Reflections on a Life That Didn’t Go According to Plan

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Over the past two weekends, I attended two homeschooling conventions. They were both Great Homeschool Conventions, and after a year of doing no live conventions at all, I was overjoyed to be back in the saddle. I was also thrilled to see so many families refusing to live in fear and gathering together as a community. I had a lot of wonderful conversations with homeschooling veterans, new homeschooling parents, homeschool students, and homeschool graduates. While many people told me things that were deeply meaningful, there was one event that stands out in my mind, and I must share it.

A homeschooling mother stopped by my publisher’s booth and gave me a manila envelope. It contained a very nice card from her, and a report on some original research her high-school-age daughter had done under the supervision of a professor at a local college. It involved the interaction of bacteria and fungi with certain antibiotics and fungicides. The experiments produced some novel results, and it might end up being published in the scientific literature. The title page of the paper contained this handwritten note from the student:

Dr. Wile, I took what you taught me, and I ran with it. Thank you.

Apparently, she had used my book, Discovering Design with Chemistry, and was inspired to pursue a career in biochemistry, so she started taking college classes while still in high school. There, she met a professor who was happy to encourage her, and that’s how she ended up being able to do the experiments that are discussed in the report. She ended up coming by my publisher’s booth. We got to talk for a while, and I could see her eyes light up when she discussed what she had done. She clearly has a passion for scientific research, and it really made my day!

Since the time this enthusiastic young lady left my publisher’s booth, I have been waxing a bit nostalgic (being sappy is what my daughter would call it), thinking about all of the students who have told me about their scientific accomplishments. One student discovered a new virus. Another developed a new way of producing heavy elements. Another has published more than 40 articles in the scientific literature and is a leader in the field of prenatal imaging. I could go on and on.

What’s my point? Well, when I went to university, my plan was to do exactly what these incredible individuals are doing. I was going to get my Ph.D. in chemistry and become a world-class scientist. While I accomplished the first goal, the second never materialized. I got my Ph.D., became a professor, got grants to do research, and did research that lead to many publications in the peer-reviewed literature of nuclear chemistry. Had I continued, I would have gotten my shot at becoming a world-class scientist. But then something happened. I met my first homeschool graduate.

He was a student in my general chemistry course, and he was head-and-shoulders above his classmates. When I learned that he was homeschooled, I was shocked. I had no idea how a mother without any training (his mother hadn’t even gone to college) could produce a superstar science student. As time went on, I met more outstanding students who were homeschool graduates, so I investigated this “odd phenomenon” on my own. I found that my experiences were indicative of the norm: homeschool graduates are (on average) the best university students. As a result, I started working with homeschooling parents, and eventually, I started writing homeschooling curriculum for them.

Somewhere along the line, I realized that I loved writing curriculum more than university teaching and scientific research, so I eventually left the university and did some consulting work in order to spend more time writing. After my curriculum became popular enough, I stopped consulting and became a full-time writer. I did that for several years, but now I have found a way to balance teaching and writing, so I now teach both high school and university students while still producing new homeschooling curriculum.

While I truly love what I am doing, I sometimes wonder about the choices I made. Once I went to university, I had a solid plan. What would have happened had I followed that plan? Would I have made some great scientific breakthrough? Probably not. While I have made some modest scientific discoveries with the help of others (such as radial energy scaling in heavy-ion collisions and an explanation for an odd chemical phenomenon), I don’t think I have the talent that is required to do great scientific research.

After this past weekend, I have come to realize that I have a tangible reason for being glad my life didn’t go according to plan. Had I followed my plan, I would have probably been a mediocre scientist. Because I followed the opportunities the Lord placed in front of me, however, I have helped inspire some truly incredible people to become scientists. I am certain that they will eventually produce more scientific advancements than I ever could have.

I guess what I am saying is that if the Lord puts opportunities in your path that require you to change or abandon the plans you have made, you should take those opportunities. His plans are better than yours!

13 thoughts on “Reflections on a Life That Didn’t Go According to Plan”

  1. What a great testimony! I have thanked God for you writing all the science books you have written. I have expressed to you before how great they are for my children and myself. It is so good for us to follow God’s prompting -His plans serve a far greater purpose than ours do.


  2. Great post… Very honest and sincere reflection. I feel perhaps this sentiment is shared by many parents who abandon all consuming pursuits in order to focus on raising their children. If they embrace your attitude they will live rich fulfilled lives… if they look back in regret, they will sadly grow bitter.

  3. This is so beautifully put, Dr. Wile. I know I have to consciously fight against my natural individualism or end up butting heads with God’s will. Yes, he has plans for me, but usually not by having me stand out from the crowd in some spectacular way.
    Instead, God thinks far more organically about my relationship with others. I wouldn’t be surprised if our military personnel have an easier time with how this works out than most of our society.
    My own journey has been similar in that my calling has mostly moved behind the scenes as an editor helping others get their kingdom messages polished instead of producing much myself. But once you’re OK with only being ‘famous’ with those who are the public-facing movers and shakers, it’s all good. In many ways, it’s more satisfying because the results can continue on long after I stop producing directly.
    God bless!

  4. Dear Dr. Wile,

    I really appreciate your site and your support for the homeschool community. Do you have any suggestions for curriculum that deal specifically with Dinosaurs for elementary grades (specifically 3rd-5th grade). I have searched some but have not been very excited to see a robust curriculum about the actual scientific data without the inflated/secular dates.

  5. I love this story Dr. Wile. As I read through it I couldn’t help but reflect on my own life. It didn’t go anything like I had planned either. But now in my 60s, nearing a second retirement with the National Park Service, I look back and marvel at the plan God had for me. The path woven by experiences, small decisions here and there, really big decisions like the lady I chose to spend my life with, encounters with amazing people, having children, now raising our grandson, and staying true to my Lord through all of it allows me to look back with zero regrets. A journey on God’s path, paved with grace. I’m on the home stretch now and by God’s grace I’ll slide into the grave shouting, “Man, what a ride!”
    As a homeschooling father and now grandfather (we teach our 10-year old grandson), I can’t thank God enough for the path that took you into writing homeschool science text books. Stumbling across them four years ago and passing the knowledge onto my daughter to use in her homeschool was the best thing we ever did. We will be going into your 5th book, Science in the Age of Reason, this year as he enters 6th grade. Blessings to you and keep running the race.

  6. Thank you, Dr. Wyle, for being obedient to God! All four of my children were homeschooled with your wonderful curricula, and they were profoundly affected by the joy for God’s creation and ease of understanding in which each concept is presented. I thoroughly enjoyed them, too! Two of my sons are electrical engineers, my youngest is still in college studying cyber security. My daughter loved your biology courses and is an autism therapist. It’s amazing what God can do when we submit to His plans. Blessings!

  7. Dr. Wile,
    I told you this once in person after one of your Homeschool Convention Q&A sessions (as in Ask Dr. Wile Any Question), but it bears repeating: You have a real, God-given talent for being able to communicate complex ideas in a way that’s easy to follow and easy to understand. Whether or not you would’ve made a mediocre scientist, I can tell you (from years of listening to you and reading your blog) that you have an exceptional, exceptional gift for teaching, for explaning, and for communicating. And invariably your talks are always the BEST talks at the convention.

    Thanks for doing what you do!

  8. Dr. Jay, important discoveries are being made every day because you inspired millions of kids to pursue science. In a way, their discoveries are yours. A generation of young scientists are standing on your shoulders:
    And for myself, thank you for inspiring me, for renewing my interest in science, creationism, homeschooling, and childlike inquiry. I’m looking forward to teaching your textbooks to my daughter one day.

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