It was a happy event. Our young next-door neighbor had just graduated from high school and been accepted to one of her universities of choice, her major chosen and her moving plans underway. There were congratulatory balloons everywhere from the celebration, including inside our house, after our three-year-old convinced her to share. We didn’t attend the party, but we gave her a card and a gift, and she met me at the chain link fence between our cozy back yards to thank us.
We had the usual polite small-talk. With me being eleven years her senior, it didn’t seem she’d want to spend a lot of time chatting with me when she had a lot of friends and a free summer ahead of her. I asked about her major; she said English. Despite writing being my first thought, surely because of my own profession, I decided to play it safe and ask if she planned to teach. No, she said, she wanted to do professional editing for publication. And it was there, in the subtle way she kept smiling though she lowered her eyes, that I felt an immediate rise of anger.
See, I’m not even sure she knew she did it. But that one tiny gesture told me a story like a thousand others. That, not her parents, as they’re the loving and supportive type, not her friends, or they wouldn’t be her friends, but someone–some time–told her that the path of her dreams was not viable.
It’s a story almost everyone shares, and though it cuts us deep when it happens to us, we always manage to pass it on to the next generation. That what they want to do isn’t viable as a career option; that it’s too hard; that their chances of being hired are slim; that it’s great for a hobby, but not a career; that there’s not enough money in that field to support a family.
I was excited. I told her how incredible I thought that was, that I thought it was an excellent choice, that she would love it, and that the written world was my field, too. Her smile brightened and I took it to mean something. Lots of friends and relatives had likely encouraged her, but I was saying something from the other side. I already had experience writing, editing, working with publishers. Though I devote most of my time and attention to being a stay-at-home mom and the whole “books” thing is just a side gig now, I had done what she wanted to do, and that made it seem that much more attainable.
Careers can crop up in the most unlikely of areas, these days. With the advent of the internet, we can make our way through methods no one ever would have dreamed of before. Encouragement costs us nothing, but it can be what makes or breaks a person’s dreams. It didn’t even take a minute to share a few positive words, but it made a difference.
The next time we crossed paths, both of us walking to our cars to run errands, she told me she’d declared her major and had all her classes lined up. No more timid lowering of the eyes, no more somewhat-sheepish smile while she laid her heart bare by sharing her interests. All I saw was the excitement and enthusiasm, the eager energy of someone just beginning on the best parts of their life.