Robin Jones Gunn‘s dream was to be a laundry supervisor in Nairobi. Or so she thought. She could see it: she would go down to the river to wash clothes with the women of the village and the children would come to play and the baby elephants would wave their trunks.
Except. (Every great story has an “except”, that wonderful plot twist that keeps life interesting.)
Except that’s not what happened. Instead, she got thrown off that path and onto a new one, of being a writer and speaker. But she had the opportunity, when she was in Nairobi for a speaking engagement, to dip her hands in the bucket of that dream. Quite literally.
She and a friend were passing a river where women were washing clothes. Excited, Robin jumped out of the car and asked one of the woman if she could put her hands in her laundry bucket and wash her clothes. The woman allowed it.
When Robin returned to the car, her friend asked her if washing clothes was what she was meant to do. She smiled and acknowledged that it wasn’t. She’d been given a gift, her friend told her. Not many people get to dip their hands in the bucket of the dream they thought they wanted.
I know what she means.
I’ve dipped my hands in that bucket. I thought I was going to be a speech-language pathologist. I love language and I love to help others. It was a perfect fit.
So I got the appropriate bachelor’s degree and, in Fall 2007, started a competitive SLP master’s program. But when I began clinic work, I found myself dreading clinic days. I loved the classes and planning the therapy but actually having sessions drained me.
“That shouldn’t be.” I told myself. “If I’m dreading it now, at the beginning of my career, how can I expect to suddenly love it later?”
After much internal debate, I was forced to acknowledge the truth: even after all the work I had put into making this career happen for me, it wasn’t the right one. I owed it to myself to find the one that was. So I finished my semester and withdrew from the program.
There were people who said I was nuts. They said it was a shame. The mother of one of my patients exclaimed, “how can you get this far only to quit?”
Except I wasn’t quitting my dream. I was just walking away from the laundry bucket. If I hadn’t walked away, I probably never would’ve heard the whispers of fiction, beckoning me to return to a dream I had abandoned as a child. And one summer day in 2008, I read a book that inspired me to begin my first novel. (You can read that story here.)
It’s taken me a while to get to this point–the point of actually starting to see myself as a novelist. Sure I have another career outside of writing, but it’s secondary; writing fiction has captured my heart. But if I hadn’t been on a completely different path, I wouldn’t have such a deep appreciation for how beautiful a career feels when it’s the right fit, how embracing it feels like freedom instead of a chain.
I didn’t know until I found it. And I’ll never be going back to the bucket.