Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Square One

13 August 2010 (Unfinished)

Well, here we are again. I'm making another run at finishing my education.

For the record, the primary reason I'm doing this isn't for the betterment of my self, my family, or my career. I'm doing this because, year after year, I stubbornly put something related to a degree in my annual objectives at work. And, year after year, I fail to meet that particular objective. I've now run out of viable excuses that will hold off the suspicions of not taking my job seriously enough for Salt Mine, Inc. to keep investing my annual salary. It's time to move.

Of course (for the record), I know the potential benefits of betterment for my self, family, career, etc. Sort of. I know them the way I know the contents of a book for which I've read summaries, or seen a movie version, or read the dust jacket over and over. I know what the book is about, who the main characters are, the plot, etc, but I still can't say I've read the book, and I'm missing all the intricacies and details which are truly essential to understanding it. It's the same with the benefits of finishing my degree. I don't really know them because, well, I haven't taken this step yet.

Not that I haven't tried. At the age when I was supposed to be finishing school, I was foolishly trying to work full time also, mostly because I had no idea how financial aid was supposed to work and neither did my parents. Bless them, they gave me the benefit of the doubt that I knew what I was supposed to be doing. And why shouldn't I? I'd just graduated from a prestigious college-prep boarding school. Also, I was tough, a real man finally stepping into the world. Unfinished, yes, but ready to grow and accept my role in life, whatever it may be, however unprepared I was for it.

The truth is that I had a wondrous ruse set up around myself. I was building/living the life I thought I was supposed to have at that point, not knowing the first step in how to get there for real. While most of my friends were off at some university (all but one person in my graduating class went to college right away, and that one guy had a law degree and had built and sold at least one financial firm in NYC by our ten year reunion), I believed I was experiencing 'real life' at 'ground level.' I considered most of my high school classmates pretentious, and wanted no part in how they saw the world. And though I fantasized about driving fancy cars and being able to buy expensive electronic things, those were really just fantasies, the way people imagine maybe they'll win the lottery one day. In truth, I didn't have any real interest in rising above the means and lifestyle to which I became accustomed in my parents' house. I was settled on a long, solid middle-class, blue collar life.

Maybe that's true. It's what I think being honest with myself means now. Another part of being honest with myself is saying that I was absolutely scared to death to step outside that box. Forget not knowing how to do it, I had no idea what was beyond those finite borders except a swirling vortex I wouldn't recognize and couldn't navigate. I knew other people had more things, went more places, spent more money, smiled and laughed more often... but I didn't know why, and I certainly didn't ascribe any of these things to their life experiences or education or income. The real truth is I was solidly, staunchly ignorant of what an adult life entailed. It's embarrassing to think it in such plain terms now.

And then, life happened to me. Between working 40 hours a week, and carrying 12 credit hours, I eventually was kicked out of the College of Engineering because I couldn't hold the minimum GPA and couldn't pass Calculus II. But I still had that 40 hour/week job, and I was in a relationship with an awesome girl who really had her life together, and I supposed that maybe I just needed to take a break. A tiny voice inside me told me then that if I stopped enrolling, semester after failing semester, I'd never go back. It was mostly right.

I know now that maybe the years following my academic charlie foxtrot were necessary to get myself together. At that point in my life, I'd spent all my 20 years building an impenetrable wall around myself. I grew up in an addictive home, watching my mother be emotionally and sometimes physically abused, and watching my father exist as a functional drunk. Our house was a terrible, dysfunctional drama made rich with beautiful hints of the real people my parents were under their codependent and addictive personalities. Needless to day, even in my twenties, I had a lot of emotional growing up to do. It didn't help that I tried doing it as a married man. But thanks to so many, many people and things, I started to uncover the festering state of my emotions, I started healing. I started to see that, not only could I really become the man I imagined I'd be, or that I could start to make real choices along the way, but that I could exceed my own expectations. That I should exceed them.

I gave myself permission to be happy and successful. It's a journey I'm still on, and a struggle I still put myself through, but I wonder what my life would be like if I'd been stubborn (or smart) enough to finish school way back then, get my Bachelor's degree and a good job, get married and have a family, and all the rest without actually discovering and starting to solve my emotional problems. Would I be having this same conversation with myself, but from the other side of the table? I will never know. Another very important lesson I have learned throughout this process is that I only get one chance at every day, and when it's gone, or when 100 or 1000 of them are gone, they're gone for good.

But now, here I am, back at square one, responsible for educating myself in order to fulfill a promise I should have made to myself twenty years ago. That promise wouldn't involve any wives or children or career plans, but if kept would more than satisfy any new responsibilities I may have to the aforementioned. This new attempt, forced upon me by my self-inflicted job objectives, will be my third and smallest attempt. I am not looking at degree programs or minimum requirements or planning graduation dates, I'm just looking for a math class.

That's right, a community college math class to not only get my feet wet but refresh so many of the skills I'll need to pass technical and science-y courses required for the eventually planned degree degree and graduation. It's appalling to me that I'm really no different than any of my graduate-degree holding coworkers in that I've forgotten how to take derivatives and integrate the area under a curve, but unlike them I'll be asked to re-learn these skills and re-prove proficiency. And that's just the math. Once this baby step is taken, I need to begin again at the point where my previous two attempts left off.

So I've started this process of learning how to get back into school. I'm looking at course catalogs and tuition and fee schedules. I'm reading up on financial aid. I have to contact my old institutions to get transcripts, work with my company on reimbursement, and make appointments with counselors. Most of this will have to be done on my own time. I don't even have time to cut the grass each week.

Not only is this process arduous and inconvenient, it's scary as hell. I'm finding the more I understand needs to be done, the more terrified I become. And it's humbling. The thought that I, at this age, not only have to go through this crap, but am having difficulty understanding it, is making me way less than happy. As I look at each website and print out papers and forms, I find myself hiding them from view because I don't really want people to know what I'm doing, let alone ask questions. I know this is for my betterment, etc., but so far this is proving to be one of the most difficult things I may have to do this year.

No comments:

Post a Comment