A couple months ago, I found myself teaching an environmental science class where we were discussing the different niches animals fill within their ecosystems and how this relates to competition. Part of this was discussing fundamental niche versus realized niche, which can be more or less summed up as the dream versus the reality. Now, I had these same students at first for English and/or advanced literature, and later for all but math for like a week, which included the adult and geriatric development units in psychology. So it was a concept that came up as a way to illustrate points a time or two between that original class and when everything ended.
This notion of life's expectations versus the reality of things has played on my mind quite a bit since I did the lesson planning for that environmental science chapter. I mean, is there any of us who didn't have expectations for what their life would be like as an adult? How many of us actually had our expectations play out the way they hoped?
I remember being completely convinced I was going to be a veterinarian from the earliest time I can remember all the way up until about eleventh grade. Growing up in the country, I've always been around animals, and I loved them all. I must have watched every episode of Nature ever aired a half dozen times and annoyed the living daylights out of my grandparent's poor, patient dogs studying their paws, faces, and teeth as a kid.
Then I discovered chemistry in high school, right about the time my allergy to cat dander first started to appear, and dreams of practicing veterinary medicine shifted to ones of conducting biochemical research. That lasted right up to the end of the first semester in college when it became clear chemistry wasn't my destiny thanks to a combination of anxiety induced shakes that would not quit and hitting my math limit at pre-calculus.
What can I say? Personally, I find coping with dyslexia way easier than dyscalculia because finding the context is easier with words, at least in my experience.
So again, my expectations for life shifted. Instead of a lab, I began seeing myself working in a newsroom. To clarify, I was thinking newspaper journalism. I've always been more than a little self-conscious about my appearance, voice, and accent, so I never even entertained the idea of covering the news on-air for either television or radio.
Now, I suppose it's important to note that throughout all of this, ever since I discovered writing and how to go about getting published way back in sixth grade, I had the notion I'd be writing books in my spare time. I was strongly discouraged from even thinking of writing as a viable income source because, "You have a better chance of getting struck by lightening and winning the lottery the next day than you do making a living with the arts." So I'd always expected any writing I would do would be in the evenings and on weekends unless my absolute wildest dreams of landing a job writing for National Geographic came true.
Too bad I got the science/writing priorities backwards for that one because it would have been awesome. Whoops.
Never once in all those years of imagining did I picture my life as it is. I mean, I wasn't completely foreign to the notion of a woman staying home with her kids. My paternal grandmother was a stay-at-home-mom, and so were all the women before my grandparent's generation so far as I know. But growing up as I did, it just didn't seem like a viable option anymore, and all of this was before working from home was much of a thing. So it's not something that crossed my mind until several months after Nichole was born, and it only did then because of two reasons.
1. I was suffering from postpartum depression, which I was convinced was because I was away from my child all day "doing next to nothing" because it was the slow season for that particular position.
2. My mother-in-law's health was taking a downturn, and she was the one looking after Nichole back then. So it was either stay home and take care of her myself or find a daycare, and my job back then barely paid enough to cover daycare.
Thus began my first attempt to work-from-home as a freelancer. I landed a few gigs working for local businesses, but those were small and infrequent. I took up cleaning houses on the side to help make ends meet a bit easier, which I've pretty much continued to do since, minus a couple breaks here and there. In a couple boredom fits where I tried to "contribute more," I fell into trying MLM sales, which invariably ended in failure.
Opinions were mixed as to whether starting a handmade bath and body business was terrific or a waste of time and money, but C. L. was behind me. Until late 2010, I never even thought about attempting to make soap let alone attempting to sell it. The notion of blending my own fragrances didn't cross my mind until I was trying to find a way to set myself apart, and even then, I was fairly certain I'd be horrible at it.
If you told me the way my life is today is how it'd be back when I was a kid or even just six or seven years ago, I never would have believed you. As a kid or teenager or even back in college and just after, I couldn't imagine being happy staying home much of the time. It just seemed so boring, but then again, working from home wasn't exactly a thing in the 90s, especially out in the boonies.
I hadn't really heard about homeschooling before well into my college years either, so it's not something I considered until just the last year or so before C. L. and I were married. Even when we got started, I was sure I'd hate it, and every now and again, I did. Not that I don't love my children, but I've never been particularly fond of teaching, mostly due to a few bad experiences tutoring back in high school and college. However, getting thrown into classroom teaching for a bit, something I would have sworn I would never, ever do, did have the benefit of teaching me a few techniques that have made the process more effective and enjoyable for all involved.
While I always planned to write books and pictured myself both writing and publishing, the fact I'm a perfumer, with fans of said perfumes, is something that still boggles my mind. Don't get me wrong, I love writing, and it fills my heart near to bursting to know some have read and enjoyed Right of Succession and the flash fictions that go up here on a weekly basis. But it was making the, thankfully temporary, decision to close Contented Comfort that nearly destroyed me a few months ago. Not only is the soaping and perfuming itself a form of creative expression I've grown to love, but going to conventions and being a part of vibrant and active fandoms has come to be such a part of my life, I can't imagine it without a reason to attend anymore.
The funny thing about life is our expectations and the reality of it never quite mesh, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Life has a way of surprising us in ways that turn out more good than not.
What expectations did you have for your life, and how does reality match up to them?
A. B. England is a small business owner, mom of two, novelist, all around geek, and avid crafter. She loves mythology, fantasy, and all flavors of science fiction.
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