By Jennifer Ward
As a little girl, I was a dreamer. I wanted to be so many things—a teacher, a lawyer, an author, a fashion designer, an architect. Amid these dreams, I always imagined I would be happy doing something I loved. Still, during my first year of college, it seemed my dreams had been extinguished. I couldn’t figure out where I belonged. I had no one to guide me, and lost motivation. It’s easy to wish for things, but it can be a struggle to work hard for them. Later that year, I entered the workforce without a degree or a plan.
After years of working in low-paying jobs, I returned to college at 25 years old. Those dreams I had as a girl were still alive but dormant. For me, school was an awakening, and it changed the course of my journey. In my first class, a required English course, I met new people, whose lives made me see the world differently. Their stories of triumph, and tragedy tugged at me, pulling me into the world of writing. This time round, college became a bridge, leading me back to the dreams I had walked away from. Before I knew it, I was declared an English major. Finally, I had direction.
In 2006, enrolled in a creative writing class, I was tasked with drafting the beginning of a memoir. All semester, I shied away from sharing my work with the class, nervous to read aloud my most personal memories. Toward the end of the semester, my professor invited me to read my work at an event celebrating Women’s History Month. I was surprised since I had been so hesitant to speak up. The audience would be filled with professors and fellow college students. How could I stand up and read something so personal in front of them?
But I did, one afternoon in a large room filled with strangers. When it was my turn to speak, the room was still. My heart pounded in my chest leaving me breathless. As I spoke the first words of my story, my voice began to shake. Stage fright seized me. My face grew hot. Had my audience noticed my nerves? Each moment unraveled slowly like a spool of invisible thread, and I wondered if I was going to finish the reading. Eventually, I did. I was met with applause and even a few hugs as the event concluded. This was like nothing I had ever done before. When I stepped into that room, I had taken a chance, and now a fire ignited in me. The room’s energy and the power of words clung to me. The passion I once had was rekindled. I never forgot that experience, nor my creative writing professor, who saw beyond my lack of confidence to what I could contribute.
Soon after, I was telling anyone who would listen. I wanted everyone to know how incredible it felt to put my fears aside.
At the time, I did administrative work for a well-known hospital in midtown. On an afternoon that was foggy and darker than usual, I met with my boss. Sitting in her office, I shared my story with her. She sneered, then said in the most condescending tone, “I could never picture you speaking in front of an audience.” I don’t recall how the rest of the conversation went. Only that one statement from our meeting burned in my brain. Her thoughts were suddenly on display in front of me—like a hand of cards. All along, I thought she saw my potential. I wanted to say something, but the words wouldn’t come through. I remained silent. Out the window, the sky was dull, sunless. Millions of marble-sized raindrops fell, breaking the awkward silence between us. I knew I had no future there, and I was right.
After five years of taking evening college classes, I graduated. I knew I was going to leave my job; it was only a matter of when. Shortly after that conversation with my boss, I began looking at graduate schools. I considered law, journalism, education, and other fields. With a bachelor’s degree in English, there were many possible career paths, but only one seemed to be calling me—teaching.
When I decided to teach, I considered what I could offer my students. As a teacher, I could encourage their dreams—something that had already had a profound impact on me. Somewhere between that decisive moment and my first day teaching, another awareness settled in—this major move was also frightening. I was leaving everything I knew and everyone I knew in my career to that point. Beginning with a blank page, I was uncertain of where my story would go. Change is difficult, but it was necessary for me to thrive. Would I be good at teaching? I didn’t know, but I was going to do everything I could to be successful.
After I left my job in Manhattan, I began teaching full time. I didn’t realize how difficult it would be, of course, until I faced my first day in the classroom. I had so much to learn—how to establish routines, plan lessons, assess my students, and, most importantly, enjoy my students. My students have taught me that relationships matter—a lot. I was fortunate too that my boss was so supportive. If I had wanted to talk, he always listened. I finally found the guidance I had been searching for.
Like that day I stood up to read my work, I was again accomplishing tasks I never thought I could do. I spoke in front of people daily—sometimes addressing large groups at open houses and other events. Eventually, things fell into place. Before I knew it, I was starting my third year of teaching.
One day that year, my boss announced his retirement. I was saddened by the news; he was not only my boss but also my mentor.
On an April evening, we spoke by the window at his retirement gathering. The sky was a clear, vibrant blue. I listened as my boss spoke over the low murmur of colleagues and bar patrons. We discussed traveling and the beauty of experiencing new places. Then we talked about teaching—the challenges and the rewards. In the middle of our conversation, he turned to me. He looked me in the eye and smiled. “You were born to teach,” he said. I wasn’t expecting his very kind words, but in that moment, I knew that my dreams and my reality had finally fused together.
The courage to rekindle a dream comes from within, from daring to do something we don’t believe we can do, but the spark is also ignited by the influence of others. Dreams are special when we’re young, and when we’re older. We all need someone to believe in us—a teacher, a boss, a mentor. It makes a difference. I have also realized that life is boundless—that I can change careers and reach beyond limits to achieve things I never knew I could. Sometimes it takes us a little longer to find the place where we belong and are valued. I am forever grateful that I did.
Category: Featured, Memoir, Nonfiction, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing, SNHU Student