A post about still trying to figure it out.
Marvel Comics was born after Stan Lee had already been writing and editing comic books for 40 years. JK Rowling was 36 when Harry Potter was first published. Viola Davis didn’t receive her big break until she was 43. And it took the legendary Toni Morrison to reach 39 before she published her first book.
What do these folks, among others, have in common? Besides being insanely creative, they all didn’t catch their stride until well after 30. There’s this preconceived notion that in order to make it in this world, in order to be successful, one has to have accomplished so much by such and such age. There are these invisible timelines that exist for some reason that are supposed to guide us through life, when all they really do is cause anxiety and stress. We all know things happen when they are supposed to, that God’s timing is not our own. But what happens when you hit a certain age and you still aren’t sure what you are supposed to be doing… when you are still trying to figure it all out? What happens when life happens and things are not moving in the direction that you think they should? Is this truly a dream denied, or things simply realigning so that the dream can happen?
When I graduated high school, I was almost certain that I wanted to be a Psychologist. I had declared that as my major in college and at the time, I was determined to help children work through their challenges in a school environment. During college, I changed my mind about how to employ that degree but the overall goal didn’t change. I wanted to spend my life helping people. But upon graduating college in 2008, something within me had changed. Part of it was attributed to the loss of my father and part of it happened months before. I took a Guidance and Counseling class in the second semester of my junior year and coming out of it, I realized that therapy was just not for me (the giving part, this is, not the getting).
Here I was on the cusp of almost finishing my degree program and suddenly the goals that I had for my life had just exploded, and not in a good way. I was left feeling empty, as though I had done all that studying for nothing. Luckily for me though, psychology is simply the study of human behavior. Many people who have Psychology degrees go off to do other things with their life. So I figured maybe I could do the same.
Before graduation, I remember visiting my cousin who lived in Atlanta. I was in town to interview for a management training position that Target offered for college graduates. My cousin had been a mentor to me for years. She was a licensed psychologist and I longed to follow in her footsteps. However, when I went to stay with her for those few days, I found out that she was working in Human Resources. She mentioned that working as a therapist can be taxing and it’s good to get a break from it every once and a while. It clicked. Maybe, I thought, maybe I should find something else to pursue, like human resources. I mean I could still help people in some way, so it’s not like I wouldn’t be using my degree.
I didn’t get the job at Target. While I attained good grades and was active in several extracurricular activites, I had no idea how to interview and no idea how to write a resume. I had no idea how to sell myself and erronously thought my 3.9 GPA would land me the job of my dreams. I really love Target! But instead of becoming a new executive team lead for HR, I graudated college with no job lined up and not a clue as to what was going to do with the rest of my life. I decided to follow my boyfriend at the time to Atlanta anyway to see if I could find a job. A month later, I was hired by Abercombie and Fitch for their management training program and a year later I began a master of Business Administration program with a focus in Human Resources. It wasn’t the plan but it was something. I was just grateful to be hired by someone after all. 2008 was not a kind year for college graduates.
But after this, life just got super weird, but in a good way. Within a year’s time of beginning my master’s program, I suffered a miscarriage, got engaged, got married, and had my first child. Not really knowing how to balance it all, I quit school so that I could focus solely on this new life that I had brought into the world. And less than 6 months after having my son, I discovered that I was pregnant again. I had been trying to leave my position at A&F for some time, and my pregnancy gave me a reason to get the hell of out dodge. Let’s just say at that time, that company needed to seriously improve their family friendly work practices. Our family relocated back to my home state of NJ to stay with my mom while we got back on our feet. I was embarrassed to say the least, as I was 25 and moving back in with my mom. I thought: I should be finished with school by now and establishing something of a career. I ought to be getting ready to buy my first home. I found a job as a teller at a local credit union and started a new master’s program in teaching. I figured teaching young children could be rewarding and once again it was something I could use my degree for. Then, about a year after I moved back to Jersey, my husband decided to enlist in the Army and left for training in South Carolina. He was gone for about 6 months. And after he returned and we received our orders for our first duty station, I learned I was not able to finish my degree in Hawaii as it was not going to allow me to finish my practical hours and student teach. So here I was again, ready to relocate our family for the second time in two years to a new home. One again, it was time to start over from scratch.
To say this was all frustrating was an understatement. I grew tired of logging online only to see friends and peers some of whom were younger than me seemingly finding their niche in life. They had established careers they loved and were good at, and had moved on with the more personal successes of their lives, whether that was getting married, having children, buying a home, or all three. I was quickly approaching 30 with two kids under 4 and still had no idea as to what to do with my life. And while I had played with the notion of writing, I never quite knew how to get any ideas onto paper. I felt like a spout that had run dry… I had nothing. Meanwhile, my son had been diagnosed with Autism, and I spent the majority of that first year in Hawaii getting him enrolled in services and therapy. Most days, I was drained of any energy to really enjoy this paradise I got to call home. I had found a job in Hawaii teaching at a childhood development center, but with the strains that my son’s needs put on me, I decided to quit that job and become a stay at home mom. I had also decided that I needed to try to finish something. I had been making student loan payments on a degree I didn’t not have. I figured I could at least finish this degree and have something accomplished. I didn’t know what I would do with it but at least I’d have it. And in the last two years of our stay in Hawaii, I worked on and completed my MBA, got pregnant again, and had my third child.
By the time we left Hawaii and moved to Colorado, I had come to the realization that maybe I hadn’t figured out my life yet because I was supposed to be a mom first. The sheer energy that went into advocating for and providing resources for my children whom by this time all were in some sore of therapy for speech and/or behavior was a heavy load and I couldn’t imagine trying to hold down a career that I loved through it all. Couple that with the fact that we were a military family having to constantly relocate every few years and I reasoned that right now in this moment, I was meant to perhaps put any dreams I had on hold so that I could support my husband’s career and provide for my children a means of emotional and physical stability in a way that my husband could not. They needed at least one parent around I reasoned. A career would take me away from that.
But what happens to a dream deferred? Is like they say, dry up like a “raisin in the sun?” The desire to do something more with my life didn’t go away completely like I had hoped it would. There was still this yearning, however small it was, within me that refused to go away. Just like that dang candle in Encanto, that shit still burned. As I mentioned before, I had played around with the notion of writing before. I started writing back when I was about 12 or 13. It was fan fiction, but I still found it to be liberating and fun. And perhaps the best part about it at the time was the fact that people liked it. I had classmates and friends request their own personal stories. They were popular and well received and it was the encouragement I needed to believe that maybe I may have a gift after all.
Years passed and I slowly stopped writing. I got involved with sports and didn’t think I had time to write. I also felt as though I had nothing to write about. It wasn’t until I was in Hawaii and having just had my baby that I decided to start a blog. It was small, and I didn’t write much but it was a good way to express myself at the time. I had lived a little life and had some experiences and I figured that was a good place to start. By the time I moved to Colorado, I continued writing more about my experiences with the military lifestyle and how that affected my parenting. I examined the difficulty with securing a job as a military spouse, the ABCs and 123s of the military move, and how to find and keep lasting friendships when you are constantly moving. I shifted to discussing parenting special needs children, and I sometimes talked about my love for pop culture. It was in Colorado that I learned of Hamilton. #MomLife had me late to the party as it always does but something about the story and the music motivated me to get back into the fiction party. I had even read Hamilton’s biography on which the show was based and was further inspired by the man himself. I knew I needed to write. And to do this successfully, I knew I needed to read.
And so by the time we had left Colorado and moved to Washington DC, I had a collection of books that was bigger than I could’ve hoped for and two blogs that I was managing. I had also started writing a book while putting out job applications and hoping to be hired soon as my unemployment was about to run out. Once I started working, however, the writing ceased. I found that I didn’t have time or the energy to keep up with two blogs let alone continue writing a book that was becoming increasingly more difficult to write. Writing now became a chore, something that I felt that I needed to do and not so much wanted to do anymore. Perhaps it was just time and lack there of it, or perhaps it was more of a fear of failure, the anxiety that filled my head with all of the things that writers just have to do in order to be relevant.
And let’s talk about that shall we? As of 2019 when I started my job at a non-profit in DC, there were a plethora of social media outlets through which we have the opportunity to connect with others. A blessing really as before people often had to use slower and not as reliable ways of connecting such as oh I don’t know the Pony Express aka USPS and the good old Bell Atlantic telephone book. Now we have such outlets as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Reddit, Tumblr, Snapchat, Tik Tok, YouTube, WhoTube, and NewTube. It’s really all very overwhelming. And it feels like a giant waste of time if I am going to be honest. It seems that in order to be relevant you have to spend an exorbitant amount of time posting and liking and sharing and retweeting and blah blah blah blah blah. I made an attempt at doing this. I became more active on Instagram, and joined a variety of writing groups on Facebook. I followed bloggers and writers on Twitter, and tried to comment on everything that I thought to be relevant. But it became too much. I grew stressed that I wasn’t doing enough and equally anxious that I was doing too much. It suddenly got very noisy inside my head and eventually it felt like my brain just exploded or at least said “peace, I’m out!”
So after almost two years of living during a pandemic and a few months after relocating to Florida, I’ve decided to pick up the old quill, dust off the feather and get back to it again. It happened very suddenly too. After we moved, things were so stressful due to having to help the children readjust after having to pull them out of school in DC where they were in their third week and doing quite well. I also had to deal with not having my car which was still in Virginia due to an accident we were in while moving. I found out my old job had messed up my information upon on-boarding so my wages were reported to another state and I had to fight to get unemployment (something I’m still doing) and my savings was draining fast. Every time! And while I had so much material of which to write about, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Emotionally, I was hurting. Physically, I was drained, and mentally, I was overwhelmed. I was just trying to pick up my life and help my children pick theirs up again. I just wanted to be settled. Writing felt like the last thing I should be doing.
Not only that, I avoided social media. The constant notifications and reminders and messages just became too much. I knew that in order to reset, I needed to fully reset with no distractions. For most of my life, I lived in constant comparison to other people. I always measured how good I was doing or how much I achieved by how much others had achieved or how other people were doing. I think we all do that. And the advent of social media made “staying in your own lane” so much more difficult. As I moved around and had to continuously start over, I couldn’t help but notice how many of my peers from my childhood and from college had established careers plus were starting families. I wont’ lie. It made me sad. It made me feel like I had done something wrong along the way. As a college student, I made good grades, took honors classes, and was super involved in extracurricular activities. I was going places, about to do big things. But as I pack up to move again, have to leave yet another job that was just a job and relocate to a entirely new part of the country just to set up house and do it all over again, I became weary that there was nothing else for me but to be a support system for someone else. Military spouses sacrifice so much so that their partners do their duty to serve our country. Our lives naturally follow a very different path, something that cannot be understood by civilians. So instead of having all the time int he world to work hard toward a goal, to create and turn a vision into a reality, much of those hours others can dedicate toward their professional goals are spent turning a new house into a home, helping children adjust to their new surroundings, tyring to find a new job to help pay the bills, enroll in or continue your higher education, or in raising children at home, and trying to foster new friendships that would hopefully become support systems as most moves were far away from family who could help out. And if your spouse has a job that takes him or her away from home much of the time, everything is on you to do on your own. Add the complexity of having children with special needs, which further complicates the entire momming job.
If you are lucky, you MIGHT have time to pursue your dreams.
Recently, I came upon this article entitled 20 Thing to Master Before You Turn 40 and in which the writer discusses all the things people should do well… you know. It’s in the title after all. Oh the anxiety! Anyway, one of these things was to find your career “sweet spot” Exsqueeze me? What the hell is a career sweet spot? Surely it can’t just mean getting hired somewhere awesome or figuring out what you want to do with the rest of your life. No no no a sweet means that you have not only found what you want to do but something you are good at and something that the world values. I don’t even know what that means to be honest. What world are we talking about here? Our world is full of values, one of them being money, money, and more money. So, does that mean I should start selling drugs and become a some kind of drug lord or should I simply just start robbing banks and creating elaborate casino heist a la Oceans 11?
But upon reading and re-reading the article, I began to change my attitude. I though that perhaps it’s possible to use ridiculous articles like this as more of a motivator than as a firm guide as to how to avoid being a failure. Truth is, there is no right time or wrong time to do anything. Everything happens in the time it’s meant to happen. And when I look back on all the experiences of my life so far, I can say for sure that it wasn’t all for naught. Everything that I’ve been through has taught me something or added something to my life. What that something was… left to be determined. But as much as my anxiety leads me to believe that I haven’t done anything with my life yet, I know that it will somehow come together. The dream is still to write and to create. I may not be the most out there person you will ever meet and I certainly don’t thrive in positions where I find myself the center of attention, but I know that I am, and will always be a work in progress. A dream deferred is just that. It’s always changing, evolving because we are always changing and evovling. Our dreams are never cancelled or expired, unless we will it so. A dream deferred is just a dream delayed. Sometimes deferment allows us to really grow and have the experiences necessary for that dream to come into reality. Think about it. Most of us would’ve been swallowed whole if we didn’t have the option to defer our student loans. And if given the opportunity, I’m sure all of us wouldn’t mind deferring some or all of our monthly bills or other obligations that tend to take up the majority of our time and resources. Lord knows I’d rather spend the monthly car note or grocery bill on a fun trip overseas any day.
So here I sit on the Sunday morning filled the notion of possibility. I may be getting older, but life isn’t done for me yet. There have been plenty of folks who haven’t experienced what most would consider success until well into their 40s, like Samuel L Jackson and Octavia Spencer. A dream deferred may not necessarily dry up like raisin in the sun or just explode as Langston Hughes questioned in his poem “Harlem”. The best and most realized of dreams take the time necessary to become reality. These dreams are the ones that have failed maybe once, and maybe a few hundred times. They are the ones who grow and change as the person who holds it grows and changes. They need experience to grow strong roots and to bloom into something amazing and beautiful. Once my dreams come into fruition, they will be as realized as a pot of ever-growing Pothos. It may be time for a bigger pot.
4 thoughts on “A Dream Deferred”
Good post about expectations and goals. Even here, we should take the beyond-40 group at face value, and work with what we uniquely have. I’m approaching 40 real soon, but I’ve grown so much in recent years than all my previous decades combined, so the cliche of comparing ourselves to our… selves is the way to go. Wishing you all the best with your deferred goals!
I loved this so much!