When I Grow Up

When I was a kid, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I wanted to be a nurse. And then a vet. And then a newspaper reporter. And an animal cop. I thought doctors and nurses were smart, but I hated science. I was completely dog-crazy — “He followed me home Mom!” — but vet school was out because, again, I wasn’t into science. My Ranger Rick Magazine subscription and the desire to rescue every unattended animal I saw were the extents of my true devotion to veterinary medicine.

Photo by Jason Pofahl on Unsplash

Writing, well that was another story. I got the writing bug when I was assigned to Mrs. Gingrich’s Advanced English and Journalism class in 7th grade. It was a fluke, that class. Being a military kid, I was constantly shifted from the “smart” classes to the remedial classes, varying from school to school and one geographic location to another. But somehow, I drew the lucky straw and landed in the best English class I ever had.

It was that class and that teacher, which sparked something in me that never died. I fell in love with writing and researching things for writing. Our class ran the school newsletter and designed the yearbook. I was able to stay with Mrs. G for all of 7th and half of 8th grade until we were transferred again.

At the time, if you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer was always a journalist. But I was never encouraged in that direction by anyone. I wasn’t told that I could go to college. To me, college was a dream, only for rich kids. I was a military brat, not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination — Commodities cheese, anyone? — with no direction.

Now I’m pushing 50. I’m down to two kids at home, and my youngest finished his high school credits a trimester early, graduating from a small public high school just one day before the Governor closed all of the schools in the state due to Covid-19. I work 24 hours a week as a Certified Nursing Assistant on a busy Pulmonary/Medical unit at a large hospital. I am tired. I feel like I failed because I still haven’t figured out what I want to be when I grow up.

I have many blessings to count. I am grateful for my wonderful husband, great kids, sweet grandbabies, and a fairly comfortable lifestyle if not a little tight at times but that’s life, right? We have a few good friends. We have our health. We are both employed. Many people are out of work, especially right now, but we have jobs.

Then there are the regrets. Every night I work, it hits me again that I should have gone to college to be a writer or a nurse or something else instead of taking the easy way out and going to tech school. I work with some amazing nurses. I let my Certified Medical Assistant credential go after five years and then ended up needing to help pay for three kids’ braces at once so I became a CNA to make the payments.

Photo of a woman wearing glasses and a yellow face mask for infection control.
This is every day at work, for most of my career.

Here I am. Another 14 years have passed, and I am still killing myself as a Nursing Assistant. Still sprinting to the shrill of bed alarms, emptying urinals, turning bariatric patients this way and that in beds too large for me to reach across. I am still dealing with combative patients, worried family members, and friendly but nosy visitors who ask questions that are none of their business and which I am not legally allowed to answer.

I am still dressing up in yellow gowns, masks, and gloves in the hallways, and decontaminating my way out of the isolation rooms when I’m done. On top of all of my typical CNA duties, the unit I am on cares for Covid-19 patients which means additional PPE measures and decontaminating myself prior to leaving work and then showering downstairs before falling into bed with my husband.

I thought that this life would change when my sons went to high school and I would have my days freed up, but life was too chaotic then for me to make any changes. Now both are graduated, and here I am with options but no concrete decisions. I can do anything I want to.

I’m registered for summer quarter at the community college. I am interested in something not involved in direct patient care or possibly outside of the medical field completely. I would love to focus on my writing, blogging, write copy for a local business, or something else in the writing vein.

What do I really want to be when I grow up?

How does one decide for sure? Do you know when you’ve chosen the right thing?

My process is threefold:

  1. Seek out others who are smarter than me in the areas I am considering. I respect their knowledge. As the saying goes, ‘if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.’
  2. Connect with leaders who can make things happen.
  3. Be open to new opportunities and willing to try something completely different. You never know where your talents lie if you don’t try.

I know that I am willing to try new things. I have not yet decided what I want to be when I grow up, and I still want to rescue all the dogs.

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