Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Working Mama Wednesday - Why I'm Grateful I Worked Through College

If I haven't already said, I worked full-time while in college.  After getting about 5 hours of sleep last night I found myself thinking about it on the drive to work this morning.  I graduated with my Bachelor's degree 3 years after I graduated from high school - at least a year earlier than most of my classmates.  Since I was usually a year younger than most people in my grade that means I ended up graduating from college when I was 20.  It was a lot of work.

I am SO grateful that's the way it went down.  There are obvious reasons:

  • I graduated & entered the job market when I was 20.
  • I paid for 1 less year of college.
  • When I did graduate I had enough practical work experience to land me a job that led to my current career AND paid really well for a new-college-grad starting salary (and, frankly, for most anyone's salary).  I mean - I was able to buy a house when I was 20 with my own money.
These are great reasons to have worked, full-time, through college but honestly they are not what I'm most grateful for now.  You see, working full-time through college taught mie SO much about life.  Looking back I suppose I didn't have to work full-time.  I went to a private university and my parents paid my tuition for the first 2 1/2 years (I paid the final semester).  They paid for mie to live in the dorms the first year and I lived at home the other two years.  I suppose I could have worked part time and made enough to get by.  I bought a new car in the beginning of my 2nd year of school and I suppose I could have not done that.  I could have taken out loans and lived on campus without a car.  I could have sold my car and bought another one that was more reliable but still used rather than buying a new one and lived at home.  I had enough of a safety net to fall back on at home and allow mie to take it a bit easier.  There was nothing requiring mie to do it all in 3 years.  

Except there was.  My parents instilled in mie a sense of personal responsibility.  Though I didn't have to and my parents didn't necessarily encourage it, I started working at 15 to help pay for my own things (including my first car and car insurance + a bit of spending money).  I wanted to help pay my own way - I didn't want to freeload on my parents forever.  (Not that living with your parents at 15 is freeloading). 

So when I turned 18 and had the chance to begin working full-time I took the chance.  I moved back in with my parents so I'd be closer to work a block away vs. 20 minutes from school.  I arranged my schedule so I had all of my classes on Tues & Thursday meaning I had to make the drive to school on those days and I worked during the day on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday and then either on Sunday or Thursday nights.  This allowed mie to go to church on Sunday mornings and maybe Sunday or Thursday night college group events (where my husband and I really started dating) but the rest of the time I was working, in class, or doing homework.  Literally, that's all I did.  

But in that I learned extremely valuable life lessons that come in really helpful today in the real world as a mom or a wife:
  • Pay now/play later or play now/pay later - it's your choice.  You will have to pay one way or the other.  While friends, classmates, and coworkers were out partying or doing whatever they did, I was working either on school or at work.  But now I see where there lives are - many are struggling to get by, still wondering when they're going to catch their big breaks.  Many are struggling to pay basic bills in low-paying jobs because they don't have the skills (or discipline) to do much more.  Obviously this is not everyone's story and many of them have had things face them that were out of control but the point is that you will either pay now with lots of work or later with lots of work.  This life was not meant to be easy.
  • I can do a lot more than most people think they can (but only for a time).  The ONLY reason I graduated in 3 years was because I felt I needed to with working full-time.  I didn't want to keep up that pace for a 4th year.  I came into college with a semester's credits behind mie due to AP classes/tests so after my 2nd year I realized I could take a heavy load including the summers and was able to finish a year early.  It took mega planning.  It took a lot of work.  I remember sitting for a week's vacation with my husband (then boyfriend) and his family doing nothing but writing papers.  Occasionally I took a break to take a sunset walk on the beach or eat a meal but for the most part I was taking care of a college class - actually 2 6 week summer classes in the course of a week.  
  • It's no one else's job to take care of my family.  Yes, there may come a time (and has) where we've needed brief support - like family or friends baby sitting my kiddos while I work hard on a paper.  Though we all need help from time to time I realize it is not everyone else's responsibility to pay my way or do my work.  It is my husband and my responsibility to provide for our family.  It is our responsibility to clean the house and do laundry.  To pay bills.  To teach our kids.  To cook dinner.  etc., etc.  So, when I do need to ask someone to help I do so humbly and respectfully, knowing they are providing a huge benefit to our family in helping not because it is their obligation but because they are gracious people who deserve my respect and appreciation.
So yes, I worked really hard in my late teens and early 20s and it has paid off financially.  I'm grateful for that but it's the practical lessons I learned from those experiences that really has given mie a leg-up on life.  

As I now sit facing 30-45 more days before I defend my dissertation, knowing it is not yet finished and therefore I need to work really hard daily on it, even though I have a more than full-time job and 3 kids, a husband, and a home to care for, I'm benefiting greatly from these lessons:

a) Pay now - Every day I have to make the conscious decision to work, work, work.  30-45 more days and I can play and celebrate and will truly be done with school, finally (with the exception of formalities).  This means I have to forgo watching my favorite shows that distract mie.  I can't sit at night after the kids go to bed and do my crafts or work on house projects that I want to complete or take a nice bubble bath.  If I work really hard now I can get this piece behind mie and I know the reward of being done instead of having this hang over my head will be worth it.
b) Do a lot more (but only for a time).  Until I'm finished writing & editing my dissertation I will likely be up until midnight or 1 every night getting it done, that's after a 10-12 hour work day and 3-6 hours total with the kids each day, and 1-2 hours of housework.  I'll be getting 4-5 hours of sleep a night.  I won't be able to get everything done and the upstairs playroom might not get cleaned for a while.  I know that I can do this.  I keep telling myself (literally) that I can do anything for 30 days.  I know I can.  And to that end its because I know the reward of being done will be worth it.
c) It's no one else's job.  Though I can leave some things undone for a while (like finishing painting the guest room or cleaning the carpets in my bedroom), I can't just let things go completely.  In the end my relationship and health of my kids and with my husband are much more important than finishing my degree - I have to spend at least some intentional time daily nurturing them.  I can't just not do laundry.  I can't not clean the kitchen.  It needs to be done.  However, it doesn't need to be done as meticulously as I would if I had nothing else to do.  And, it doesn't HAVE to be done by mie.  I can reach out humbly and ask for help.  I can ask my husband to pitch in to help in areas where I usually do something but could use his help.  Not only does it get things done that I couldn't do myself, it gives mie a chance to communicate my needs to others and build that part of our relationship better.  It also gives mie a chance to show sincere appreciation to those in my life who are willing to step in and help. It's made mie pay conscious attention to the things that need done, can be put off, and can be done by others.  It's made mie pay conscious attention to how I treat those I love in my life and how I'm showing them gratitude.

Basically, I'm more efficient with life.  I'm less-selfish.  I'm getting more important things done and forgetting about things that are more frivolous (like So You Think You Can Dance and cleaning the toilets - hehe - really my toilets are clean).  I'm learning I can make mistakes and ask for forgiveness when I do.  I'm actively prioritizing things and people in my life in the right order (see the previous mistakes sentence).  

If you're a parent of young kids like mie and wonder what will happen when your kids go to school and how you'll pay for it all and wanting to help them not work - just remember that working isn't all that bad necessarily.  Balancing some level of work with other things in life teaches our children responsibility that will truly benefit them as adults.  Though I won't be forcing my children to work full-time through school if they don't have to, I will be trying to make sure they are contributing to their financial situation if for no other reason than to learn self-responsibility and accountability for their actions, priorities, and behaviors. 

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