Ellen Anderson has decided to swap death and destruction for schoolyards and science lessons. At 56, she’s a college freshman with a heart of gold who is on a mission to reinvent her career and follow her lifelong dream to become a teacher.
Anderson’s transformation trigger was pulled when she was laid off earlier this year from a job of 21 years as an emergency medical services (EMS) dispatch supervisor for an ambulance company. It had been a central role in her life since 1979, when she first started in EMS.
Best Laid Plans
“My assumption was I would retire from that job. It was such a big part of my identity that I grew comfortable and complacent. I certainly never imagined having to start my career over at my age.”
Sometimes, that’s exactly the catalyst we need to see our dreams. Anderson throws out a skydiving analogy to describe the fear that comes with a career detour.
“It’s the difference between jumping out of the plane with the parachute already on, or grabbing it on your way out the door,” she says. “I think you know ultimately you’re going to get the parachute on and land on the ground. It may be a hard landing, but you know you’ll survive the fall.”
Were her experiences a sign from the universe that now is the time to follow a new path? After all, it’s natural for people to take stock of their lives in the wake of major change or loss.
In the midst of her soul-searching, Anderson found herself repeatedly drawn to her childhood dream of becoming a teacher.
She still fondly remembers her high-school math teacher in her hometown of Bay City, Texas. He was one of those memorable teachers who truly invested in his students and their educations.
“If I last a lifetime in one child’s memory, I’ll be good. It’s time for me to pay it forward,” Anderson says.
Never Too Late
Anderson is one tough cookie. After a lifetime of being on the receiving end of someone else’s worst day, she has a unique perspective on just how short life can be and deep gratitude for life’s little blessings.
“I don’t think it’s ever too late to try to reinvent yourself, and you can only hope to get to the end of that reinvention before you die. And if not, you are at least going out trying,” she says with grin.
Today, Anderson enjoys an active life pursuing her passions of running and riding her Harley motorcycle, which is how she met her husband.
She also places a high value on healthy aging – especially after losing her youngest brother to a heart attack at age 46 and seeing three other brothers and her parents suffer from heart-related diseases.
“You have to make the decision to head toward your goal regardless of your age. Your life could end at 20 or at 98. No one has a guaranteed lifespan. You have to head for the top and hope you get to see the view.”
Her college journey under way, Anderson is more than ready for the years-long commitment to higher education. In the meantime, she will continue to devote her workdays to helping others as a member of the customer care team for a major U.S. airline starting in mid-November.
“I view it like a figure eight,” she says matter-of-factly. My puzzled look prompts this response: “You may choose one direction, but it will always bring you back to where you belong. We all have a purpose and a plan, and I have a lot of faith.”
“I think God has given me a way to go out enjoying what I do with bright, tiny smiling faces instead of the death and destruction I have witnessed for the last 40 years.”
She likens it to a cloud of fog lifting on the horizon. “It’s almost like you’ve been sitting all your life with fogged-up windows in your car, and suddenly it’s clear. The path is unmistakable once it’s been revealed.”