Sometimes I feel like one of the luckiest people on Earth. I was born into a stable family with great parents and three terrific older brothers. I married a great lady, and we have an adult son who is making his mark in the world. We’re proud of the man he has become. My career as an elementary teacher was rewarding, and I’m filled with pride as I watch many of my former students doing extraordinary things.
One of the things I’ve noticed about myself is that I tend to be more philosophical as I get older. Maybe that’s a symptom of having more time on my hands. It doesn’t necessarily mean I’m any smarter, but I do find myself thinking about some of the lessons I’ve learned.
If I could have one do-over in life, it would be my high school years. After a happy childhood, we moved cross-country to California when I was starting high school. Maybe it was the combination of being at an awkward age, moving to a new place, and not having the self-confidence to embrace new challenges at the time, but those years weren’t a particularly happy time. I wasn’t depressed, but I wasn’t joyful either.
High school was cliquish, and for a guy who didn’t fit in any of the groups, I found that I kept to myself more and didn’t have a lot of close friendships.
Around the time I turned eighteen, I made a thoughtful decision to expand my horizons and to get out of my comfort zone. No more playing it safe and always resorting to only familiar and comfortable things.
I found my true self during college. I tried new things with enthusiasm and put forth the best version of myself. Not every unique experience turned out the way I hoped it would, but I was no longer living in fear. Those feelings of empowerment made me feel better about myself, and people accepted me for me.
I went from a scared teenager to a confident adult—someone who could stand in front of a group of people and command their attention with an outgoing and fearless persona. Don’t get me wrong—I still am fearful in many situations, but I’ve learned that we feel best about ourselves when we embrace new challenges.
Why am I thinking about this today? Perhaps it’s because I’ve just accomplished one of my goals—the completion of the first draft of a middle-grade chapter book.
While I was teaching, one of my favorite things to do during a typical school day was to read to my students. Each day I got to be a performer and act out the voices of the authors’ characters. I could be brash, silly, humble, mean, or any other characteristic that I imagined the author intended. It was a rush to hook the kids into the plots and the characters. I always tried to leave them begging for more. “Don’t stop! Keep reading!” Those phrases were music to my ears.
When I was teaching, I made a decision that I was going to try and write a children’s book to recapture that feeling. Having taught many ages, I decided to target those children I was most familiar with—middle grades. After first writing a combination memoir/advice book for new teachers, I decided the time was right. I went to a writer’s conference, found a critique group, and I’m going for it. What started as a vision of 30,000 words became 50,000 when I finished the first draft.
I’m a realist—maybe this will never come to fruition, but I’m proud of myself for having the courage to go for it. Now I’ve moved into the rewriting and editing phases, and there’s still a ton of work ahead. While I self-published my first book, I’m inclined to try and go the traditional publishing route this time. I know—much longer odds and a lot more time to make it happen. (But hey, I’m retired.) If it doesn’t happen, at least I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing I didn’t stand on the sidelines, and I gave myself a chance. Perhaps this will be too preachy for some, but my advice as a sixty-year-old to that scared teenager is, “Don’t let fear hold you back.”