Come Hell or Highwater: Part One

Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Human Resource Management.

That is the degree that was officially posted last Friday afternoon.

There is little more in my life (other than the people in it) that I feel so proud of, or secure in. I always knew I would go to college, there was never a question about it…but once the time came…getting through it was another story.

The following is that story. The honest truth about where it began, and where it’s taken me. Quite a bit of it would seem on the surface to be mistakes made; but looking back, even now…I can’t think of a single thing about the process that I would change. Each slip was a learning experience. Most of them I didn’t learn from the first (or second) time…and maybe I am still learning from much of it. That’s ok. Even with a thousand mistakes, I have more at this moment in my life than most people in the world will ever dream of.

The New York Times estimates that only 30% of Americans have a Bachelor’s degree, and the Huffington Post estimates that this number drops drastically, to only 6.7%, when they look at the world population with a Bachelor’s degree. There are many issues, questions, and concerns in our country surrounding higher education, and there are many people who have never desired, or never will, attend college…and that’s ok. My hope in sharing my story is not to solve any political, social or cultural issues surrounding higher education, or to convince anyone who has no desire to attend college to sign up. My hope is to share my side of the struggles, joy, failures, mistakes, and eventually overwhelming pride that surrounds my own non-traditional college experience, and to hopefully show anyone who may be on the fence about starting their own non-traditional route that if I can do it…you can too.

There is no “right way” or “perfect time” to begin the journey to a higher education. There is certainly a time that may be “easier”, and that is part of what I learned…but…if that time has passed for you, the right time is now. In fact, the right time was probably yesterday.

I graduated from high school in 2001, Magna Cum Laude. I’m not exactly sure how that happened…because I always felt like I aimed for the bare minimum, and not much more. There were very few things about high school that I enjoyed, to be honest. I was not the girl I am today, that is for sure. I was negative, judgmental, and didn’t really like to work all that hard. I expected an easy ride in life, and when that didn’t always come…I got angry. I was angry, a lot. I honestly have no idea where this came from, my attitude that is. Looking back today, I still cannot pinpoint it. I graduated though, and was happy to get out.

At that point, I had been accepted to a state college on the other side of South Dakota. I had a schedule, a meal plan…even a roommate.

That all changed when I met a boy, decided that a person I hardly knew was worth more than what I’d planned for my life, and decided to stay in my home town. I took a semester off, moved into my own place, started a full-time job as a teller, and then began my inchworm progress towards a college degree. I had no idea what I wanted to do, or how I would get there. I was completely unprepared for the choices I was making in my life. I was a child playing grown-up…and accepting no guidance or advice.

I started out thinking I wanted to be an English teacher. English, language, and writing were the only things I really enjoyed in high school, so it seemed a logical choice to me. Living on my own, working full time, and thinking I knew everything took its toll. I soon realized that I needed to bring in more money to pay all the bills. I changed my major to a 2 year nursing degree and continued taking general education requirements, part time.

Even though my parents had always said that if I knew I would go to college, doing so the traditional way would be the easiest and least expensive in the long run, I chose not to. Looking back, there is a part of me that wonders what sort of experiences I missed when I decided to not go the traditional route, but then…I wouldn’t give anything up in my life to go back. I think you will always wonder what a different path may have led to, it’s normal.

During this time, around 2002-2003, I was working as a lifeguard at the YMCA. I would open the pool up at 4:45a.m., work until about 11:00, go to school, and then go back to work until 7:00 or so. The days were long, the mornings early. I wasn’t giving much to my school work, although I was doing well. It was during the time I was about to test for acceptance into nursing school that I realized…I had absolutely no interest in nursing. I also had no idea what I did have any interest in. So, I continued to take general education credits, which I needed regardless of my major.

Over the next few years, I was married, had the Bean, and was so near to finishing school that I could taste it. By January 2006, I had declared a major in business, and was taking a full load of human resource electives, as the emphasis of my business degree. I had dropped my hours at work down to part time, to make time to be a full time mother, student, commuter, (campus was an hour each way) wife, and still get some sleep at night. In December of 2006, I realized I had two semesters left if I continued to go full-time; Spring and Summer of 2007. I was so happy to be able to see the end.

By January, I was in full swing again with school, but it was mid-January when I realized something wasn’t right at home. I couldn’t put my finger on it, and whenever I brought it up…I was told that I was just over-stressed and tired. Nothing was wrong.

It became obvious that I was being lied to, daily, maybe hourly even. I had a one-year-old baby, a part time job that did not pay well, a full college schedule and a home life that, by March, had completely fallen apart. At that point, there was only one thing I thought I could do. Looking back, there were probably a lot of options, I have an amazing family that would have taken me in in a second,  but I chose to drop my major, and receive an associates degree for the credits I’d already taken. I had something at least. I found full-time work that somewhat paid the bills.

By July I was divorced, and I began (very poorly) the healing process. For the next year and a half, the idea of going back to school was always in the back of my mind, but at that point…I honestly didn’t think it was something I could ever possibly do on my own. I did not deal well with any part of that year and a half. I still thought, as I did in high school, that things should be easy, that I deserved something better, that I had a right to do what I wanted, when I wanted, and with no consequences. I made poor choices that in no way allowed me to heal, or grow as a person, a woman, or a mother.

I had a dead end job, zero self confidence, and student loans coming due from a degree I never attained. I had no idea who I was, nor any direction for my life. I was a “yes” woman, having no opinion of my own…only making choices based on what I perceived others wanted. I had allowed my identity to be defined by other people and who they wanted me to be, and then allowed that identity to be stripped away when those people no longer had use for me. The only love I had in my life was that for the Bean, and I wasn’t even expressing that very well. I had no energy, no drive, no passion, no pulse.

In January of 2009, I was at a tipping point, a point at which the momentum of my choices was either going to ruin me, or push me toward change.

It was at that point when a small voice in my head began to whisper, “You can’t do this, Jamie. You’re not going to make it. You’re just not strong enough.”

2 Comments to “Come Hell or Highwater: Part One”

  1. I got to the end of this post and thought, “that’s how it ends?!” Then I realized that this is just part one. You’ve been through a lot to earn your degree. No matter the path, it takes a lot of dedication, which you clearly have. Can’t wait to read part two.*

  2. Such a journey! You’ve really given it your all, my friend! Can’t wait for part two! 🙂

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