I was quite good at art at school, and seemed to grasp what the teacher was trying to teach, getting the odd gold star here and there. I liked drawing, and when I left school took myself off on the bus on a Saturday morning to go to art school to follow up on what I thought to be my burgeoning career.

Well, I did go to art school, but I think I rather fancied the idea of being an artist, rather than actually being one. On the back seat of the bus I spread the tools of my trade around me, thinking I was above those shoppers with their string bags and woolly hats. I loftily wore paint-smeared clothes, a satchel of paintbrushes banging on my hip, a large black portfolio of work under my arm, which implied I was taking paintings home to finish them or was off to a gallery to have my work displayed in readiness for the oodles of money that would be thrown at me for my astounding work.

But sadly no. I was a rubbish artist compared to the others on my course. I would peek over my easel at what they were doing, then look back at my feeble attempt at perhaps a reclining naked man and realise the proportions were all wrong, or that I had focussed on the wrong part for too long (I don’t have to spell it out here do I?). And painting! Well, a four-year-old could have done better. I should have submitted my work, masquerading as a child prodigy. My artist’s smock, all covered in paint blobs, would have made a better display. (Well, Jackson Pollock did all right out of it didn’t he).

Ambitious ideas

In reality, most teenagers had ambitious ideas - a train driver, a doctor, a lawyer, a sculptor, a famous musician – none of which happened because when you left school, you had to get a job to earn your keep, maybe ending up in the local factory making bits for engines you would never see, or serving countless faces that passed by at a supermarket checkout. Some were lucky to get to university and actually study for their chosen path in life. I myself was encouraged (I won’t say forced) into going to ‘night school’ to learn shorthand and typing, which actually stood me in good stead over the years, rising from a lowly office junior making tea, to the dizzy heights of assistant to a director of a certain fast food chicken chain, where of all things I ended up running the complaints desk, calming angry customers on the phone or writing letters to soothe them and encouraging them to try buying a bucket of legs again, as I was sure their experience of surliness by staff was a one-off. Blah, blah, blah.

I have had a lot of different jobs over the years, some not even office based, and some I have loved more than others. At one point after a hiatus to have children, I went back to work in an office and was confronted with a computer for the first time, and embarrassingly remember asking why my typing was disappearing off the page, or what those mystery symbols meant – none of which had existed on my good old typewriter, which I knew inside out. Spreadsheets? No problem, just stick a pen in the hole in the paper guide and wind the pattern freely. Making copies on a mimeograph duplicator? Easy peasy.

I suppose the point I am making is that we all have dreams, and the reasons our dreams don´t get fulfilled are many - financial reasons, family obligations, fear of change, even at interviews you might not make the grade, etc. You might not get your dream job, but there are other things you can get passionate about and your life might go off in another direction.

You have to learn life isn’t a bed of roses nor one of thorns, and somewhere you will find something unexpected that will engage you, but remember - it is never too late to be what you might have been.


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan