Something Spectacular

Graduating from college at 49 is nothing spectacular. People much older than I have

Cynthia Petersen, graduated May 20, 2012 from Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, IA with a BA in Journalism

done it. But changing the course of my life is. And that is what I believe I have done.

Some people talk about fate, and destiny, and believe that “everything happens for a reason.” I, for one, believe that we are the creators of our own destiny and that life is what we make it. But I didn’t always think that way.

Seven years ago, I looked at where I was and I made up my mind that I wanted to make my mark in this world. I wanted to do more than just exist. I wanted to do something spectacular.

I spent years taking life as it came, raising 4 children, and dealing with life’s little tragedies.  But I learned how to remain calm in a crisis, and I became a problem-solver. I learned how to manage my money and how to make ends meet. I was a mediator, a counselor, a housekeeper, a chauffeur, and everything else that a mother does.

Now I realize that I was preparing for something spectacular.

I wanted to be my own boss and so I thought opening a restaurant was the way to go. I spent hours upon hours on the computer researching how to write a business plan, and why a marketing plan was so important. I chose all the plans for my restaurant; what I would name it, where it would be located, who my customers would be, what my menu would entail, how much everything would cost. I did everything I needed to do to make my restaurant a success. But in the end, it came down to a lack of funds.

And though it hurt me to have to give up that particular dream, I can see now that I was still only preparing for something even more spectacular.

As I got on my knees and prayed to God for chance to see my dream come true, I included that if this didn’t work out, I would go back to school and get a degree. (My father had said to me one day after reading an article I wrote, ‘Forget the restaurant, go back to school, become a writer.’)

And the rest is history. I graduated Sunday with a BA in Journalism. But not only did I graduate, I also received the President’s Award from Mount Mercy University’s president, Dr. Christopher Blake, one of the top three awards given to graduating seniors. I was also nominated for two other awards; Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities, and the Sisters of Mercy Award.

Getting the award itself was nice, but the satisfaction that I had done something to change the course of my life was what I really received that day. This was what I had been working for the past four years; that I had done something spectacular.

And I’m not done.

Most of you know that I started my own business last year and began publishing a community newspaper in February this year. Every lesson I have ever learned has prepared me to take on this huge undertaking.  But I still couldn’t have done it without going back to college. It was the last piece to my puzzle.

Something spectacular? You bet it is.

But it doesn’t stop there. It has only given me more reasons to find out what else life has in store for me and what I have in store for life.

What happens when your dreams come true? (you live happily ever after)

I’ve always loved that line from “Willy Wonka.” (The orignal movie with Gene Wilder, not the crazy one with Johnny Depp.)

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I wondered how I would feel, what it would be like at this moment.

We learn about dreams when we’re little, listening to the fairy-tales of maidens and princes and happily-ever-afters. As we grow, we find that life isn’t all that was promised to us and we begin the task of unraveling those illusions and putting them back in the order in which we see fit.

I did that.

Life wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be when I found myself a single mother of four. I learned about life through their eyes, putting my life on hold while I tried to mold the minds of my children and teach them values that I thought were important.

When the nest emptied, I found myself thinking about what I wanted to with the rest of my life.

I knew I wanted to do something different, something totally unexpected.

So I started a Bucket List. Some items I had on it included auditioning for a movie (“The Final Season” auditions were that year). Another was getting a tattoo (ouch) and going back to college and actually getting a degree. I also learned to ski how to play the piano. And I traveled. No place fancy, but I wanted to see  the country.

I didn’t really have a dream of owning a newspaper until I was half way through college. My real dream was to become a respected journalist and to be able to use my writing for good.

I’ve done that. I may not be the most accomplished writer, but I know that my heart is in everything I write. (Well, most everything).

And I love what I do. How lucky am I, to be able to do what I love? I probably have said it before, but I’m still amazed that my life turned out the way it did. It has been said that happiness is not a destination. but a form of traveling.

I heard a parable one time about a woman who happened to find favor in Buddha’s eyes. He granted one wish, that was all, and she needed to think wisely about that wish. She took her time, asked people what they thought she should wish for. They told her, “Gold! Wish for Gold!” They also told her to wish for a rich husband and other things that would make her life easier. But when it was time to make her wish, she didn’t know what to wish for. So she asked Buddha what she should wish for. “If I were you, I would wish for contentment, so that no matter what happened to you, you will always be happy.” And that’s what she did. And she lived happily ever after.

And so, that’s the attitude I take. Come what may…I am content.

Perspectives-Week 20

I started keeping track of what it would take to launch a newspaper 20 weeks ago.

My kids and I (2001)

Twenty weeks. And every day of it was spent either working towards that goal, or, at the very least, thinking about it. I planned, and wrote, and figured, and planned some more.

It has almost been a year since I had a conversation with my professor, one that spawned an idea, which became a plan, and now becoming a reality. It hasn’t been easy, but yet, it hasn’t been the most difficult thing I have ever done either. It has helped me learn what I’m made of.

I haven’t always been the most confident person. In fact, at one point in my life, I thought of myself as quite the opposite, where everything I did was an effort. Nothing seemed to work out the way I wanted and I felt like a failure. Now I realize that I was looking at life as something that happened to me, instead of what I did with it.

It’s all about perspectives.

Week 20 has me thinking about all that I have accomplished up to this point. Not just with the newspaper preparations, but my life, in general.

I was a single mother with 4 children, my youngest challenged by a severe learning disability, and three daughters, who seemed to make it their life’s goal to turn my world upside down. I tried to better our situation by going to college, but I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and fell behind. My level of confidence sunk even lower. But I never gave up.

My kids and I (2011)

Once my children moved out the house, I began to think about what I wanted to do with my life. I was still young and I knew there had to be more to life than what I was experiencing. So I took the first step and went back to college. Only this time, I picked a major that was better in tune with a dream of mine; I wanted to be a writer.

So here I am. Soon I will be graduating with a college degree and publishing my newspaper. Ten years ago when I was in the midst of chaos, did I ever imagine that someday I could accomplish so much?

To tell you the truth, I was worried more about how I was going to make ends meet rather than what I would do with my future. But when I finally had a chance to breathe and look at my life, I changed my perspectives, and then I changed my attitude.

I still have four months before my first issue comes out. Even though I still have a few things that I need to do to get ready, I no longer ask myself if I have what it takes. I already know that I do. Everything I had ever done in my life has prepared me for this…everything. The problem solving, the mediating, the persistence, the concessions, the determination and perseverance, they were lessons that I had to learn to get to this point in my life. I somehow knew all along that I would get here.

It just took me a little while to gain that perspective.

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Living the Dream

There aren’t too many people who can say that their lifelong dreams have been realized.  Some get sidetracked on the way to those dreams.  Maybe their dreams were unattainable or maybe they simply change course.

I have always wanted to be a writer. Since I was a little girl, I wanted to be the one who wrote the wonderful stories that I spent hours reading. I wanted to be the story-teller, the one who captivated the imaginations of innocent minds and made them aspire to be everything they could be.

I wanted to be a writer.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but it became my dream. I knew it’s what I wanted to do when I was in the third grade and wrote,  “If I was on the Mayflower.” A simple story, but it lit a fire within me that could not easily be put out. I needed to write.

I remember spending hours laboriously tapping away on the keys of my father’s old Electra typewriter using write-out to correct the many mistakes I made. (Erasable paper came out while I was in junior high and I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven!) The stories were about everything, anything, and nothing. I was embarrassed because I didn’t think they were any good and ended up throwing the typed pages in the trash.

But my father noticed.  The first time I asked to use his typewriter, my father smiled and carefully took it out of its case and set it gently on the dining room table.  I was surprised because I had the reputation for breaking everything I touched. But he didn’t seem to mind.

“Let me know when you’re done so I can put it away,” was all he said.

Even then I would get lost in my stories.  While the other kids were outside playing, I sat and let my mind wander. Many of the stories were about me and what I would do when I grew up. Some were about things I wanted to do; travel to different lands, become a famous dancer, or save the world.

I showed my dad a few stories and he would tell me how proud he was of me. But I never thought it would take me where it did.

Like many people, my dream got sidetracked with marriage and children, but I never gave up writing. I’d write just to write and when I finally got a computer of my own, I wrote even more. But even though I had a passion for writing, I still didn’t think I had what it took to be a professional writer.

Encouraged by a friend, I decided to go back to school and learn how to be a better writer, not exactly sure where it would take me.

At this point, I had to ask myself, what kind of writer did I want to be?  What was I good at? What was my niche?

I tried my hand at creative writing and found that it really wasn’t my forte. I wrote some poetry, but that too, came up a bit short.

I joined the newspaper at my community college. I had been the editorial editor of my high school newspaper and liked it then; would I like it just as much now?

I didn’t have to wonder for long because soon I was volunteering for the stories that no one wanted. I took pictures whenever I could. I always had my camera with me just in case something interesting happened. I gained the reputation of being a photo-junkie.

I found that I enjoyed the interviews, the writing, the layouts, the photography, even the deadlines.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was preparing myself for my future; I was becoming a journalist.

Everyone has a dream.  This is mine.  I will be graduating from Mount Mercy in December and I’m making plans for my own newspaper. Am I crazy  to think that my dream could actually be coming true?

No, I just consider myself lucky. I have the faith to keep taking that next step, the hope that I will see it happen, and the determination to see it all materialize.

I think everyone has a dream.  Some see it happen early in their lives. Others, it takes a little longer, but it’s always possible.

In the words of Walt Disney, “If you imagine it, you can make it happen.” I believe that now. I believe that anything is possible. I have already succeeded.