This is going to be one of those, “Get to know me,” posts with a side of life advice thrown in. There’s no real reason for writing this, other than something reminded me of my misspent youth, causing me to reflect on how it’s funny how things work out. And, often, even funnier how they don’t.
This started when a friend posted on Twitter how she’d gone to Space Academy as a kid. I tweeted back that I’d been, too. For three summers! I wanted to be an astronaut so badly, and yet I ended up as a writer. We agreed that life happens and things work out in ways we can’t imagine.
It’s been years since I thought about those childhood dreams. Well, they weren’t limited only to childhood, exactly. In high school, everyone knew me for two things: I was a figure skater, and it was my dream to be the first female commander of a space shuttle mission. I wanted to be an astronaut well into college, too. My first major was aerospace engineering and I almost went to Embry-Riddle, an all-aeronautics college. I had it all planned out. And then life, as it often does, stepped in with other plans.
The first thing to go were my eyes. No astronaut has terrible vision, especially not commanders. And then a few other things went wrong. (Or right, depending on your perspective.) Skating cost me my knees and my hip, ending any chance I could pass the astronaut physical. I ended up changing my major. (A few times.) Met the man who would become my husband. Found new interests, and new dreams. And somehow, after a lot of false starts and stops, I ended up as a writer.
I mostly forgot the dream of being an astronaut. It faded into the place where all dreams go. Every now and then I’d come across something that made me remember, like an old book or certificate, but mostly I shoved it into the same dark place my very first dream of being a veterinarian went. (That one lasted until my first dissection in middle school.)
But then one day I learned exactly how things work out for the best, despite our efforts to push into other directions. The first woman did indeed command a shuttle mission, and she was only a few years older than I was at the time. “It could have been me,” I lamented.
And yet… Just a few years later, the government cancelled the shuttle program, effectively ending serious space exploration in the US. What if, I thought, had I pursued my dream (and succeeded)? I’d be at my peak, ready to command, ready to live my dream and then… bang… out of a job. It takes so many years of training to reach the level required to go into space that most people are nearing middle age when it finally happens. Had I succeeded, I would have ended up right on the goal line, ready to go, and then, poof. Nothing. Nothing except looming middle age with a smashed dream and no job.
Sure, I could have found jobs. Pilot, instructor, speaker. There would have been things to do. But I would have always lived with regret that I was so close to the goal and didn’t make it.
I never consciously tried to spare myself that regret. Life simply carried me in different directions and opened up new opportunities. But when the shuttle program ended, I was awfully glad things worked out the way they did.
I’m not sure that I believe in some mystical force that guides our choices and spares us pain. Plenty of people end up in pain, despite doing everything right. While I write about Fate, I don’t necessarily believe it guides us along a predetermined path. But I do think we can choose how we think about the turns life throws at us, and frame them so they’re less painful.
At my first high school reunion, a few people asked what happened to the astronaut gig. (That’s how obsessed I was. People remembered.) I could have said, “Things didn’t work out,” implying that somehow I wasn’t happy about the way life turned out. I could grind on how my body betrayed me. Instead I said, “Things worked out differently.” Which is the truth. As much as I wanted that old dream, what I have now is satisfying and healthy, and probably better for me than all the stress of chasing after such a lofty goal would ever have been.
I’m still reaching for the stars, just in a different way. And at least my current job isn’t at the mercy of government cutbacks. I still have dreams. Since I loved chasing the extraordinary, I remind myself that what I do now is still extraordinary. Writing novels isn’t the most common career choice. It might not be astronaut-level rare, but it’s pretty cool. It’s funny sometimes how things don’t work out. But it’s downright hilarious how they do.
(Photo courtesy of 12019)