Sifting through the pictures I have collected over the years, a few always stand out to me. There is a picture of my sister and I with our dog posing in our summer jumpsuits. Or the one of all of my grandmothers and cousins sitting in my front yard of my childhood home. While sorting the stacks of pictures I have held onto, I found a forgotten few from the year I was 14. The one I enjoy the most is of me in the forefront and my fellow teammates walking across the platform as we graduated from NASA's Space Academy. At 14, I felt I had my entire life ahead of me, and everything that I wanted was mine for the taking. Also at 14, I realized that I would never work for NASA.
Space Academy was a wonderful experience and I felt I was able to learn so much from the instructors and other students. I enjoyed our missions and serving as a Mission Control Specialist and a Weather Analyst. I treasured the friendships I had made with kids from all across the country. I also learned a few important lessons that summer.
Since the age of 6, whenever anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I quickly answered- an Astronaut. The idea of being in space and exploring planets, areas, and masses that had been untouched beforehand, fascinated me. I wanted to learn everything I possibly could about space exploration and the NASA program. I read books and magazines and requested more information from the school librarian and the librarian in town. They were both happy to oblige and loved that they were encouraging me in my journey to be a future Astronaut.
Not once did someone say- Kelli, you may want to choose another path. Not once did someone say- Kelli, so few people actually ever get to go into space. And not once did someone tell me that I should- consider being a teacher, a nurse, a lawyer or weather reporter. And I am so thankful that they did not.
For me, it took saving money, working hard, and actually going to Space Academy to realize that I would never be an Astronaut. While there I was bombarded with knowledge I couldn't begin to wrap my mind around. Students were so incredibly intelligent, I found it difficult to follow along in conversations or to contribute. I also heard about the activities that some of the students were involved in. Robotics Club, Science Exploration summer camps, Science Discovery, Rocket Building, NASA Extension Courses, Electronics Creation, and the list goes on and on. I hadn't participated in anything the other students had. I took voice lessons, traveled with choirs around the 5 state area and enjoyed acting in plays. I discovered that some of these kids had 5-8 years of science related activities and summer camps already under their belts. I enjoyed Bible Camp each summer and hanging out with my friends and riding my bike.
Discovering that I may not be the most qualified student at Space Academy, didn't discourage me from working hard and participating fully in all of the activities while I was there. I loved every moment. I came to accept that there were other things I could do in life, I just wasn't sure what they were as I had been telling people that I was going to be an Astronaut for 8 years.
As my dad and I returned from Huntsville, Alabama to my home in Minnesota, we had many hours ahead of us to talk in the truck. I told my dad about the instructors, the amazing things that I had learned and activities that I liked. I told him I had a fabulous time and that I really appreciated how hard he had worked to get me there. I also told him that I realized that being an Astronaut wasn't actually a practical job for me when I was an adult. That I was so thankful for the opportunity but that I would have to figure out something else to do for a living.
My dad smiled and glance over as he drove in the dark, "Kelli, I am glad you got to do this, too. Now you can concentrate on doing something bigger and better. I know you will figure it out. You have time and nothing to worry about. The sky is the limit. Continue working hard and start researching other fields you might be interested in. I know you will find something that you love."
I was so confused. What was bigger and better than being an Astronaut?
After returning home, I didn't dwell on the fact that I was no longer considering working for NASA someday. I chose to dwell on what my dad said. The sky is the limit. To me, that meant I could be anything I wanted to be. If I believed for 8 years that I could be Astronaut, I quite possibly could work towards being something even greater.
I majored in vocal music performance in college. I went on to travel and sing until my heart was content. I became a Bank Officer, Lender, and Investment Rep. All three jobs I adored. I then realized I had accomplished all of my professional goals by the age of 27. I didn't know what I would continue doing for the rest of my life. I became a Bank and Insurance Consultant which was very rewarding. 16 years ago after having children I started my own company and became a Professional Organizer. I love my work and discovering new methods of organization that help my clients reclaim their home and their lives. I now also work as Blogger and Writer.
I have loved every single one of these jobs and positions. I also think that it was possible for me to explore, make changes and try many new things over the past 30 years because of the kindness and encouragement of my parents. Not only did they not tell me what I couldn't be or do, they told me numerous times that I could do anything that I wanted to and that the sky was the limit.
Words matter. Encouragement is important. Parents who guide their children rather than dictate the course can make all the difference. And parents who loved me and trusted me enough to let me figure it all out on my own inspired me to believe I can do the same with my own children.
Looking back at the pictures of my time at Space Academy, I do not dwell on what never became, or on what would be considered by most as an unobtainable goal. I fondly remember the words from father as the jumping off point of discovering what I really wanted to do in life. And for that, I am forever grateful.