From Ponies to People: How Dreams Change

poniestopeople1How old were you when you figured out what you wanted to be when you grew up? 5? 25? For me, it was both.

When I was five years old I decided I wanted to be a “pony doctor.” While other children my age watched cartoons when they got home from school, I watched a TV show on Animal Planet called Emergency Vets, which documented the various cases seen at Alameda East Veterinary Hospital in Denver, Colorado. Discovering my name, Erin, was even in the word “vetERINarian,” I knew it was my destiny.

This was no idle dream; I actively worked to make it happen. I began volunteering at a local veterinary clinic and worked my way into a paid position. In high school I participated in 4-H and the National FFA Association. I took college algebra and chemistry so when the time came to apply to college I would be ready. And in the fall of 2008 I enrolled at Utah State University with a declared major of Bioveterinary Science.

I was excited to start college, but in the back of my mind I was conflicted. I struggled greatly with a prevailing notion that I should be more focused on motherhood, that it was the only appropriate or valuable path. I didn’t want to think about being a mother yet. I wanted to be a doctor. I wanted it so badly that I had sworn off dating during my senior year of high school. I left for college hoping to find a place where I could focus on my academic goals, but instead found even more pressure to see my future as a mother. Now that marriage and family were a real possibility, this idea seemed to really be driven home.

One day I met a young man who said I caught his eye. We went on several dates, and I decided he was perfect. I found myself doing all I could to please him. I lost myself trying to be who he wanted to the point that, when I realized he expected his future wife to be a stay-at-home mom, I changed my major. I refocused my career pursuits and went from Bioveterinary Science to Family, Consumer, and Human Development. Eventually the relationship ended and when it did, it was too late to change my area of study back to Bioveterinary Science. While I did not become a veterinarian, I did go on to complete my degree, graduating with honors.

Today I work as an academic advisor at a university. While it’s not the career I dreamed of in high school, I have come to realize how much I truly love what I do. I see myself as a student’s guide to university policies and culture, and I enjoy the opportunity to work closely with individuals as they pursue their dreams. And yet, although I was happily spending my days encouraging students to pursue their dreams, I would go home worried. Was I making the same mistake I warned my students about? Should I be out chasing my Pony Doctor dream? “How can I tell students to never give up on their dreams when I can’t even follow it myself?” I loved my job, but I’ve haunted by that question until just recently, when I finally discovered the answer: Dreams change… and that’s okay!

Just because I had a dream does not mean that it’s the only one I will ever have. Twists and turns in our paths can present us with new opportunities for dreams we might never have considered. Thinking things through I realized that guiding students to their dreams is what drives me now. I have a new dream and have decided to chase it by pursuing a graduate certificate in Student Affairs.

I know returning to school won’t be easy, but I also know that it can be done and that there are many women in my shoes. Because of my job, I have met many women returning to school while working full-time or serving their families as full-time mothers. So many of them, having postponed their dreams for other pursuits, are now finally revisiting them.

Oh, my fellow intrepid souls, braving the balancing act of school and adult responsibilities, either to finish what you started or to start something new, I say, “Together, we can do hard things.”

Erin E. Henrie is a graduate of Utah State University and a Cache Valley native who is working as a student service professional for Utah State. In her spare time, Miss Henrie breeds and trains American Quarter Horses, hikes local trails, and reads sci-fi/fantasy.

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