Monday, February 09, 2009


by Gina Sestak

Did it ever seem as if you ought to be feeling older than you do?

I just turned 59 on Saturday. Yikes! When I was in my teens, I thought that I would have life figured out be now, but no such luck. Nearly six decades old, and I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up.

I have always been very immature for my age. Even as a child. When the other kids were making rational decisions based upon the down to earth pragmatic things that they'd been taught, I found that I was lost in dreams, seeking comprehension in the made-up parables I read.

Don't get me wrong. I always managed to pay my rent, although I sometimes did forgo food. I know how to survive in waking reality. It's just that, when faced with decisions, I often opt for the impractical.

Take college, for example. As I've mentioned in prior posts, neither of my parents graduated high school. They didn't see a need for higher education, and they had neither the money to pay my tuition nor the sophistication to help me seek financial aid. I grew up knowing that I could never go to college, but I saved up some money from a part time job behind the counter in Murphys and took the SAT just to see how I would do. I scored in the 96th percentile; 4th highest in my academic high school, although I had been shunted early on into the secretarial track. "This doesn't gel," the guidance counsellor kept saying when she reviewed my scores. She couldn't understand how I did so well in math when I'd taken only the basic courses, even after I had explained how I'd drawn dots and diagrams in the margins, counting them to guess which formula might be the right answer. She sent me for non-verbal IQ testing just to see whether the SAT had been a "fluke." It hadn't been. With her encouragement, I applied to Pitt. By then it was too late to take the National Merit exam, so I had to rely on applying for financial aid. I didn't get it. No one believes it when you say your parents won't support your education. A mature person, a practical person, at that point would have given up, or looked further into sources of assistance, or found an employer willing to fund courses, or enrolled part time at night, or pursued any of a dozen other ways of going to school. I just threw caution to the wind and went, working crummy jobs, being homeless some of the time, selling blood plasma to survive.

Now I'm at the stage of life when a practical person would be saving for retirement. Instead of squirreling away every penny I can get my hands on, I'm working part-time and taking classes. Not practical classes -- no MBA for me. I'm studying filmmaking(!!!!), a field that I have absolutely no chance of entering, let alone making a career of. And yet it interests me, so I throw caution to the wind and go.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this blog -- do I expect encouragement or censure? I'm not sure. You decide.


Anonymous said...

Gina, I had a very similar experience. No support from my parents, who could not even be bothered to go to my high school graduation. I'll be 58 this year, and have self-educated, as well as taking a couple of years of classes.

Never mind; you are most likely still better educated--as I am--than many college graduates who haven't picked up a book in 30 years.

Go for it!

Joyce Tremel said...

Gina, I only went to college for a year and a half. Not only was my mother dying of cancer at that time, I hated the classes--every single one of them. I also had no idea what I wanted to do. It took me years to figure that out.

Here's to us late bloomers!

Joyce Tremel said...

And Gina, I bet the fact that you had to work your way through college and law school made you appreciate it more.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that I appreciated school more because I had to work. I always wished that I'd been able to focus on education rather than having to scramble for survival all the time. I really envied the students who had time to do the suggested reading (in addition to the mandatory texts) or go to the language lab or watch old films from the library collection. There was so much available that I missed out on.

Anonymous said...

What's with this thing today? I wrote the "anonymous" entry that begins "I'm not sure . . ." and put my name in like I usually do, but it didn't take it. Let's see what happens with this one. This is Gina, by the way.

Anonymous said...

Gina, I admire you immensely for following your own dreams instead of conforming to what everyone else expects of you. I know I wouldn't have gone to college if my mother hadn't made me (and paid for it). If not for her, I'd probably be living in a mobile home and working the check-out counter at Foodland right now. You're amazing, and you're my hero -- keep chasing your dreams!

Annette said...

Gina, I'm still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up, too. I'm ten years behind you and I'm not sure if I find your quandry to be comforting or disturbing.

My parents never pressed me to go to college and had spent all the college money on my older brother. I wish I'd had your determination and drive, but I didn't. So my college experience is limited to community college adult education classes and other evening classes.

And, Gina, as for retirement...we DO have a 401K, which won't talk about because it makes me weep. You're better off investing in your film classes.

Anonymous said...

Annette -
It never felt like I had any determination or drive. I was just going to college to learn interesting things; I assumed that once I graduated I'd get a job in K-Mart or someplace like that and keep on taking classes on the side. It's the same mind set that still lets me sit and read an interesting book instead of doing important real life things - my house is a wreck, my yard is a wild flower preserve a/k/a the forest primeval, and instead of studying up on the investment options I just play the Powerball -- without a lot of luck, so far. I do have a pension from the light company, though, and a 401(k) that's only lost about 20%. My investment strategy was just to spread the investment over lots of things, on the theory that the whole world economy would have to tank before I lost too much. Of course, now that the whole world economy is tanking . . .

Unknown said...

Gina - fyi I'll be 67 in June and although I have played with writing for many years I am just now getting serious and slowly getting published. Its never too late to capture a dream.