In today’s society, we’re given the impression that we need to get a degree, find our career, and live happily ever after. As we all know, life rarely goes that way. Whether it’s unexpected illness, lack of money to complete school, starting a family before you’re ready, or even settling for something that makes money, life gets in the way.

If there’s one thing I want to give to my children, it’s the knowledge that it’s never too late to be what you want to be.

I want them to know you can change your mind whenever you want, and if you want it enough, you can go get it.

A few years ago, I was unexpectedly medically retired from the military, and that led my family on an unexpected trip. Not to say I wasn’t thinking about what I was going to do post-military, but it certainly sped up the process. I was finally in a situation where I could sit back and ask myself, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” I may have been 34 at the time, but that’s when my wife told me it’s never too late to be what you want to be.

Around the same time, my son was diagnosed with Medullary Thyroid Cancer and MEN2B disease. As we were navigating that stressful time, there was really no one by our side assisting us. No family enduring that much stress, with the multitude of resources available, should have to go through that alone.

I decided that after things stabilized and my retirement went through, I would go to school for social work. Social workers help problem solve and reduce stress while maximizing the resources available to families.

I always say: a social worker helps take care of the village so the village can take care of you. That’s what I love about social work. No matter the area I work in, I’ll be able to make a positive impact and improve the quality of life for my clients and their families. It’s all about giving back to the community that provides for you.

So what does that show my children? It shows them that after an established career, I felt in my heart I wanted to do something else, and we came up with a plan and are working on that plan right now.

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Now, as a graduate social work student, we talk about quality of life quite a bit. We ask ourselves, “Why are we doing this if we aren’t happy? What can we do to change that in a positive direction?”

I’d rather my children find careers that fulfill their hearts, and then their wallets.

That happiness in life, above all else, is what we should strive for. The income will be there, but happiness will remain. And if you need to make a drastic change in your life and start a new career, go back to school, become the stay-at-home parent and let your spouse work, etc., by all means, do it.

So when you ask me what I want to give my children as they grow up, my answer is always this: I want them to know that no matter how old, young, rich or poor they are, it’s never too late to chase their dreams and that they have the freedom to be whatever they want to be when they grow up.

Jonathan Alexander

Jonathan Alexander is a husband, father of four, retired Marine, and an MSW student at Hawaii Pacific University. He aspires to work with mental health, developmental disabilities, law and policy, and the military family community.