I have been writing in series; pieces that are written independently but which come together as a collection of related thoughts. “Letters” is one of them. I started writing these several months ago, when my children were all living at home due to COVID restrictions, but at the same time, they were getting ready to move on to their respective destinations: college, after college, work. John Mayer sings “say what you need to say” and while I try to always do this, sometimes it comes out better for me in writing. So this series is for my children. While some letters have been written with a single child in mind, these are equal opportunity messengers, and my hope is that each child will find their own meaning in every letter.
FOR EMMA: ON FOLLOWING YOUR DREAMS (AND REMEMBERING WHY YOU HAD THEM IN THE FIRST PLACE)
For a brief moment, I considered going to nursing school. I had already worked in a couple of different medical clinics and I was starting to understand that while the doctor was the one who would be credited with the treatment plan for a sick patient, it was the nurses who had the greatest impact on the patients, holding their hands or patting their shoulders when they were scared. It was the nurses who learned the names of the family members who accompanied the patients. It was always the nurses who remembered that the week before, a patient’s grandson had his first job interview.
But I had wanted to be a doctor since the age of 10 and it was doctors (and their paychecks) who held my dad’s esteem. My dad didn’t want to talk about nursing school and he dismissed the idea immediately. At that time in my life, 22 and fresh out of college, I didn’t think it was my place to argue with him – no one ever did – so I accepted his response and moved on. Who’s to say that life would have been different had I gotten the support I sought about nursing school? What did follow, though, was a decade of starts and stops, rushed decisions, and missteps that would have me following a windy road to a career in education. Ultimately, I worked hard and my career worked out. By age 42, I had worked in the same place for 18 years, and was taking a senior leadership position. I had no regrets – life had thrown a few curveballs along the way, but I have navigated them reasonably well, illustrated by a happy second marriage, six healthy children, and a new home. I had no way of predicting I would burn out only three years later, and it took another two years to step out of that role, finally taking some time to myself to figure out my next steps.
I come back often to the crossroads in my life where I might have made a different choice. Not because I regret making the choices I did – because I have no regrets. I believe that the universe has a plan for us. Things happen for a reason and it is up to us to figure out what that reason is. Instead, I revisit that crossroads as a way of rediscovering my dreams. In every difficult choice we have to make in our lives, there is inevitably something that we wanted that we had to let go of. So I ask myself this: what was it in that original dream that I thought might bring me joy? Was it something that I continue to need in my life today? How can I fill that need? When I think about nursing, I understand that it was the desire to know people and make them feel safe, and to allow myself to care for them in a way that was both professional and loving. Whatever I do in my future will have to have to have those components – essential for my own self-fulfilment as a human being.
I cast my memory back to beginning of your junior year in high school. We were sitting in the college counselor’s office and you were talking about your dream school, Berklee. As you told the counselor about the summer program you had just attended, the classes, the students and the professors – your eyes sparkled. It was so clear that this was an experience that moved you in a way little else did, and your vision for the future was clear. You didn’t know where you would end up or what your career would look like, but you knew that you needed to be surrounded by people like you – who were kind, sensitive, free-spirited, talented, and who were passionate about performing. Sure, there were a lot of other options involving music that you might have chosen – options that may have involved less “risk” than performance. But I never wanted you to feel like you had sacrificed your dream for something that someone else thought was a safer bet. And so I backed you a thousand percent knowing that along the way you would be faced with difficult choices that would test your resolve. To be fair, those haven’t really come yet – you are still too young. But they will. And I want you to always remember what this path represented for you and why you chose it.
Never give up on your dreams for this reason: ultimately it’s not the shape the dream takes that matters. What matters most is what that dream gave you that nothing else does. What was it about that dream that gave you life, that filled your soul and lifted your spirits? Once you know that you will find a way to dream again.