How A Medical Condition Helped Me Reinvent Myself At 37

A chaotic 2016 led to a change in my life direction

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a singer when I was really little. I didn’t know how badly I sucked at singing yet. Hope springs eternal in kindergarten. My sister wanted to be a princess, which caused her quite an existential crisis since her fiancé (the six-year-old boy two doors down) was not a prince. Quite the conundrum. She didn’t seem to see the flaws in her backup plan to grow up to be a bird, though.

As my sister grew, her plans for the future became more realistic. She decided she wanted to be a teacher when she grew up. She grew up. She became a teacher. Now she teaches. Pretty straightforward. And she’s a much better teacher than she would have been a bird-princess. The six-year-old two doors down grew up to be a teacher too.

Then there’s me. I wanted to be a singer. Then I wanted to be an actor. I went to a school of the arts high school (like Fame with fewer leg warmers) but I knew well before graduating that I was not meant to do this for a living. Some of my former classmates are now though. They had a clear career path too. Good job and good stuff, guys.

I headed off to university with dreams of breaking into the publishing industry. I was going to be a publisher. Or an editor. Or something like that. What do people in the publishing industry do anyway? I didn’t know, but I was going to do it. At 23, I held my degree in English up high, set out into the world, and promptly stayed at my summer job for another ten years.

I never intended to grow up to be a daycare teacher. I liked it. It was a tough, but rewarding job, but despite spending over a decade doing it, I never considered it my career. When my second son was born, I stayed home and became a home daycare provider. I liked it too, but I didn’t intend to grow up to be a home daycare provider either. Though there were pangs of envy at those with “real” careers, I was content in my simple little life, staying at home with my kids. I’d figure out a career later.

Then all hell broke loose. Our landlords sold our house from under us, at Christmas. My husband had to leave his job, we had to move, I had to leave my job, oh, and also I developed a crippling back condition leaving me unable to even stand for more than a minute or so. Thanks, 2016. Now what?

So at 37, here I am, facing the same question I faced at five. What do I want to be when I grow up? It’s daunting, and 2016 was hell on wheels, but somehow all of this has been a blessing too. I declared 2017 a rebuilding year. This is a year for focusing on me. I am Heather, hear me roar. I sat down and thought, “What do I need to change about myself and my plans for the future?” The answer is friggin’ everything. Awesome. I’ll get right to that.

But I did. I started writing. This is what I really did want to be when I grew up: a writer. I can’t walk, but dammit, I can write.

I just signed up for my 34th online class through the library. Free, six weeks long, every subject known to man, perfect for the recently immobile.

I started taking control of my health. Not just my messed up back, but my diet, my mental health, all of it. Guys, spinach is delicious! Did you know that?

I stopped caring about how others saw me. I’m booking an appointment to get a crazy haircut I would never have gotten at 17. I might even dye it purple. I’m going to buy a dress I look super fat in simply because I like it. And I am fat. Who says fat women can’t wear any dress they want to?

I don’t know where it is all leading. I have no concrete future plans yet for how we are going to undo the great disaster of 2016. All I know is that for the first time in my 37 years so far, I am giving serious thought to who I am, who I want to be, and I’m taking real steps to make it happen.

My mom always said the women in our family come into their own in middle age. Like wine and cheese, we get better with age, I guess. I’ve heard her say it since I was little, but I’m seeing it first hand now.

I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Truth be told, I still don’t feel like a grown up at all. But I know who I want to be, and I am finally finding the confidence to become it. Bring it on, 40.

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