Shelley Warrens search for the right life has taken her across America and through three different careers.
It has been exhilarating, exhausting, terrifying and wonderful.
And now, at 51, Warren said shes finally figured out what it is that makes her happy: a little boy to raise and work that fulfills her.
This is what shes learned: Even if everything seems wrong, if your gut is telling you something, follow your gut. People say it all the time, but you really need to take a chance.
Growing up, Warren saw her future in the legal field.
After graduating from Appalachian State University in 1983, she got a paralegal degree.
But a vacation to England turned into a two-year love affair with the country. After her documentation wasnt enough to keep her there, she was determined to return any way she could.
She got a job as a flight attendant with Piedmont Airlines, which had just started a service from Charlotte to London. It was her ticket to England and the rest of the United States and she stayed with the airline for 19 years.
It wasnt the perfect job, but her time off and freedom to travel kept her in the position. When you get to the airport, you just look around and say, Where do I want to go? she said. Youre so free.
But even the thrill of West Coast visits and new skylines faded. Her travels became a blur, and the job was physically demanding strange hours, long nights.
What can I do to help kids?
Warren married a pilot in the late 1990s, but a miscarriage left her reeling as her marriage fell apart.
Its just so sad. You have these high hopes, and this just happens, she said. Its a big, big, big loss. It got so hard that we split up.
Warren, who lives in South Charlotte, always wanted a family, but after the divorce, she was 40 and unsure of the future.
I thought, I might not have kids, so I thought, what can I do to help kids? she said. She reached out to the North Carolina Division of Social Services to get licensed for foster care.
Her busy schedule with the airline meant she was better suited for respite housing foster kids when foster parents need a break.
Months of interviews and paperwork were worth it when she got a call in June 2004 to take care of a little boy who was just a year and a half old.
She was scared. She had no experience. But things fell into place. She took off work and cared for him day and night, incessant screams and all.
When he left her home after 10 days, she knew things werent over quite yet.
I felt like I wasnt done, she said. A couple weeks later, they called me and asked me to be his foster mom. And I said yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.
People thought I was crazy
Warren went from single and free to being a mother overnight.
It was really, really life-changing, she said. But its the greatest thing thats ever happened to me. Hes done more for me than I could ever do for him.
When she was starting out doing foster care, Warren never thought she was going to adopt.
But she knew Cameron was hers the moment Social Services called.
I never gave it a second thought. He needed a mom, and that was it, she said.
It wasnt perfect. Cameron, whos now almost 10, cried all night long, every night, because he didnt know why he was there. He had bad respiratory problems. At first, Warrens family didnt get fully behind her decision.
People thought I was crazy, she said. But she took it all in stride, officially adopting Cameron in 2007.
Five years after she and her husband split up, they reconnected and remarried in 2006.
I thought, maybe this is the family we were meant to have, she said. But things crumbled again, and now the ex-husband is out of the picture.
Warren said she hates that Cameron doesnt have a father, but theyre making the best of it. We do Cub Scouts, and I go camping, and I help out. It works, she said. Help from Warrens sister and her husband are crucial, she said.
Motherhood is even bigger than she imagined. It blows you away because one day theyre a little baby, and the next day hes talking about something in the news you never knew he knew anything about, Warren said. The changes are usually so subtle, and then one thing really hits you.
Doing my two passions
Warren quit the airline in 2006. In 2008, her paralegal degree finally became useful.
With Cameron in kindergarten, she worked as her sisters assistant at a law firm for three years, but the 8-to-5 life wasnt for her. After a year there, I was, like, this is not for me, sitting in a cubicle, a cubby, looking at a computer all day long, she said.
For a year, things were chaotic. She went back to school part-time for esthetics, worked full-time, taught fitness classes at the YWCA and raised Cameron.
Finally, she began work at Ulta, a salon and beauty chain, in 2011. She does makeup, waxes, facials, nails and more. I absolutely love it, she said.
Now, she teaches fitness in the mornings water classes at the YWCA and classes at retirement communities and works at Ulta in the afternoon.
She loves the variety of each day, how unpredictable her tasks can be. All in all, shes helping people feel good and look good every day.
Im doing my two passions, at 51, she said. Finally.