“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”
- George Eliot
I sat down at a desk in the back of the room, fumbled to slip off my backpack, and tried to breathe. When I looked up, I saw that quote on the whiteboard and took it as a special message written just to me. It was my first day in class as a Ph.D. student.
What might I have been? Is it really not too late? There have been so many times in my life like this one—when I did not know whether to jump for joy or break down and weep. In this setting, I decided to do neither. I just kept trying to breathe.
I am a high school dropout. It’s like being labeled an alcoholic, in a way. You never can change that status. You cannot undo it. It is what it is, and it will always be that. I feel the weight of it daily—even now with a Ph.D. behind my name. I am aware of gaps, of lapses, of inadequacies, insecurities, insufficiencies, inferiorities.
What might I have been? I remember in the fifth grade wanting to be a writer. My teacher allowed Sheryl (Sheryl with an S, we called her, because we had a Cheryl with a C in our class also) and me to retreat to the back of the room if our seat work was done so that we could work on our “novel”—a Nancy Drew mystery of sorts. I can picture the crumpled and smudged pages that we worked on and reworked over until the memories fade away. I think those times of writing with Sheryl with an S were some of the happiest times of that particular school year.
When I earned the GED at age twenty-one, I had no idea that I would need it to get into college one day. I just knew I had to have it. So I bought a used study guide and, with three babies underfoot, studied when I could. When I entered into single-parenthood (I am being kind here and not dumping on ex-husbands—and, yes, there were more than one), I landed an entry-level job at the local university that allowed employees to take one free class a quarter. I was in my early twenties when I began, so I still fit in on campus, at least on the surface. Seventeen years later I graduated with a BA in English with credentials to teach secondary English. I did some writing, but my focus was on finding a job and supporting my children.
The Masters in Education came next. I attended Week-End College while directing a non-profit alternative junior/senior high school for homeless kids in inner city Seattle, which I founded. It was a wonderful and terrible five and a half years. I did some more writing, but it was to raise money to support the school.
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever consider a doctoral degree . . . until one day, I did. It took all the courage I had to pick up a brochure describing the programs and to make an appointment with the dean. Those gaps, lapses, inadequacies, insecurities, insufficiencies, and inferiorities all came rushing up to meet me. But they didn’t stop me. And I found out that I would have a chance to write—the dissertation. I was overwhelmed and excited and terrified again.
When the degree was conferred, when the dissertation was published, when the dust had settled in my life again, I started a publishing company to help writers who didn’t want to go the traditional path. And I agreed to take on a ghostwriting project. And then, as editor, I created a chronological version of the New Testament (without the chapter and verse breaks) that reads like the writers intended.
And now . . . well . . . I guess I am “what I might have been.” My first book, The Impostor Affect: A Closer Look by a Classic Case, is being released later this month. I am writing the sequel, too, and I have a novel started. It really is true: it’s never too late!