26: Never Say Never

26: Never Say Never

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

Never Say Never

Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.

~Alan Alda

I was a fish out of water that semester. As a non-traditional college student, a euphemism for older, I was petrified. I was all about English and Communications. I had far more credits than necessary to graduate, but my institute of higher learning would not grant me a degree without a science course. So, I bit the bullet — along with every last fingernail — and signed up for Human Biology.

On that first day of class, visions of a plummeting grade point average filled my head as the professor strolled into the classroom. He was an imposing figure at well over six feet tall. A booming voice that easily carried to the back of the classroom was filtered through a dense, sandy blond mustache. He was all about setting the record straight from day one. “I give four tests a semester. Don’t skip any of them. If you miss one, don’t ask if you can do a report as a make-up. You don’t want to write it and I don’t want to read it.”

I was certain I’d made a terrible mistake. I should have taken Ecology 101, which involved field trips to the New Jersey shore to watch horseshoe crabs scamper across the sand and to observe tiny aquatic creatures in the tide pools. What was I thinking?

It turned out to be the semester that changed the direction of my career. Who knew I would love science? I came away from the course telling others, “Everyone should take Human Biology. It’s the manual for the most important machine you’ll ever operate.” I had become positively preachy.

My mind had opened. I was greedy for more details about these amazing bodies we inhabit. Next, I elected to take Anatomy & Physiology — Parts I and II. I didn’t need them. I eagerly welcomed them.

A surprised friend had asked, “What happened to the Judy who loved literature and journalism?” I had no answer. But fate stepped in as it is wont to do — if you leave yourself open to possibilities.

Shortly after I graduated, my next-door neighbor called. “Judy, I have a friend in need. She’s a medical journal editor. Her assistant suddenly left and she’s looking for a summer fill-in. I thought of you.”

It promised to be a marriage made in heaven. Writing and working with medical journals. Too good to believe. But it was true. That summer job turned into a freelance medical journal career that lasted many years. As a part-time freelancer, I also had time to follow my passion as a journalist. I wrote commentary essays for a large metropolitan newspaper. I had the best of both worlds. I loved them equally.

Just when I thought I would never find another ideal marriage, another proposal came my way. My husband’s cousin, Jim, had been a caregiver for his father during the years his dad suffered from Alzheimer’s. Jim had used his degree in gerontology and his on-the-job training to gather ten years of research on how to be an effective Alzheimer’s caregiver. He had accumulated a paper mountain of facts. Did I have the ability to turn his research into an easy-to-read manual for caregivers? When Jim approached me, it was tempting to say, “Write a book? I can’t do that.” But, along the way, I had learned to say, “I’ll give it a try.”

Although it is an accepted truism that nothing ventured is nothing gained, we often are afraid of failure, so we play it safe and say “no.” Jim and I had no guarantees that we would find a publisher in a highly competitive market after a year of hard work. It took a while and many painful rejections, but we did it. Our book was published in 2002.

Writing is a great joy. Getting paid to write is an even greater joy. During my long freelance career, I have had numerous assignments, from public relations to scriptwriting television commercials. I approached each one fraught with fear. But I stuck to my mantra: “I’ll give it a try.”

I’ve never been sorry. I found my happiness by learning to never say never.

~Judy Harch

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