Coulda, shoulda, woulda

When I was three, I wanted to be a ballerina. Later, I wanted to be a nurse, an architect, a college professor, a lawyer, an actress, a writer, a theatre manager, a journalist, a lobbyist, a Congressional aide, a Constitutional rights activist, a feminist scholar, a full-time mom, a missionary Bible translator, a theatre historian, a burlesque star, and probably a few I can’t remember right now.

My sisters were easier. The Hippie has wanted to be a daycare teacher since age 5. She is. The Yuppie wanted to be a makeup artist (or as she put it in second grade, a cosmopolitician). She is a financial analyst of some variety and intends to do so indefinitely.

I, however, keep changing my mind. I always worry, what if there is a dream career out there that I haven’t found yet? What if I could look forward to going to work every morning? What if I am not as happy as I could be, and I’m just too lazy to try for something bigger? I am 31 and still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up.

I’ve been thinking about all of those “coulda beens” a lot lately. According to this article from the New York Times, I am focused on “lost possible selves.” If I had kept up with dance, if I had spent more time on my creative writing, if I hadn’t gone to law school, if I hadn’t changed my major…. all those coulda, shoulda, wouldas out there hanging out in the back of my brain. The article claims the best way to handle this is to think about the positives- what I gained by not following those courses.

The issue? Well, I’m starting to feel a little old to still be looking for a career. So many people around me seem so sure that they have made the right choices, that they will have to work to get to the top, but at least they know they love their field, or employer, or can live with it for the life it provides. Me? I feel like I want to crawl out of my skin sitting in my office. I think that might be a sign I need to move on, yes?

I went to “I Made It Mine,” a local funky craft show, this afternoon and walked around looking at all the booths, talking to people who made jewelry, stationary, letterpress cookbooks, screenprinted tees, scarves, pottery, and at one booth- crocheted eyeballs filled with catnip. It reminded me of a woman I met last year. She taught a writing workshop one weekend and talked about paying her bills as a bellydancing instructor, creative writer, novelist, journal maker, and writing teacher. And I was green- how would it feel to get up an do something different when the mood struck? To have that many parts of yourself to explore and the time to do it?

I still think about it. What if I just did it? What if I saved up for six months, traded in some of my stocks, and created a life I could live with? Freelance writing would be a big part of it. But what else? Maybe working in a small store- I actually miss retail sometimes. Finishing a masters degree so I could teach at the local community college. Crocheting, and journal-making, and collaging, and glass etching. Working with children in some way.

It sounds dreamy. It sounds like sleeping in until 10 am, and staying up late at night. Tapping away in the coffeehouse on my next masterpiece. Making things by hand. It also sounds terrifying- no regular salary, no health insurance, no guarantee of anything. But along with those guarantees, I am also guaranteed that caged animal feeling.

My fellowship is up in September. I need to figure out whether I want to stay. Seven months to decide which direction my life will take from this point forward. It’s scary. But all the woulda, coulda, shouldas don’t help. In the meantime, maybe I’ll give it all up and go back to the original plan.

Do you think 31 is too late to start my ballet career?



Filed under Links, Soul Searching, Working for a Living, Writing

13 responses to “Coulda, shoulda, woulda

  1. I found your site on google blog search and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. Just added your RSS feed to my feed reader. Look forward to reading more from you.

    – Randy Nichols.

    Eleanor: Thank you (and welcome).

  2. morethananelectrician

    Ballet dances start retiring in their 30s…that window may be closed for a career, but I am sure there are many places you could do this as a hobby.

    I do wonder how many people are really happy with what they do as a career. When I am driving inot work every morning, those cars are not filled with “Shiny Happy People”!

    Eleanor: I think maybe it’s that so many of my friends are in academia or the arts (where I’d like to be)… I know the grouches on the way to work, myself.

  3. This post really hit home. At 33, I still feel like I’m waiting to discover what to do with my life. I envy people who figured out what they wanted to do with their lives at age ten and it stuck and they are really satisfied with their jobs. But I think that they are the exception rather than the rule. My husband always tells me that the most interesting people are the ones who didn’t figure out what they wanted to do until they were in their late thirties or their forties. I always hope this is true. Plus it gives me a few years to continue trying to figure it out.
    Just happened upon your blog this morning and I really like it and your writing. While reading your 100 things, I had a good belly laugh over the never ending story reference and your fiancé wanting to name your first child Atrayu.
    Good luck on your seven month plan.

    Eleanor: Thanks for that. I’ll try and think of myself as one of those interesting people down the road. (And glad you got the NE Story reference- he really is insistent on that. It will NOT happen if I can help it. 🙂 )

  4. I think everybody feels how you do but most people are too busy keeping up appearences to admit it..
    Personally you have vocalised some of my fears for myself. I feel like I have some options available to me but I don’t know which one to take, so I just kind of flounder and don’t really grab hold of certain opportunities. It’s especially real here in France because I know I’m going to be stuck teaching English for at least four years..I feel a bit like a rat in a cage.

    The health insurance thing is scary…but I’m inclined to say ‘go for it’.

    Eleanor: Glad I’m not alone on this one. I wonder if it’s just that very few people have the guts to step outside of the cage. I hope I do.

  5. bipolarlawyercook

    It’s never too late. I’m 33 and planning on legal temping and working at a bookstore to sideline my writing.

    Eleanor: Any tips on the health insurance front?

  6. Lina

    Please, do not miss retail! lol. When I was younger (before college) I had all these ideas about what to do swirling around in my brain, so much that I couldn’t concentrate on the Now.

    My mom wanted me to be a lawyer, but I had met a woman who owned a catering business and saw how happy she was, so it was too late for the legal boat to sail, and I got a degree in business administration (lots of schlorsips so no loans) got a scary loan to start my business and the rest is history.

    There are times (when I’m paying bills, ordering new stock, taxes, etc.) that I feel exactly like you do. Instead of scaring myself with my endless lists of “what-ifs”, I beat my indecisive side into submission beside my bloodied look-at-how-successful-she-is side, and I move on to the next task that has to be done in order for me to stay in business.

    Eleanor: Good for you for taking that leap! Fingers crossed I can have the same kind of guts…

  7. Do what makes you happy and love what you do. No matter what you decide remember that you are not “trapped” you are allowed to keep trying and learning new things, you are never too old for that.

    Eleanor: Thanks for the pep talk- sometimes those things are hard to remember.

  8. I made my biggest career shift when I was your age, when I left a safe, secure, prestigious career to pursue a dream.

    Though I have had ups and downs since, I would make the same choice again. The experience I gained was invaluable. I am a different, better person as a result. I am also better at my job.

    When I was growing up, I never thought I would have the opportunity to do what I do or work in the industry in which I work. I could have never done that if I had not taken the risk.

    Eleanor: Thats exactly the kind of story I like to hear.

  9. Great post and one I think a lot of us can relate to. I am still trying to decide what I want to be when I grow up. I am trying to find the courage to go after my dreams. The problem I find is that there is not one singular dream or passion – so it can make it hard to go after it!

    One dream is to write, and this subject is exactly the topic of the first book and I am writing with a friend. I just might have to interview you!

    Eleanor: I’d love to be interviewed. Good luck on this project, Rebecca! How exciting!

  10. I’m 52 and still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. I think it’s human nature to always wonder and want for more.

    Here’s hoping you find it.

    Eleanor: Thanks Joanna.

  11. This was a fascinating article. Continue the good effort.

    Eleanor: Thank you.

  12. I had to drop by again and see what you were writing! Had to Google to find you again. I’m glad I did. You just wrote about me!

    I remember my favorite writing instructor. He said, “You write so well. It’s too bad it came so late.” I was in my last year of college and 38. It depressed me for a long time. I’d been writing since I was 11. And he published his first novel at 48! He became a good friend but I wanted to hit him that day.

    So, how old was Grandma Moses when she started painting? In her seventies. She had to give up a career in embroidery because of arthritis.

    What did she do of note before then? She was a wife, mother, and grandmother.

    She died at 101.

    Uh, I guess we should get busy.

    Great post. I have bookmarked you in my “blogs of interest” file.

  13. Pingback: I was tagged « N*ked On the Roof…

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