I have been a straight-A student my whole life. I spent a lot of time doing homework and studying, but honestly, school just came naturally to me. I graduated high school third or fifth in my class and went onto college with plans of attending law school. I was hell-bent on becoming a lawyer one day. I had a double major in criminal justice and sociology with a minor in legal studies and analysis. I maintained just under a 4.0 GPA all the way up to graduation and probably would’ve had a decent chance at getting into law school, if I had actually applied to any.
During my junior year, I was required to take an internship. I applied to several law offices, but never heard back from any of them. I ended up taking an internship as a seasonal police officer for a small-town police department back home. It wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but it would satisfy my requirement and it paid, which many internships did not. Although I had thought about being a police officer when I was younger, somewhere along the line I had changed my mind and was dead set on becoming a lawyer. By the end of the summer, I had changed my mind yet again. When school started back in the fall, I began applying to police departments instead of law schools. And even though my parents had paid for a private tutor to prepare me for the LSAT, I only took the test once and didn’t apply to a single school.
Fast forward through senior year, graduation, the police academy, and I had achieved my dream of becoming a police officer. The only problem was I hated it. Almost immediately. I hated shift work, working overnight and on holidays. I hated dealing with all the stupid people. I was tired of constantly yelling and fighting. And to make matters worse, I hated the department I worked for. I thought about quitting every day for two years before I finally did. I had worked there for five years and knew that was long enough to know I didn’t like it and never would.
Meanwhile, my mom had been diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s disease and was at the point where she needed someone to help care for her. I ended up quitting my job and becoming a part-time caregiver for my mom. I did that off and on for about four years before I couldn’t take it anymore. I was depressed, overwhelmed, and completely burnt out. I had become a shell of the person I used to be. I didn’t even know who that was anymore. I talked to my family about it and we ended up hiring professional in-home care for my mom. I was off the hook, but now what?
During my time as a caregiver, I had started writing a blog about my experience and ended up writing a book, as well. I couldn’t find a literary agent to save my life, so I ended up self-publishing it. Currently, I maintain two separate blogs, which I also created, and I have been a contributing writer for several other websites and blogs. Although my blogs are both consistently growing, I have yet to establish myself as a “real” writer. I still write a majority of my work for free and I don’t have consistent work.
If someone would have told middle school or high school Lauren, who worked her ass off to earn straight A’s, that this is where she would be at 34 years old, she would have laughed in your face. Laughed or burst into an all-out ugly cry. One or the other.
There are days when I feel like a total loser. There are days when I wonder what is the point in pouring my heart and soul onto paper when no one seems to give a shit. There are days when I tell myself there’s no point in writing at all because it’s not like anyone is waiting to read what I’ve written. There are millions of writers out there. It’s all been done before. I’m never going to make it. I wish I had gone to law school or liked being a police officer. I really wish someone would have told me to have a back-up plan. Without one, I’m left trying to figure out what to do with my life at 34 years old.
Then, there are days when I think, Wait, you’re only 34. What if you keep writing consistently for another five or ten years? Imagine the success you could have by then. Who knows what could happen?! I start to remind myself that I’m still relatively young and I still have plenty of time to become a successful writer. Look at all the people who achieve success and wealth in their forties, fifties, and beyond. Not everyone grows up knowing exactly what they want to do with their lives. Sometimes it’s learned through trial and error over the years. Sometimes success doesn’t happen in your twenties or thirties, but later in life. It’s still success nonetheless. So then, why do we always feel pressured to have it all figured out so early in life?
Society tells us that we should graduate from high school and go straight to college. Society tells us that we’re losers if we don’t have a job right out of college or we move back in with our parents. Society makes us feel like we should be married before 30 so we can start having kids before we get “too old.” And society makes us feel like we should have our dream job or a successful career by a certain age. If your life doesn’t follow this perfect timeline, you feel like a failure.
What you have to remember is that your life doesn’t have to follow a certain timeline. It’s never too late to start over. It’s never too late to chase your dreams. Sometimes the best-laid plans fall to shit once they’re actually carried out. You might hate the job you went to college for. You might be so focused on your career that you haven’t even thought about getting married. Or, you might have spent the last several years at home with your kids or taking care of a loved one. That’s all ok. Everyone is different. Your life or your path to success doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. You can create your own timeline. As long as you are consistently working toward your goal or dream, your time will come. It might not be until you’re 50, but it will come. I truly believe that.
And for the love of god, please don’t say that I can still go to law school. That ship has sailed and I’m not on it.