Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What is the most crucial thing I've learned?

David at authorblog's Weekend Wandering question this week is:

"What's the most crucial thing you've ever learnt?"

If you would like to post on this subject, please link to David at authorblog or to the Weekend Wandering post this week so that he can track responses. Thank you.

I spent my twenties feeling as though I wasn't good enough. Instead of following my friends into college (I had no money and no family support, didn't understand that I could have gotten loans, etc.), I got married. My high school sweetheart and I got married the week after he graduated from USMC boot camp. We were just 20 years old. I had my first child at age 21. I had my second and final child at age 25. I worked at minimum wage jobs until after my son was 6 months old. At that point, I got a job as an accounting clerk at a home health care agency. Between my job and my husband's job (by this point he was out of the service and working for a convenience store chain), my kids spent a good deal of time with other people. I hated that. I longed for a break in our harried, hassled lives.

We sort of lost everything except each other when we were in a terrible car accident in late 1989. Our only car was totaled, and we were stranded in Ohio. We had to make some very tough choices then. We spent a horrible holiday season living in my husband's stepfather's rental house (which we think was quite haunted). Our kids got very little for Christmas, but we were all safe and warm. I went to work at a forensic hospital (where they put the crazy criminals) on crutches as a temporary accounting clerk. Hubby went to work at the Honda factory 30 miles away. We had borrowed $400 from my mother to get a beater to drive. It took a while for us to pay her back, and I hated that. Life sucked, to put it bluntly. I went around feeling not good enough. I gradually lost touch with my friends from school, because they were now educated and doing well enough. I hated how I felt.

In 1990, by the skin of my teeth, I got a job back in North Carolina (where we had lived during my husband's tour with the USMC) as a computer operator on the Marine Corps base. That eventually led to a job traveling 100%, training users on the system. I was surrounded with people who were more educated and more experienced than me. Many of them were nurses or pharmacy techs or lab techs; it was a military medical information system we taught. We traveled to all of the bases to install, train, and support the system and its users.

More than one of my co-workers found out that I had no college degree and used that against me. I got paid a fraction of what they made. I was home only rarely to see my family, so my husband became a SAHD. It was a very rough time for me. I don't think my kids will ever know how rough.

Eventually, a few years later, I managed to worm my way back into a position with the company which was zero travel. I was elated! Still, I was getting paid a pittance compared to those with college degrees. I felt I would never be good enough. I kept working hard, though, I worked my way up into a job in the DC area doing product marketing for a tech company. I was making plenty of money, but inside, I knew I still wanted my degree.

So what did I do? In 2002, at age 40, when my daughter was about to turn 18, I signed up for classes through the University of Maryland online so that I could continue to work full-time and go to school full-time. Was it hard? YES. Was it worth it? UNDOUBTEDLY!!! I graduated from college last year a week before I turned 45, magna cum laude, a Communications major. And I have now been accepted into grad school at American University.

Of all of this education, what is the most crucial thing I learned? I think it's two-fold, really. I learned that it is never too late to be who you wanted to be, and I learned that I am good enough to do and be whatever I want. I think we all are. We just have to believe in ourselves, set a goal, and focus on that goal.

Thanks, David, for a wonderful question to prompt my blog for the day. Peace - D


Don Mills Diva said...

Wow - what an inspirational post! Congratulations on your graduation, you sound like a remarkable woman.

Suldog said...

Congratulations! Magna Cum Laude? Excellent!

I returned to school at a later age, too. I graduated high school in 1974, at 17. No college. I was going to be a rock star. I bummed around in bands until I was 31, then went to broadcasting school. All of my classmates were 18 and 19. I was the class valedictorian (I should have been ashamed if I wasn't!) and now I work doing voice-overs and commercial production. So, I know the feeling. Good for you!

What is your ultimate goal?

Not Afraid to Use It said...

What a phenomenal post D!! I feel like I learned so much about you! You DEF have every right to feel proud of yourself.

I may have to participate in this over at my site.

You story reminds me of my favorite Gramma. She did not finish high school, but went to work as most girls her age did. Turns out it always bothered her that she never finished, and when her youngest child was in high school, she decided that she wanted to be able to graduate as well. So, she went to night school, and on the same weekend that her youngest son graduated high school, so did she. I have some of her report cards and her graduation program. It makes me tear up just to think about it. Everyone told her there was just no point in her going to school. She had a good job as a receptionist and what else did she need? Though she would never say it in these terms, I think she did it as a big fuck you to everybody. She did it because SHE wanted it, and society be damned.

Akelamalu said...

You should be so proud of yourself, you are an inspiration!

Momma said...

DMD - I'm so happy that you enjoyed my post! Sometimes I have to remind myself that I really did it. I survived and thrived.

Suldog - Wow! Valedictorian! Congratulations! My ultimate goal is to have my MFA in Creative Writing, to be able to teach at the college level, and to publish more books.

NATUI - I would love to read your response to this question. Your grandma sounds like my mom. One of my mom's biggest regrets was that she didn't finish high school. I encouraged her to go back, but she was embarrassed. She had to drop out in the 9th grade because of severe asthma (for which there was no treatment back then). She simply couldn't take riding in an open school bus down dusty dirt roads every day. Good for your grandma for really doing it!

Akela - Thanks! I love having new readers :-)

Peace - D

Coal Miner's Granddaughter said...

Grrr, it just drives me nuts that some college-educated people look down their noses at those who aren't. That's so not cool and makes the rest of us look bad! :-(

Glad you persevered, hon, and finished that degree! Someday, I'll go back and fulfill the promise I made to my Dad - I'll get my Masters.

Coal Miner's Granddaughter said...

OK, I hate it when college-educated people look down their noses at those who aren't. It's not cool. I'm glad you stuck with it, hon! Someday, I'll go back and get my Masters - a promise I made to my Dad before his death.

CrazyCath said...

That is inspirational. I went to uni late in life too - I graduated age 30 with my BA (Hons) and I learned that lesson too.

Looks like we're kindred spirits in the doctoring photo dept - yours of David is very like the one I did! Great minds and all that -(we are definitely not fools with degrees!)

Great post.

Momma said...

Aw, thanks CMGD! Yeah, I hate that, too, and when I meet someone who has no degree, I always tell them, "It's not too late!" More people need to know that.

Cath - Honey, I stole your header from your post in response to David. :-) But I think you must already know that. I have no decent photo editing tools on my new machine, so rather than use something substandard, I figured I'd borrow from you. I like your style - Peace - D

aims said...

Inspirational indeed! What a strong mind you have - and definitely strong willpower!

I never finished university and some days I think - should I? But now time is ticking and I feel I must finish my book first.

Now - as you know I am new here - and did appreciate your wonderful and thoughtful comment over on mine. So now let me take some time and find out what books you have written.

How green does that make me? Very!
Well done girl!! Well done indeed!

btw - I'll be watching out for you know who...

San said...

You are dazzling and inspirational! That's what I call taking ownership of your life with a vengeance. That's what I call commitment and courage.


Jules said...

That was a really lovely post. Thank you for sharing.
I too took classes when I was older - actually I never quite stopped taking them. And I've been doing them for years. I think learning is fun. Exams are not, though, but learning is.
Good luck at grad school.

CrazyCath said...

Momma - that's no problem. You are welcome any time! I am not sure about it not being "substandard" though - my editing skills re photos etc are very basic. I just added a text box with David's name on it and inserted the two together in paint. Then saved and hoped for the best! (My usual style - crossed fingers). ;0)

Momma said...

aims - I enjoy reading your blog, as well, and thanks for visiting mine. I don't often reveal my "real" identity because of trolls and such on the blogs, but if you look for Pavlichek, there are only two books associated with me :-)

San - Thanks so much! It's good to know that something inspirational came of it all! LOL

jules - You know, I was surrounded by people both younger and older than me at my graduation. It truly is never too late.

Max-e said...

Well done Momma, that is fantastic. You are so right you are never to late to start.
I went to university three years after leaving school and got my Honours degree when I was 33. I still make it a pratice to attend at least one course a year or learn something new.
Yours is a very inspirational story.