As a young girl, I had never dreamed of going to college. No one in my family had graduated from college.
My dream was to become a fashion model. I was tall enough. Slim enough. Even cute enough to become a model. Those advertisements at the back of family magazines promoting modeling schools were my inspiration. The pictures were enticing and promised a potential career as a model to this naïve young girl.
My mother was not having it. She would not allow me to go away to a school thousands of miles away to learn how to pretend to be something that I was not. Her idea of what a girl’s life should be was to either get married and have children or to become a secretary so she can marry the boss and have children.
This young girl’s dreams were crushed and vanished.
Since I couldn’t become a model then I needed to take office administration classes in high school, which included typing. The teacher emphasized that to become a good secretary you had to type at least 35 words per minute. She said I would never become a secretary. I could only type 15 words per minute. Another crushed career.
I didn’t see the need to finish high school. Who needed a high school diploma when it only lands you a secretarial job!
At 18 years old and a high school dropout, finding and keeping a job was harder than I thought. My first job was at a collection agency. I had to call customers and demand payment of their past due bills or else we would send law enforcement to take them to jail.
We never sent anyone to jail, but the threats were real. I lasted three months in that job. I couldn’t take the stress.
The next job was at a dry cleaner. It was a grueling one-week job in the steamer room. There was no air conditioning, only large industrial fans blowing hot air to cool off the clothing, not the workers. The owner refused to pay me for the week’s work. So, I wrote a letter to him pretending to be from the Department of Labor demanding payment of wages or his business would be shut down. It was the early 1970s, he was an immigrant, and there was no way to verify the validity of the letter. It worked, and I got paid.
I worked as a security alarm salesperson. Never sold one. Asked to leave after one week. Tried my hand as a receptionist for a dental office. Without proper training or skills on greeting patients, that job lasted only a few days.
After that, I applied to various jobs in city government, large scale businesses, and utility companies. They all asked for a high school diploma. Reality hit me. I needed a high school diploma if I wanted a decent job.
Studying for the GED, General Education Diploma, was not as difficult as I thought. It took me a good month and a half to read, review, and practice what I had learned in the four-hundred-page book. I was ready for the test.
It was an all-day test. That morning, I borrowed my sister’s car and drove to the testing center. On the way there I almost had an accident with a fire truck.
Being a new driver, I didn’t know that when an emergency vehicle is blasting its horn and sirens behind you, and speeding like a fast-moving locomotive, you should pull over to the right shoulder. My instinct was to just slow down and let the truck pass. The driver honked the horn so many times that people in the next town could have heard it. Being nervous about passing the GED test, and now what to do with a high-speed fire truck on my tail, I pressed on the brakes.
Coming to a dead stop, in the middle of the road, was not a good idea. Fortunately, there were no other vehicles on this two-lane road and the fireman swerved the truck to the left and went around me. Blaring his horn as he passed. I could feel the heat of his stare.
The truck passed me without incident, and I passed the GED test still trembling from the thought of not passing and possible collision with a fire truck.
With GED in hand, I applied for a job at the phone company as a telephone operator. I got the job. The job was tedious but paid well. While there I had a boss, who was the worst kind of person ever to work for. She was petty and vindictive. She hovered over me and pointed out every little fault. Her presence created negativity and fear among everyone in the central office. When she was off for the day, the place was cheerful and productive. But when she came back to work, the joy was sucked out and replaced with dread.
That job prepared me for life. I knew that if I ever became a manager, I would not behave like her. And that is something that I have never done in my capacity as a leader or team member.
After three years at the phone company, I decided I wanted to become a manager, but I needed to get a college degree. At that time no one in my family had graduated from college. There was no role model for me to look to. I needed to become my own role model.
Once I decided on a major, and my GED was accepted as high school equivalency, a college degree was my goal. Three and half years later I received my bachelor’s degree in business specializing in Accounting. It was a great day. Both of my parents were there to witness this milestone.
I became the first person in my family to receive a college degree. Soon afterwards, many more family members enrolled and graduated from college. Some with master’s degrees and doctorates.
Currently, I have a master’s in education, have traveled the world, and have lived a life that my mother never dreamed of. If you continue to dream and not let others define you, then you can do whatever you aspire to do.
Don’t stop believing in yourself. Education is essential.