones? Not that there is anything wrong with doing these things (so a quick shout out to all you mail room workers and receptionists—your services are highly valued and appreciated!) I’m just saying that we dreamed big and thought we could do anything. Boys shoot hoops and dream of playing in the NBA, girls dance and dream of ending up on Broadway….or write things on their typewriter in their bedroom imagining that one day they will write the next great American novel.
It’s not that we all chose average. No one aims for that in the beginning. Nobody says “I’m going to be average for 65 years and then die!”—Jon Acuff, Start
As a parent I have always tried to tell my kids, “You can do anything!” The question is, when did I stop believing that about myself? Maybe our beliefs as children were unrealistic, and maybe at some point in time we all had a voice in our heads, either our own or someone else’s that told us our dreams were too big. I have been telling myself that for decades. I compare myself to those who’ve done what I wish I could do and say “How did they do that, and why can’t I do it too?” The better question might be, “Why DON’T I do it too?”
The truth of it is, the dreams we used to dream never died. They are still there, like ghosts, haunting us in those times when we are alone. They follow us into the shower or when we are sitting in traffic and any other time that our minds have a chance to wander into the land of what could have been. Maybe your dream was never about having a career or being famous—maybe you wanted to backpack through Europe, learn to skydive, or be a great photographer. In the meantime, we tallied up a giant list of excuses for why we never did those things we wanted to do, and we carry them around like a heavy rocks in our pockets, pulling them out to look at them over and over again and telling ourselves that it’s too late now and there is no use thinking about it anymore.
So now I find myself sitting in my quiet house. My kids are all busy adulting and I have done my best to help them get to where they need to be. I ask myself, what comes next for me? My dream to write has not disappeared, and I am thinking maybe it’s time to give it a shot. That is what has led me to this place and this blog. The world of writing has changed and there are a lot of opportunities out there that weren’t available to me back in 1985, so I figure it’s time to take advantage. As Jon Acuff says in the book,
“The road to awesome is still accessible….Regardless of your age or station in life, it all comes down to one simple truth: you just have to start.”