(Never) Waiting Too Late - OZY | A Modern Media Company
Caroline Denise Miller living her dream.


Because change can be a wonderful constant.

By Carolyn Denise Miller

Have you ever thought you waited too late for your life to begin?

It was May 2016 and I was at my sister’s house. I woke up and got up, and although it was a normal day, it did not feel normal. It was my graduation day and I was going through more emotions than I could think of. Almost more than I could handle.

For starters, while my sister, my mother and my best friend from fifth grade were going to be at the graduation ceremony, my two sons — Alpha-Isaac and Joshua — were not. Neither of them could get the day off from work.

My dad was also not going to be there. He had died two years earlier. All I could think about was how he would have cheered me on. But what mattered was that I had made it. For the longest time I hadn’t been sure whether it was possible. Not until a random Sunday morning in 2010.

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The author on graduation day.

Sundays are the best days of the week for me. I start early, around 4 a.m. I love this time because it’s when quiet meets stillness. You hear everything from the tick of the clock to the loudness of the quiet. It’s the perfect time to pray, write, think and hear your innermost self speak. 

It was during those early-morning hours that what I was born to do, my purpose outside of being a mom, a friend, neighbor, co-worker and churchgoer, came to me. I’ve always wanted to teach, but one particular morning the need really resonated with me.

My mother always told me that if you’re going to work, make sure it’s something you like to do. I was in banking, and banking was not it.

I love to pray, teach and help others become their full selves. So, at the age of 50, I decided to go back to school to get a master’s degree in education.

I was born in Harvey, Illinois, to a hardworking family. My mom, Daisy, was a janitor at a hospital; my grandfather, Henry, was a business owner. I was one of four: two brothers and one sister.

For the majority of my life, I was Carolyn Miller. The only time I wasn’t was the 23-year stint from 1987 to 2010. I had a different last name then and it wasn’t until leaving that marriage that I realized I hadn’t been myself.

When I was banking for 20 years, it wasn’t because I loved it. Initially, it was about how many checking accounts you could open. Then they started asking me to bundle different offerings. Finally they began basing our pay on what we were able to yield. It was too much.

But I thought it was my only choice. It was my first real job out of high school, and I was good at it and I had a family. Uprooting my life didn’t seem like a possibility, especially to become a teacher. Severing that marital tie? That was my awakening.

But after earning my bachelor’s degree in English, there was still so much to do. You need experience to teach, so the first degree I got was just the first step.

I completed several online teaching classes, including day care, to reach my hour quota. I was 54 at the time, which meant I was the oldest student in the classroom with completely different stories to share — like my divorce and having children with college degrees — from my classmates, who were talking about having their first kid.

I felt out of the loop at times, but it forced me to try to close the gap. Because of all of this, I really believed my moment had come.

Anyway, I did not eat breakfast that morning. I was too nervous. I lived in the south suburbs of Illinois at the time, and because I was attending Ashford University online, I had to go receive my teaching and learning technology degree in Clinton, Iowa — three hours away. So the day was already full. 

All of the attention made me nervous. Everyone was taking pictures and tending to me and all I could think about was my appearance and not falling down on the stage.

When they called my name, my eyes teared up and I was overwhelmed with emotion. When I came off the stage, I was showered with gifts and treated to dinner by my family. I stared at the diploma, the accomplishments, the journey, and said, “Man, I got my master’s.”

Today my life is exactly how I envisioned it. I look forward to waking up and going to work and teaching kids. I don’t have sales objectives and I get to be the creative person I always felt I was.

So, if you’ve ever thought you waited too late or that your moment has passed, don’t believe it. You can reinvent yourself and start a new you at any time. It’s never too late. And happy Mother’s Day! 

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