Never Too Late to Bloom

Written on by Kathryn Lerro

When I was getting ready to go off to college and deciding what to study, I found myself torn between the two things that most interested me.

As a young child, I loved building houses for my Liddle Kiddles out of shoe boxes and odds and ends. When I got a bit older I bought a subscription to Metropolitan Home and began dreaming of unique and elaborate houses. I spent hours imagining myself as an architect, drawing floor plans of the houses that were in my head.

The other thing I really enjoyed was theater. I loved singing, and acting was fun and seemed to come easily to me. I’d been in several musicals in high school—the most memorable being Hello Dolly, in which I had the great thrill of playing the lead. (It was heady stuff; no wonder I fell in love with musical theater!)

Still, as I pondered the future, I found myself leaning toward architecture. I felt so content sitting at my desk with graph paper, a ruler and a mechanical pencil. I was almost sure that’s what I’d choose, but then the words of an architect—a male architect—who had visited my school on Career Day began echoing in my head. He had openly stated that he didn’t believe “girls” had what it took to be architects. I must have bought into his malarkey because I suddenly began to doubt myself and I chickened out.

I chose theater.

But I still think I’d have loved being an architect.

Coming from a small high school in a semi-rural suburb, I was totally unprepared for life as a student at a large city university. Such a fast pace! So many people! And I quickly learned that for undergraduates, being a theater major meant spending vast amounts of time, outside of class, building sets and sewing costumes for other people to act on and in. Only grad students actually got to do any performing; undergrads were merely their stage crew. I quickly became disenchanted. At the same time, my dad was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and our family was wobbling under the pressure. I dropped out of college after just three semesters.

And I felt like a failure.

Life went on. Though I hadn’t found a career, in time a career of sorts found me—one involving marriage and children and the air force. I looked up one day and realized that my roles were defined; I was a mother and a military wife. I was keeping the home fires burning and being available for children whose father was away a lot. I was doing home repairs, volunteering at school and singing at church. I was supporting the military mission. I was doing something worthwhile—perhaps even noble—and it felt good. But in the back of my mind I felt like I hadn’t lived up to my potential. And I longed for something more.

In a way, it was good that I hadn’t pursued a career because life kept me plenty busy . . .

The 90s found me ferrying my daughters to school functions, music lessons, orchestra rehearsals, club meetings and sports practices—I don’t know how they’d have gotten where they needed to go if I’d been working. And I’d have felt guilty missing their special events.

In 1995, my husband’s squadron suffered a plane crash in which he lost 24 friends—including his best friend. All I wanted to do then, and for months afterward, was be available to help him grieve and heal. (Who am I kidding? I needed time to grieve and heal, too.)

And then, in 2001, our younger daughter entered a long period of mental and physical illness. My whole focus was centered on keeping her alive and keeping my family from crumbling. Career?  I suddenly had one—or a dozen! I was a nurse, a medical researcher, a patient’s advocate, an ambulance driver, a suicide prevention monitor, a nutritionist, and the list goes on.

During all of this, and I do mean all of this—from deciding what to study in college, to mourning my father’s mental decline, to feeling overwhelmed by responsibilities, to worrying about my husband’s safety as he served in far-flung places, to processing grief over the loss of so many friends, to wondering frantically if my daughter would live—during all of this, I looked for applicable wisdom by reading books and I kept myself sane by writing in journals.

I read something interesting a few years ago—

To become a writer, you need three things:

You need to read a lot. You need to write a lot. And you need life experience.  

So, a funny thing happened while I was living my life.

I was actually preparing for a career. As a writer.

Life has calmed down now. I could go back to school and study architecture if I wanted to. But time has changed me and I’ve come to believe I have more to offer at a keyboard than at a drawing board.

My intention when I began writing this story was that it be a source of hope for “late bloomers.” For people who didn’t pursue their passion early in life, people who got sidetracked or discouraged or somehow otherwise prevented from doing that one thing they believed would make their heart sing. But then my story took some detours and ended up where I hadn’t intended it to go.

Much the same way my life did.

And that’s okay.

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