Realizing Your Dream: Stop Dwelling on “What Ifs”

Holding Star

“Excellence can be obtained if you care more than others think is wise, risk more than others think is safe, dream more than others think is practical, expect more than others think is possible.” ~Unknown

I think I always had an idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I sort of tweaked it along the way. I knew I wanted to work in the field of science, but like most kids, I wasn’t exactly sure where I fit in.

When I was 10 years old, I wanted to be an astronaut. At the age of 14, I wanted to do absolutely anything for the United States Air Force (pilot, scientist, etc.). By the time I was 18 years old, I wanted to be a microbiologist.

When I finally did grow up, I found myself working in bars by night and a dead-end office job by day; this lasted for most of my 20s. Who was I to complain? I was making decent money, but I felt awfully unfulfilled.

I knew that I had what it takes to actually be a scientist, but I was not sure exactly how to get there. And for a moment, I thought it was too late.

My childhood family was not comprised of college-bound folks; there were both hard workers and slackers alike, but school was not considered to be important.

I was never pushed academically, and there were rarely any consequences for receiving bad grades. Also, like many families in the United States, mine was extremely dysfunctional.

I was actually quite an intelligent child. I comprehended the concepts that the instructors were teaching; I just did not care to pay attention. And why would I?

No one in my home valued education. Despite being able to understand science with my eyes shut, I struggled with mathematics because it’s hard to learn the subject when one is being rebellious.

I started playing around with a microscope when I was a teenager. I had big dreams to one day become a microbiologist and to cure diseases. But I also got caught up with a bad crowd and, ultimately, ignorance coupled with peer pressure led me to becoming a mother at a very young age.

Still, I persevered. I bought books about biology, microbiology, virology, and anything that I could find in order to better understand the subjects, all while raising my child. I particularly remember collecting specimens and attempting to teach myself how to do algebra whenever I had the chance.

Until one day, one of my family members laughed at me and said that I should give up the idea of becoming a scientist, because it would never happen. This person also told me to prepare for a life as a cashier.

My heart sank, and I believed that I would never be good enough to handle the academic demand that is required for a career in science. In the blink of an eye, I gave up on my dream.

I distinctly remember that around this time kids were graduating from high school, and their families were celebrating their entrance into the collegiate world. I was being left behind.

That sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach is one that is hard to forget. But instead of letting it get me down, I used it as motivation. While I spent many years regretting not pursuing a career in science, I decided to stop suffering, took a giant risk, and signed up for college.

I was now majoring in biology!

And at first, it was scary. I was so afraid that, because I was much older than the other students, I would stick out like a sore thumb, but I was surprised to find that no one seemed to care that I was in my early 30s; it was an unrealistic fear.

And math was my Achilles’ heel; that terrified me more than anything. How on earth would I learn algebra and calculus? I was so far behind and I had to start with core classes.

There were times when the concepts in math were difficult. I shed many tears, and there were a million times when I wanted to give up, but I kept pushing forward, reminding myself of how badly I wanted this lifelong dream to become a reality.

Finally, after much hard work, I mastered mathematics.

In fact, I made it my friend! Now math is so easy for me, it feels like second nature. And I have received the opportunity to work on so many fascinating things in the laboratory—everything from handling bacteria to extracting and processing DNA!

After many years of struggling to get to where I am, I realized some very important things that I would like to share with you:

Never give up on your dreams.

Even if you kicked them out of the way because someone told you they were impossible, they’re still your dreams; you’ve merely set them aside.

Think back and remember the dreams you once had, whether it was to go to college or to become an animal rescuer or even to travel the globe. Your dreams have never truly gone away. If you work hard enough and do all of the necessary planning, you can achieve any goal that you set.

Learn to take risks and ignore all of the “what ifs.”

When I first started college, I had enough “what ifs” to build an entire country. What if I’m too old? What if I can’t handle being a student? What if going back to school will be too much of a financial burden? What if I can’t learn math? What if, what if, what if…

I finally had the nerve to just kick the “what ifs” off of the boat and take the plunge into the sea of dreams. You can conjure up all of the “what ifs” that your mind will allow, but that energy is better spent working toward your goals.

Meditate and live in the present moment.

I am going to assume that if you put your life’s dreams on the backburner, it’s because they seemed insurmountable at the time. I am not telling you that it will be a walk in the park, because that has not been my experience, but I will say that taking each piece bit-by-bit makes it a lot easier to chew.

Don’t dwell on the past and do not worry too much about the future; just…be.

Meditation, something I never thought I’d ever do, has been my saving grace. I incorporated a meditation routine into every day (just like brushing my teeth), and it has virtually eliminated all of the stress and anxiety associated with my experiences in school.

Make friends with your obstacles.

I used to despise math, and the more I couldn’t stand it, the more difficult it became. I finally realized that, because I never gave it a real chance, I did not have the right to be so angry at it. Just like when we first meet someone, it is better to be friendly toward that person rather than to judge him or her and simply walk away.

If something is standing in your way, try your best to give it some gentle understanding. Perhaps you were looking at it all wrong from the start.

Make friends with the things that aggravate you and find reasons to like them; it makes it so much easier to master something when you no longer consider it an obstacle.

It is never too late to fulfill your dreams and become the person you have always longed to be. You just need to let go of fear and step into the unknown.

Photo by xJason.Rogersx

About Jessica Roebuck

Jessica Roebuck is a biology major at Montclair State University in Montclair, NJ. She is the founder and sole contributor of the page Contact Jessica on Twitter @MissMicroscope.

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  • Viridian Girl

    Good for you and an excellent post!

  • HaleyMia


    What a awesome post! I have a very similar story, in that math & all the sciences actually were never my friend either, but mostly because everyone just told me how bad I was at them. They said I was much more artistically inclined so I should just not bother with the other stuff! But it was the, “other stuff,” that I was actually more interested in. So, after 25 years of ppl telling me what I SHOULD do, I CHOSE for myself a career path in healthcare. It’s taken years of pre-requisites, dozens of emotional breakdowns, n hundreds of tears, but I’m finally in a nursing program succeeding despite all odds. Honestly? It makes it all the more worthwhile when I complete each & every task xpected of me in the hospital that others always told me they, “could never picture me doing.” I think nothing worth having comes easy, n the naysayers make us all the more appreciative : ) Best of luck to you!


  • Dee

    It’s funny I tell my son all the time “We don’t live in the land of what if’s, we live in the land of what is”

    Thank you for your post 🙂

  • Paul

    Gosh Jessica, I so needed ti read this, sadhu sadhu sadhu. You give a broken person new hope. Never stop living your dreams!

  • David

    Thank you for sharing this post Jessica. Your authenticity shines through and you have expressed very clearly how following your dreams can ignite in us a clarity and motivation we never knew we possessed. It’s takes great courage to challenge our own perceptions of who we are, especially when those close to us may not share our vision. I wish you well on your chosen path.

  • Inspiring story Jessica – we do have to ignore the what if’s by people around us as well as the ‘what if’s which run through our own minds regularly! I love the quote kicking the ‘what if’s’ off the boat – haha ! hope you didn’t throw them a life vest 🙂

  • karania

    you are amazing! I really need to get these ‘what if’s’ thingy from
    my mind everytime i want to take a step of pursuing things that i hope can lead me to my dream. thank you for sharing. this means a lot to me.

    thank you! _/_

  • Jessica Roebuck

    Thank you for reading!! 🙂

  • Jessica Roebuck

    That is great advice to give him!! You’re very welcome!!

  • Jessica Roebuck

    Haha… I definitely did not throw them a vest!! They can all just float away. Thank you for reading, let’s all crusade against the “what ifs.” 🙂

  • CH

    Way to persevere! I have never had problems following my dreams until the past couple years when I realized I set the bar too low on the dreams I created for myself.

    I always excelled academically, but have battled depression, low-self esteem, an eating disorder, sexual assault, and years of allowing others to tell me what to do. I am finally learning to love myself, and to realize that I can create the life I want, rather than react to circumstances I find myself in. This is empowering, but now that the opportunities are limitless, I am having trouble choosing a direction.

  • Jessica Roebuck

    First, let me congratulate you on doing what YOU want to do!! A lot of people will have opinions about what they think you should be doing, but you know yourself best and you have to find and do what makes you happy. I think it is admirable that you went into the field of healthcare and I applaud you for kicking your obstacles to the curb. I think it’s wonderful that you finally made it into the program and with your attitude, I know you will do well. The obstacles are always there, it’s how we choose to handle them that make all of the difference. Thank you so much for replying and the best of luck to you as well!!

  • Jessica Roebuck

    You’re not really broken, you just feel that way and feelings can change. I am glad that by sharing my journey I was able to restore your hope. It is never too late to get on the path to mending your broken feelings and I wish you much luck along the way!!

  • Jessica Roebuck

    Thank you for reading. I never thought I would be sharing my story with anyone outside of those most close to me, but here I am and it feels great. I really want to shout out to the world: “If I could do it, so can you!!” I just feel so inspired by all of my experiences and I want others to know that they do not need to give up. 🙂

  • Jessica Roebuck

    Thank you and you are amazing too!! We all suffer from a case of the “what ifs” from time to time. I still get them!! But I’m learning how to deal with them and you will too. Your dreams really can come true and I hope that you go for them. When I have a “what if” try to stop me, I will meditate on the idea and see if I can find some clarity. I go through that angel-devil syndrome and more often than not, the realistic angel on my shoulder tells the unrealistic, “what if” devil to get lost. Make a mental “what if” buster-broom and sweep all of your “what ifs” out of the door!! Good luck to you!!

  • Deborah

    Thanks, Jessica. I’m quite a bit older and have just started taking steps to achieve my dreams. I’ve just realized that there’s nothing to lose, because slogging through a passionless life without reaching for goals and without dreaming is really no life at all. I’m glad you listened to that wise voice inside of your head instead of the person who told you to prepare to spend life as a cashier.
    ~Deborah from

  • Riri

    Thanks for writing that, you have no idea how much I needed to read that. After going through some tough personal issues, I’m in the middle of picking myself up again and I do go through many phases of self-doubt and fear. I’m bookmarking this to re-read anytime I feel myself getting sucked into that black hole!
    Thanks again for the inspiration.

  • Jessica Roebuck

    I am very glad that it helped you and I think in our short, human lifespans, we live a thousand lives. It’s okay to be down and have to pick yourself up back up, I’ve done it so many times. The point is that you’re doing something and you will overcome your fear!! Thank you for reading and I feel so blessed to have connected with you.

  • Jessica Roebuck

    You’re quite welcome and thank you for reading. I am also glad that you have “seen the light” so to speak and I think we’re both on the right path!! What a journey it will be!! 🙂

  • Jessica Roebuck

    I am so happy to hear that you are overcoming the adversity that you have been faced with; it can be very difficult and some people never get there so, be proud of yourself!! Maybe you have to a let a direction choose you instead!! Keep your eyes open for things that are drawing you in and then when you get them down to two opportunities, do a pros and cons list to pick a winner. Thank you so much for reading and keep in touch!!

  • Maria

    Jessica, thank you so much for this amazing post. It spoke to me and it was definitely what I needed to read right now. Congratulations to you for following your dream and making it a reality. Such an inspiration.

  • Jessica Roebuck

    I am so happy that reading my experiences have been able to inspire you. I know that you can achieve anything you set your mind to. Thank you so much for reading!! Good luck on your journey!!

  • Brittany

    Thank you so much. I am going back to school in a few weeks for the first time in four years and I have been nervous ever since registration. I’ve pushed my dreams to the side for so long that they seem distant and nearly impossible, but I am trying to muster the courage and strength to give it my all and believe that I can make it a reality. Your post was quite inspiring.

  • Jessica Roebuck

    Congratulations on returning to school!! I remember how I felt in the beginning and your nervousness will fade once the semester begins. Because you have taken the first steps, the wheels have been set in motion and you will succeed!! When you come to a class that is difficult, push through it and know that you can master anything you set your mind to. Even if you fail at something, it’s not the end, pick yourself up and do it again. Do it as many times as it takes until you achieve your goal. Thank you for reading and I am glad that you are so courageous. Good luck with everything!! 🙂

  • yogamom

    From a childhood much like yours, higher education was NEVER discussed. We were raised in the “graduate from high school then get a job and move out” household. I put my life on hold until last year. I have wanted to be a eating psychology coach and teach yoga from the time my kids were little, but my ex would have nothing to do with my owning a business or working. You can probably finish the story from here. Not until last year did I start putting the plan together and will see it happen in April. Yes, I’m scared, but its my dream and I honestly don’t see myself doing anything else. Thank you for sharing your story. 🙂

  • Jessica Roebuck

    You’re welcome and thank you for sharing your story too!! Whether it’s growing up in a home that does not push education or being in a relationship with someone who does not help to cultivate and nourish our dreams, it can be rough. The most important thing is that you pushed past those obstacles and you will achieve the goals that you have set for yourself. Good luck with your plan, I know you will live out your dream!!

  • Brittany

    Thank you so much. I am going back to school in a few weeks for the first time in four years and I have been nervous ever since registration. I’ve pushed my dreams to the side for so long that they seem distant and nearly impossible, but I am trying to muster the courage and strength to give it my all and believe that I can make it a reality. Your post was quite inspiring.

  • Kudos to you for pursuing your dream in science and tackling mathematics without letting setbacks or naysayers get in the way of a goal that, as you illustrated, has been a part of you since before you were old enough to even know how thermometers function, etc. – its a proud journey to take!

  • Jo Bunten


  • Lady

    Finally read this post by Jessica. I’ve been too busy preparing for a trip that I did not want to go on. Adventure trip it is called and I am not an adventure person. So thank you young lady for your words of wisdom for this 73 year old Lady.

  • Beautifuldreamer.

    Oh wow, Jessica. I`m writing this with tears in my eyes. Your story is so uplifting, full of hope.It reminds me of the people who think their opportunity train has passed,and are now stranded in the station “what if”, confined in a prison of doubt, fears keeping them locked in place–kinda of like the elephant chained to a little wooden peg, conditioned by fear. Sad to admit that is my story,too. After a nervous breakdown in my last college year ( I was biochem major), I wasn`t able to go back fearing a relapse. I`m now 27, and feel the same fear, maybe more because I have no self esteem and a lot of pressure on my shoulders. No one knows why I quit college, nor can they imagine why I isolated my self from everyone I know besides my mom and brothers, and why I remain in the same no brainier job that allowed me free time to study during my college years (security).. Part of me longs to believe that I`m still holding on the hope that one day I will have the courage to go back and reclaim my dream, that tough times are made for tough people and that I would be a better doctor (my dream since I was a kid) because of the pain I`ve been through. But most of the time I`m struggling with my self worth,worried how I could survive tomorrow anxiety free. I haven`t given up on my dreams, and that`s the one thing I can feel proud of. Like I will not relent until I become the best I can be, never accept a second rate me.

    Congrats again on your achievements.

    Im so glad fo

  • Thank you so much for this! I am a 31 yo mother of three and I have been in school part time for 3 years already. As outlandish as it sounds, I’m studying Astrophysics and there are times where I feel like it’s so out of reach because of how demanding my kids are. Regardless, we’ve decided it’s time to accelerate my education and go full-time. I’ve been really nervous about all the “what-ifs” and the demands of the home. You wrote exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you!

  • Madhu

    yes Jessica… never give up… there will always be those devils in the form of your near and dears… to chase you off your path.. and that’s when we succumb. Good you have done it and shown the way to others.

  • Jessica Roebuck

    Thank you!! There is much wisdom in your words. 🙂

  • Jessica Roebuck

    That is so amazing!! Although my graduate focus is microbiology, astrophysics is a side hobby of mine. I wish I could pick so many different sciences to work with but I had to go with one. I think that is so awesome that you’re back in school and I understand the kids. I have a 19 year old boy who has always been a handful and a 12 year old girl. Go for the gold Lisa and never look back. I am so proud of you and keep going, going going until you’re finished.

  • Jessica Roebuck

    Thank you so much for sharing your story with me. I didn’t add it to my submission because I had to keep it short, but I too suffered with anxiety, even had a panic disorder. First, I would like to congratulate you for enrolling as a biochem major, it’s a tough subject and if you’re already dealing with stress, the workload is enough to put you over the edge. There is nothing wrong with taking a break and there is no rush. I think that if you want it badly enough, you will go back to school when you’re ready. 27 years old is so young!! Meditation is what helped me to deal with my anxiety; it took me a good year to get it down pat, but once I was able to really meditate, it literally saved me. You are your own guru, you are your own master and I know you can do it. I wish you the best of luck. Feel free to reach out to me on twitter or my science page and we can exchange information if you would like to keep in touch. Thank you for reading my story and good luck to you, I know you can do it!!

  • Jessica Roebuck

    Oh, I can completely relate… I gave up my adventure trips years ago, but I hope you make the best of it. Whenever I have to do something that I don’t want to do, I try to find things that I will like about it. Make friends with that trip and it will be easier!! Thank you so much for reading and posting.

  • Jessica Roebuck

    Thank you!!

  • Jessica Roebuck

    Thank you so much!! It’s funny, I held onto that old microscope from my teens for years. I still have the microbiology workbook that I bought from a book store when I was 18 years old. Looking back, I’ve come so far. I realize that I was looking at mathematics in the wrong way and now I’ve grown to love it. Science is one of the most amazing things I have had the pleasure of experiencing and I am so glad that I took some risks. It was all worth it!! Thank you for reading and for posting. 🙂

  • Victoria

    Thank you,Jessica Roebuck for your sharing.Your sharing has given me so much encouragement to still hold on my own dream. I live in Myanmar(Burma) in Asia where we can’t access real education for our lives. But I always dream to learn marine biology and to become a marine biologist. It’s seemed impossible for me because I can never effort to study abroad and I haven’t learnt science well enough with its concepts in school. But your words….have changed me. You said ‘If you work hard enough and do all of the necessary planning, you can achieve any goal that you set.’ I think from now on I should stop saying what ifs and start proper planning to achieve my own goal. I thank you so much.

  • Thank you, Jessica. Very helpful and inspiring. I’m getti g to my dreams… They’ve been in hold for a long time but im getting to them

  • Dave


  • First of all, thank you for writing this post. I understand what it’s like to remain in the cage of “what-ifs”. I’m still trapped, since I’ve allowed other people’s opinions (especially my parents) to influence my actions. I’m not as wise as I’d like to be, but I continue to seek a way through my obstacles. Right now, I’m studying to be in the field of education, but I’m not passionate about it. In fact, I’m doing this because of the “what-if”. The what if I fail on achieving my dream, then I’ll have this as backup. The what if I don’t make enough money while living my dream, etc. I don’t know what to do. I feel that I’m doing this to please my family, but I am starting to feel a little dead on the inside. Recently when I discovered the blogging scene, I’ve realized that I really like to write. What I remembered now is how I’ve always wanted to share my stories to the world. It’s hard work, but it’s mixed with my kind of play. *sighs* Let’s see what happens.

    Anyway, congratulations on following your dreams! Keep on with the success! 🙂

  • Mark

    Jessica. This is a great post. I too have gone through this, with going back to school later in life and I know exactly what you mean and have gone through. I’m sure that your struggle was even harder than mine, being that you had a child at the same time, but I’m happy that you did it. It encourages people like me to realize that if you can, I can. I did have one thought though. One thing I’ve always had trouble with is looking ahead and THINKING so much ahead that it possibly hinders the NOW. I noticed that you mentioned “not thinking too much about the future.” I’ve always felt like it’s important for me to think of my future when I make decisions, to avoid making bad ones, or rather to just simply make better choices. Over the years, I’ve done quite well with improving my not thinking and dwelling on the past, but I was just curious on your deeper thoughts about this (the future)…

  • thisawesomejungle

    I love this story, particularly the line, “Make friends with the things that aggravate (to) you and find reasons to like
    them; it makes it so much easier to master something when you no longer
    consider it an obstacle.” Good stuff!

  • Daniel Holl

    I’m glad I came back to this article after I initially just bookmarked it. This is one of the most encouraging stories I’ve read in a while. Age is simply an excuse by most people not to fulfill there dreams. I’m glad you didn’t fall into this pitfall. Keep on rockin!

  • Pavithra

    Jessica you are one awesome women to express what you felt and rekindled the ‘need something more’ of others! I liked these lines(below), where I re-read more than 5 times.
    ” I shed many tears, and there were a million times when I wanted to give up, but I kept pushing forward, reminding myself of how badly I wanted this lifelong dream to become a reality.”
    I keep telling myself saying I’m behind everyone and I spend time in comparing with peers and others around me like, “I should have done like them” etc. I didn’t had full confidence on me.
    Everyone can do it and anytime we can do it, after all it is our dreams and no one else’s. Nothing more to say – except, start working towards my dream 🙂 🙂 All I have is one,
    Thank you! for this post 🙂

  • cal

    you are an inspiration, jessica. thank you for sharing your story. i admire you for your courage to undertake what initially seemed like an insurmountable task, and your determination to pull it through with your sustained passion. i hope that i will be able to do the same as you one day. wish you all the best, from down under 🙂

  • manoj

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  • Linda

    Great story. I will be 55 when I receive my bachelor’s in music. I will be the first in my family to get a bachelors, and I intend to continue and get at least my masters. My story is very similar to yours in that education wasn’t a priority in my family and I felt so insecure when I started at a 4-year college last year. But my teachers are so supportive and even the young students who are just starting out. I am sitting here at my second-hand desk with my career dreams printed on a piece of paper, hanging in front of me. I want a beautiful office in a beautiful area writing music for performers and movies, managing and helping other artists, and performing myself. I am in the process of writing a musical and tons of other music. Like you, I always knew what I wanted to do.
    Thanks for sharing your story. Sometimes I start questioning myself but I have been miserable every day of my life in which I gave up on my dreams. I have very little in the way of material things, but I have never been happier.
    Anyway, thanks for the article!

  • Jaleesa

    Thank you!

  • jomteon

    I stumbled on this post through google and just wanted to express my
    appreciation for it. I recently turned 27 and made a decision to turn my
    life around (my life up to this point reads like the most obnoxious
    series of missed opportunities you could imagine), starting this year,
    and pursue my childhood dreams (similarly, in scientific research).

    seems all but impossible. 99% of the people you read about succeeding
    in demanding and competitive fields have been at it since they were kids
    and never let up steam, or they figured it out shortly after high
    school and were off and running and never stumbled. It seems like the
    only way to achieve your dreams in life is to have never wavered from
    the path. But it’s the 1%, the stories from people like you, that give
    me an extra boost of confidence. In fact, one of my motivators for
    success is that I hope I can one day give to other middling people like
    me the boost of confidence I’m looking for now to become extraordinary.

    Anyway, those
    sorts of stories are what I was searching for when your post popped up
    and I just wanted to say thanks for the awesomeness 🙂

  • kvbh

    Feels great aftr reading this article.