“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I was one of those crazy people who knew the answer from a very young age.
I wanted to be a teacher.
I played teacher with my dolls.
I played teacher with my bears.
I played teacher with my friends.
In kindergarten, when I had no understanding that sometimes people need to work things out for themselves in order to learn, I played teacher with my classmates. (As a result, my very first memory of kindergarten is being moved to a desk all by myself right at the back of the classroom, because I was ‘helping too much’).
Over two decades later, I am a teacher… but not in the way I imagined.
I got sick when I was fourteen.
At first, it wasn’t too bad. I was still top of most of my classes at school, and I only missed a few days here and there. As I got sicker though, and started missing weeks and months of school, my marks suffered. I made it to the end of high school, with grades that many of my classmates would have been pleased to get – but they devastated me. I knew that healthy me would have been capable of much, much more.
I got into University though, because the degree I was applying for was a music degree, and entry was based on an audition, rather than on marks. I was offered a place, and I started the next year. I loved every minute of it. For the first six months, I averaged High Distinctions for my assignments, and got great feedback from my professors.
But I couldn’t maintain the level of energy required for travelling to and from Uni, learning, practising, performing, doing assignments, composing music…
I was going to Uni, then coming home and sleeping 18 hours until I had to get up to go to Uni again. It all caught up with me; and in the second half of the year, I was barely scraping through the course, even with medical certificates and extensions.
Finally, I had to acknowledge that a music degree wasn’t something I could accomplish with my level of health. It’s not a degree I could do at my own pace online; you really need to *be* there to learn music properly.
And so… then what?
Step 1: Finish school
Step 2: Get into Uni
Step 3: Complete music teaching degree
Step 4: Become a teacher
That had been my plan. It was relatively simple: it only had four steps!
But now… if I couldn’t finish my degree… I couldn’t be a teacher.
And if I couldn’t be a teacher… who was I?
At that stage, I had a few friends who kept asking me to give their kids piano lessons. That’s what I’d wanted to do anyway – to teach piano at home. I love the one-on-one aspect (for so many reasons!), and it was a job that would work around the family I wanted to have some day.
So, since I wasn’t busy with Uni, I began teaching a few kids at home. People started hearing about it, and asking me to teach their kids too. I kept saying to people, “I don’t have a teaching degree though…”
But, to my surprise, nobody cared.
“I’ve heard you play, I know you’re good”
“You’re really great with kids, you don’t need a degree for that”
“You have plenty of experience anyway, because of your work with Sunday School / Kids Club / Youth Group”
Almost ten years later, I still teach music at home, one-on-one, just a few afternoons a week. Before I take on a new student, I tell their parents that I wasn’t able to complete my music degree at University because of my health. Not one person has cared.
My life looks nothing like what I pictured when I was growing up. Nobody ever pictures themselves disabled, unable to drive, unable to work full-time, unable to have children…
I had my life planned out from point A to point B, but, more and more I’m realising that life doesn’t travel in a straight line, and that’s OKAY!
My life is SO different to what I’d planned, but it’s still beautiful and fulfilling.
I’m close to my family. I have an amazing relationship with Mr Happy (six years of marriage and counting!). I have a few music students. I help out at kids club one afternoon a week. I write Mr Happy’s lessons for him to teach at school, and organise the games and weekly talks for the Youth Group he runs. I have people over for dinner, and we try out new recipes, and share funny stories.
Yes, I spend most of every day in bed. I’m always tired. Showering is a struggle. I can’t eat real food, and I have to buy my water in a box. I’m not even thirty yet, and I have a pacemaker. But there’s more to my life than my illness. And, instead of spending my life sad or angry that I didn’t make it from Point A to Point B, I’m enjoying the detours…*
Sometimes it’s not our own picture of life we’re fighting against, but other people’s expectations of what we should do with our life. Please, please, please don’t swallow the lie that you have to follow the same path as everyone else. Not everyone has to finish school, go to university, get a degree, get married, get a home loan, have 2.5 kids and adopt a deranged cat. Find what you’re good at. Find what you love doing. Do those things. Do things that make you happy – even if it’s not the way everyone else does it. Start your own business. Write a book. Find a night shift job, and spend your days at the beach. Become a male librarian (why are they always girls?).
My sixteen year old sister was panicking at the start of the year, because she’s just started her final two years of schooling. Several teachers were adamant she should know by now what she wants to do when she graduates. With no idea of what she wants to do for the rest of her life, she felt like she’d already failed. I wanted to go and tell her class,
“It’s okay not to know what you want to do with your life: you’re only 16 years old! In ten years time, chances are your life will look nothing like you planned anyway. You’ll get a degree in something you thought you’d enjoy, and find out you there’s no jobs in that area. You’ll do some traveling overseas. You’ll come back and stack shelves at the grocery store for a while, with no idea what to do next. You’ll fall in love. The relationship won’t last. You’ll move on. You’ll get a new job that you love. After a while your boss will retire, and your new boss will make you hate your job. You’ll quit, and find a different job. You’ll get injured. You’ll heal. You’ll fall in love again. You’ll get married. You’ll learn to cook. You and your partner will plan to have kids, but will find out that you can’t. You’ll adopt. Your kid will love soccer, and you’ll spend your afternoons kicking a ball around the backyard. You’ll stop one afternoon, watching your kid run around, and realise that your life is nothing like what you thought it would be when you were 16… and that it’s beautiful anyway.”
Life isn’t a straight, unswerving highway.
It’s a weaving, rambling, messy garden path, with hidden nooks and crannies, and big overgrown bushes and trailing vines that hide what’s up ahead…and that’s okay.
I don’t want to spend my life resolutely shoving myself through the brambles, getting scraped and torn up, but refusing to stop searching for the highway. I’m going to embrace the garden path. When I water the flowers instead of beating the bushes, I see the beauty, and I’m happier.
* Enjoying the detours doesn’t mean I never get sad or angry, or frustrated, or sick of being sick! Over the past 12 years of my chronic illness, there have been plenty of tears shed, pity parties hosted, and frustrations voiced – and I’m sure that will continue to be the case! I am human, and I have feelings. But this quote sums up what I strive to do with those feelings: