In my travels as a writer, one question I am often asked is if I grew up wanting to a be a writer. It’s a reasonable question. Many, if not most, of my writer friends were writing stories as young as six or seven. From the time they could pick up a fat pencil, they were making up stories, dreaming of the day they would become the creator of their own storybooks. From time to time, people ask me for help in getting a children’s book they authored published. For the record, I’ve never published a children’s book and know absolutely nothing about it. Books, like medicine, have their specialties. Seeing an OB/GYN about a brain tumor would be akin to asking a true crime writer how to get a romance novel published. While we all practice the same profession, the application of that profession is completely different.
Thankfully, there are organizations that can help guide both doctors and writers. There’s the Romance Writers of America or Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, among others. A person can usually find all the help they need from hooking up with one of these, unless you really are looking to practice medicine, in which case, you’ll need to seek out the AMA or the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, or some other relevant organization.
I often wish I had grown up with the dream of doing something other than escaping a difficult childhood.
Before my father died, I often envisioned myself a preacher woman.
Randy, Ronnie and their sister Wanda, and Brother John (if he was in a good mood) would gather in the Naylor’s garage to be the congregation as I preached from a hand-held New Testament. I was too young then to know the conservative dictates that women couldn’t preach because they couldn’t have “authority” over men. Whatever gender roles I had learned became completely mucked up once Daddy died and Mama became both mother and father to us. Much the chagrin of many conservatives, I never learned my place in the world. I just made my own way, oblivious to the constraints inflicted upon many.
A childhood impoverished by the lack of dreams also imparts the freedom to not be penned in by them. There’s great autonomy in not being expected to rise above. You get to surprise everybody, including your own self. I started my first journalism job on my 40th birthday even though I had absolutely no background or training for that job. It simply never occurred to me that I couldn’t do it, even though I had no reason to believe I could.
The beauty of having nothing to lose is that you are rarely afraid of failing. That lack of fear of failing has propelled me throughout my life. It has been my trusty compass. It didn’t hurt that the first book I wrote was about a woman who began her political career in her mid-fifties. Rufe McCombs (BENCHED) taught me that age isn’t a fence, but rather the tallest diving board in the deep end. Age gives us the ability to take leaps the younger us would never attempt.
I’ve witnessed this leaping in many, including my own sons-in-laws. Neither one of them really had a clear vision of what profession they wanted to pursue when they were in undergraduate school. They studied for the sake of studying, which isn’t a wrong approach to life – learning doesn’t stop until we stop making room for it. When we decide that women should never be preachers, when we outright reject women in leadership positions simply because they are women, that’s when we lose the ability to learn anything more from women or about women. When we decide that we know more and better than anyone else around us, more than the generals who do the job, or the intelligence agents who conduct the investigations, that’s when we choose ignorance over knowledge, arrogance over wisdom.
That both of my sons-in-laws finally found career paths in the medical field doesn’t surprise me. Both Zack and Jon possess a keen interest in the sciences. It wasn’t until he was almost finished with a degree in teaching that Zack figured out that being in the classroom wasn’t something he really wanted to do. He almost had that teaching license in his hand when he up and changed his career path to pursue a doctorate in physical therapy. It was the right move for Zack. He has found the career that enables him to help heal others.
For the past two years, Jon has been working toward getting into nursing school. Jon turns 40 this month. A lot of folks might think that’s too old for such a radical career move – for the bulk of Jon’s life, he’s worked for the family’s landscaping business. But Jon has secured the first of several opportunities to unfold – an interview with Oregon Health & Science University nursing program. We are all so excited for him. What a wonderful story he is creating for his family’s future.
David Sheehan, whom I wrote about in Karly Sheehan: The True Crime Story behind Karly’s Law, married a woman who had a successful career as an engineer. Yet, Liz had always longed to go into medicine, ever since as a young girl she witnessed a cousin dying from cancer. The engineering degree and profession was something she did because of the constraints of expectations placed upon her. Liz is about to finish up her third year of med school at OHSU. Some might see that has absurd – changing careers the way Liz has done, the way Jon is doing, the way Zack did. These changes are all something they did in their 30s.
I visited with a doctor once who told me that he had really wanted to major in forestry. He had wanted to spend his professional life working in the woods. But his daddy was a doctor and he was expected to follow in his daddy’s footsteps, so he did. It’s not that he had a bad life, or that he didn’t enjoy his profession. He was a good doctor and he touched a lot of people’s lives, but he still gets his greatest joy from being in the woods.
Most of us, I dare say, don’t become the things we imagined for ourselves when we were young – if we did imagine such things. Thankfully, most of us rise far beyond such imaginings. Ultimately, I think, if we follow the path we were created for, we all become healers of sorts – some through the arts, and some through the sciences. We heal ourselves first, then others.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of BURDY and the forthcoming CHRISTIAN BEND. (Mercer University Press).