Tuesday, September 22, 2015

When I Grow Up

When I was six, I knew that by the time I was twenty, I would be a successful author, working full-time as a veterinarian, married with two children.

I think of this every once in a while and I laugh. My understanding at that age of things like what and how long it took to complete veterinary school, or to conceive and give birth to two children, was lacking. The basis of these goals were simply that I knew I loved animals, I knew I liked "writing" stories (although I was dictating them to my mother back then), and being a parent seemed like a natural development in the process of becoming an adult.

When I was twelve, I was volunteering for a local animal shelter and researching  veterinary programs at various state colleges.
I am lucky to have been born to parents who have always supported me, whatever my dreams and interests were. I didn't realize until I was much older what a privilege this was. When I decided I wanted to be a veterinarian, my parents and I spent weeks contacting all the local animal shelters until we found one that would allow volunteers below the age of sixteen. They drove me one hour round-trip every week to the only one in our area that would allow me as a volunteer, and I spent those Saturday mornings in the cat rooms, letting out all the cats and kittens, cleaning out the cages, and playing with the animals before capturing them all to put them back in their cages. My parents got me the computer game 'Vet Emergency' for Christmas one year. I remember, when my mom took me to the Illinois State Fair for a Simple Plan concert, picking up brochures about the University of Illinois' veterinary program, reading up on the academic requirements, figuring out what I needed to do to get into veterinary school.

When I was sixteen, I realized that my love for animals was not enough to get me through (or even into) veterinary school.
I have always struggled with math, and by association, science courses that required an understanding of math. I was on a high school trip to Paris when my finals grades from my sophomore year came in. I remember sitting in the lobby of the hotel, on the phone with my parents, and them telling me my grades. Despite how hard I'd worked, my chemistry final grade was not where I wanted it to be. In my memory, I have this feeling of knowing then and there that I wasn't going to be a veterinarian--in reality I doubt that's how it happened, but over the next year I slowly stopped considering that as my career path. I remember my parents encouraging me that I didn't have to give it up just because of one bad grade, that if I really wanted to do it I still could, and I appreciated that. But the realization that experience gave me wasn't just, "I am bad at math and science". It was the realization that any adult would know, but that, from the ages of seven to sixteen, I had ignored. The realization that veterinarians are medical professionals, and I would have to be willing to commit myself to a career based in math and science--to immersing myself in those subjects I struggled with for years to get through school just to get into the career--and the realization that a love of animals was not enough, for me, to commit to that. 

So--where am I now? 
Which of six-year-old Monica's dreams have I achieved? Well, I'm not a published author, I'm not a veterinarian, and I don't have any children. That means I've achieved one out of four--I'm married. And do I feel disappointed that I haven't met the goals I set for myself at the age of six? Not in the slightest.

Dreams and goals change. They change as we grow up and gain a better understanding of ourselves and of the world, and they change as our circumstances change. The dreams I had at the age of six were not the same as at sixteen, and I'm sure the goals I'm striving towards when I'm thirty-five will be different to the ones I'm working towards now. The fact that my dreams are changing is a sign that I'm changing, that I'm accomplishing things and discovering new interests, and I value that because I know that I'm not stagnating. 

This post was inspired by Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop. The prompt that spoke to me this week was "Something you wanted to be when you grew up."

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