The Things I Wish I’d Known

I have two older siblings, and their children are closer in age to me than my siblings are. My nieces and nephews also have kids who are now in their tweens, teens, and even early twenties.

From time to time, I like to sit down and write letters to my grand-nieces and grand-nephews. They don’t really know me, and some I don’t think I’ve actually met in person. Therefore, it might seem odd to them—and to other people—that I take the time to write them handwritten letters.

But, I think it’s important for young people to know that adults actually give a damn about them. Think of your favorite musician, actor, athlete, or other successful person. How often do we hear from those people that having someone take an interest in them and reach out to them made a difference?

That’s not to say I imagine myself as some great savior for them because I don’t. But, I’ve lived some different places than my siblings, nieces, or nephews have. I was the first in my immediate family to go to a 4-year university. Those experiences give me a different perspective, and I want the younger generation to know they have another resource if that ever seems useful.

And, there are things I wish I’d known when I was their ages that I had to learn the hard way.

For example, I started my college career as a pre-veterinary science major. Being a veterinarian had been my childhood dream. It was quickly dashed when my first-term chemistry professor told me I didn’t have what it would take to be a vet. He was the pre-vet advisor and issued his pronouncement of my future plans in our first meeting based on my first exam in his class.

I was too naive and awestruck to understand that he did not know me, knew nothing about my abilities or work ethic, and therefore couldn’t assess my abilities accurately.

I also failed to consider that perhaps he didn’t think any young women should be vets, since our pre-vet program had few young women enrolled. Nor did I consider that maybe he was issuing that statement to test how badly I wanted that career and if I could prove him wrong.

Instead, I took his words to heart and changed majors.

I was too young to realize that not every advisor or mentor actually has your best interests at heart. And, I hadn’t yet lived long enough to understand that statements starting with “You’ll never,” “No one ever” or “Everyone must” should be filed in my brain’s recycling bin and promptly ignored.

People issuing blanket statements like that don’t have the imagination necessary to see other possibilities. And, they’re often assessing that their own path was the “right” one. They lack the perspective to see that other paths might be possible. Or, in some cases, better.

If a statement like “Many people trying to do this find such-and-such is needed” comes from someone who actually knows us and has shown they’re invested in our success, then it’s helpful information to consider.

But, even those statements from people worthy of our trust don’t necessarily mean that we can’t accomplish a thing. Plenty of successful people are successful because they didn’t walk the same path everyone else did. Just because we don’t fit into that “most people” category doesn’t mean we can’t follow a dream.

Another item I didn’t realize until after I was booted from my doctoral program was that even people who do seem invested in our success might sacrifice us in their own power-playing games. Or, they might feel threatened by us or embarrassed that we’re not doing what they feel we should, so they decide to turn on us.

I had to spend a good bit of time talking with my therapist about that. And, I’ll admit that I still resent the hell out of my doctoral program’s treatment and the politicking that took place behind my back.

But, I’m also glad I didn’t finish that degree. I think I’d have hated that profession based on what I’ve seen it do to the other members of my cohort in the past thirteen years.

I don’t know what the future holds for my grand-nieces and grand-nephews. Certainly, we’re entering new territory since so much was changed by the pandemic. But, I hope I can be another resource in their lives should they need me.

Photo by Barbara Barbara on Unsplash

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