It was a very early, frosty grey morning in January, more than 20 years ago. But so are most mornings in the Boston area that time of year. It was the first day of going back to work after my son was born. I have a child! A son. My son, I said to myself while driving away from him on Route 2, still trying to convince myself that I had become a mother—a dream that became a reality at 37 years old. I am a mother.
The traffic became heavier, then slowed, moving in tighter and closer to my old sedan. Too close! Tailgater! The impulse to open my side window was too much, and a cold fist of air hit me in the face as I yelled out, “Back off! I’m a mother!” Nobody noticed. But, at that moment, I felt that I was irreplaceably important. I am a mother. My son needs me, and I must be safe. It occurred to me that, if I couldn’t have a private motorcade to take me to work, I needed a stronger vehicle—something like an armored tank. A mother.
That was my unique turning point, along Route 2, where the traffic had transformed me into believing in my motherhood. It would change how I looked at myself and my choices. But I needed perspective.
I quickly joined a New Mothers group that included many working moms. We guided each other through our self-imposed guilt of leaving our babies, even for part-time jobs. We acknowledged that there was usually more than one right answer to our new-mom questions and neuroses. But most of all, we gave each other a safe place to be ourselves. As a mother who was in love with a child I had always wanted, I thought that I would never ask to be anything else. How could I want more when I had motherhood?
Ten years later—with two children, then 10 and 8 years old—another turning point happened unexpectedly: my planning book was lost. My life’s script to my busy life, gone. Convinced that the answer was a simple replacement, I bolted to the bookstore to get a new one. But this time I faced the person I had become: a busy, uninspired mom.
I love my children, but my planner dictated a routine of carpooling and after-school clubs and sports. I thumbed through the pages of the new planning book. Refill it? Or rewrite it? Could I add something new and meaningful and still be a loving mother? Was it too late to add to my life a dream that I had always imagined? Come on! What kind of mom goes to flight school? You’re a mother. Go back to what mothers do! I needed perspective.
I called my closest friends to give me guidance and expected that they would tell me to give up on my long-held childhood dreams. Childhood dreams, they would say, are better left where they belong: in childhood. Didn’t I have all I needed? But that’s not what they said. They too thought there had to be more to life and be the mother, woman, and friend to those we love.
Our new group, the Chicks in Charge, vowed to be in charge of our midlife quests. We began our journeys together and shared the fears we had to overcome if we were to succeed. We braved the guilt from inside and out for wanting more and forgave each other for not knowing all the answers. Best of all, we offered each other a safe place to be ourselves. With that, I took off to find my place in the sky, Helen searched her soul for a life beyond illness, and Joan grappled with a disappointing marriage.
I wrote Finding the Wow: How Dreams Take Flight at Midlife to tell about our lives and how profoundly important it is to have a group of friends like the Chicks in Charge. Having your own Chicks in Charge is essential to following your dream. It is what I most wish for you. Please join me at www.findingthewow.com as I tell you the story of how a midlife mom became a pilot.
How to Embrace Your Dream to Do What You Love:
Lesson #1: Do What You Have Always Loved
To get your dream going, loosen your ties to your digital or day planner. It gives guidance but can tie you to so many busy tasks that may bind and gag you from your dreams.
Lesson #2: Pick Great Companions
Surround yourself with people who encourage your passion. They should challenge you too. Together, look at how to make things possible. Critics tell you to quit; friends tell you that the best things can be hard and to keep trying. They know that the importance of being who you want to be requires risk.
Lesson #3: Don’t Let Fear Hold You Back
Fears start at a young age. Recall the dark and scary nights when you were very young with “something” scary under the bed or maybe in the closet. How did any of us survive that? Someone else usually came in and turned on a light, and our courage returned. Whatever your passion is, a lurking monster of the night will get between you and your dreams. Your light masters the dragons that scare you. And most of the scariness lies in not seeing and understanding the truth: The more you learn, the less you’ll fear.
Lesson #4: Make Mistakes and Fail Better Than the Last Time
Wanting perfection is often the path to quitting. It’s hard to be the very best at what you want to do. Some of us will be first and some will be superhuman, but most of us are just human. Perfection is nice but not required to follow your dreams.
Lesson #5: Begin as a Beginner
To live the life you want to live, you’ll need to hear more and listen less. That is, when following a dream, heed the calling of your heart and not the critics telling you that your dream is outside of the norm—their norm. That is the way of life as a beginner. New things must be learned, new people must be met who will teach them, and new surroundings must be experienced. Remember the famous line from The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy said, “This isn’t Kansas …”? You’ll feel the same way. But did she ever really fit in Kansas anyway? Do you?
Lesson #6: Keep Your Sense of Humor
“Manners matter. Good looks are a bonus. Humor is a must.” —Anonymous
Becoming a pilot opened more doors, including one that led to my other dreams—spaceflight. In 2016, an experiment I created will be flown to the International Space Station.
My map to the stars was not completely laid out the day I started to learn to fly. But when you do what you love, that’s where it leads. Whatever your airplane is, fly it!