Out of the blue one day when I was about twelve, my grandmother asked me, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Without hesitation, I said, "a writer." I was as surprised as she was by my response, as I don't recall ever thinking that before and had no idea why I said it. But she liked the idea, and so did I, though I soon forgot about it.
All through high school, I wondered, with increasing duress, what I might do for a career. Every few weeks, I would change my mind and my mom, ever supportive would say, "Oh, you'd be a great doctor, dentist, psychologist, lawyer," or whatever else I had thought of in that moment. I appreciated her encouragement very much. She believed in me and thought I could do anything I wanted to do.
After I while, I believed that too. But the trouble was I didn't want just a job. I wanted something that would remain exciting to me throughout my life. Each of the careers I considered burned brightly in me for a few days or weeks and then slowly fizzled out, and there I'd be again, back on the search.
I knew a few things for sure. I wanted to work for myself, I wanted to work with people, and I wanted my work to be meaningful, with no ceiling on my income. But it was not clear to me what "job" fit that description. A friend of mine told me that I looked like a writer and should be one, but by then I had no real interest in it, because I couldn't picture myself writing a novel or a play.
In college, I became dispirited with my latest major, political science. My college counselor, knowing that I was planning to go to law school, said the words that changed my life, "You know, English is a better major for law school." So I switched majors, much to her surprise, on the spot. I loved English, and it became my passion. And when I met the love of my life, I found out she had a Masters in English and spent ten years as a technical editor. I took that as an early sign that this was something special.
Years later, when our then three-year-old son, John, requested a bedtime story, I asked, "Real or fake." "What's the difference?" he quizzed. To which, I replied, "A real story happened and a fake story didn't." He said, "I want a real story," and off we went.
I realized later when I wrote my first book, Before We Say "Goodnight," that I actually loved to write, real stories. Had I thought of writing nonfiction, I might have begun writing sooner. But I have noticed, as you likely have too, that breakthroughs happen on their own schedule.
In retrospect, there was a word for what I wanted to be when I grew up, an entrepreneur. That, and a writer is what I have always been, and always will be. It just took me a little while to find out and a little help from my friends and family and mentors.
Thank you to the dozens of people who throughout my life helped me find my way. We all have that opportunity, to be that light for someone else, because all opportunity comes through other people.
Let it come through us.