When you are a parent, first birthdays always have a way of misting the eyes and evoking strong emotions. Just yesterday my little girl was afraid to take a step, and today she is sprinting. Twelve short months and all that remains are the final traces of a precious baby, our last.
I told myself I had it together. I told myself I could do this. But, the truth is, I have regrets.
I didn’t read enough stories.
I didn’t savor the middle-of-the-night embraces.
I didn’t slow down.
And – here on the other side of one – is where I begin to ponder other roads not taken.
Approximately six years ago, I set forth on my most exciting career pursuit: infectious disease epidemiology. HIV, HPV, RSV – you name the virus, and I wanted to learn it. I had just ended a year in AmeriCorps serving low-income renters and was eager to make a real impact on community health.
Returning to graduate school was no small feat. I had not taken a math or science course in eight years, and I still believed vaccines were harmful. Despite my nontraditional path, I found myself thriving on public health lessons and research projects. The world felt like one big sandbox, and, when graduation arrived, I wanted to continue the fun.
After a series of failed applications and an uncomfortable period of marital discord, I chose to move, with my husband, to California. And, amazingly, in the weeks following our epic cross-country road trip, I was contacted by the California Epidemiologic Investigation Service (Cal-EIS) with an interview request. Finally, my chance.
Only, I had already accepted a job teaching high school English…biology…and P.E. When all the doors felt closed, I committed to the “sure thing” (and, really, the first thing that said “yes”) out of fear. And, just like that, my dream slipped away.
Little did I know, I would resign just three months later.
But the thing I have learned about life is, it moves. The world keeps spinning. And usually things work out for the better.
By not pursuing epidemiology, I took an awful position that led to unemployment, which allowed for rest – for, truly, the first time in my adult life. Within just a few weeks, I became pregnant with our son. In this, incredible adversity paved the way for motherhood. And perhaps there is no other way it could have happened.
While I do consider my professional journey from time to time, I don’t long for the PhD I never earned or the dream I never reached. Because sometimes you have to trade one dream for another.
And, my daughter, she forgives pretty quickly. There is still time to give her more of me – for the only thing more powerful than regret is love.
May I never forget that I control the destiny of both.