Sometimes we shouldn’t be making decisions. I have always wondered why there are life changing decisions made in our youth when most of us are too immature to really make these decisions. Maybe I am only talking about myself. I was not mature enough as a teenager to make decisions that would impact my adult life. One instance is my schooling. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, I am a first generation American on my dad’s side and a 2nd generation American on my mom’s side. My family were poor immigrants who came to the United States because they believed they had a better future here.
My paternal grandfather was a barber by trade, so when he came to the U.S. he got his barber’s license and continued his vocation. He and my grandmother had eight children, so they did many things to help support the family. One thing they did was purchase a grocery store. My dad and a couple of his brothers ran the store. The store had competition from Kroger and A&P, so the family decided to sell the store for the cost of inventory and equipment. As my dad stated, “We didn’t make any money in this venture but a family of ten ate well for several years.” The family also moved to a small farm which is now a part of the suburbs of St. Louis. Their little farm was 12 acres, where they had a few chickens, pigs, a milk cow, and mule, and of course a large garden. My father only went to the 8th grade. He started high school, but had to quit to help support the family. His younger siblings were educated through high school, but no farther. They were entrepreneurs—they became business owners, mostly in the construction industry and became very successful.
My mom’s family was also not well educated. My grandfather did not believe that his daughters should attend high school. They were all hard working individuals. My mother became a bookkeeper, and after she married my dad, and he started his construction company, she became the office manager.
With this as the background of my family, there was no discussion of education or careers in my family. I was the youngest of three girls. We all were educated, and we graduated from high school at one of the best public schools in the state of Missouri. I didn’t like school. If the diagnosis were a possibility in the 50’s, I probably would have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. I couldn’t sit in a classroom and concentrate. I used to daydream out the window. I have no idea what I was thinking about, but I know I was not listening to what was going on in the classroom. I used to tell my children that when I was in school I watched the buffalo roam outside the window. My school was located next door to Grant’s Farm, which is a popular destination in St. Louis, that has President Ulysses Grant’s log cabin, and they have bison (not really buffalo) roaming the grounds. One time I came home from school with my report card, and I had a lot of C’s for grades. I really didn’t do much work to get these grades, in reality, I didn’t do any work! My mom saw my report card, and she said it was okay, because these were average grades and we are an average family! Ha! I still have to chuckle at that.
There were really no expectations of us when it came to our education. I think there was an unstated expectation that we would take secretarial courses in high school, graduate, work for our dad, meet some great guy at our little bitty church, get married, and stay home and raise babies. By my senior year in high school, I realized that was not what I wanted. I didn’t really know what I wanted, but I did know that I did not want to work for my dad. I walked into my high school counselor’s office, and told her that I wanted to go to college and community college would be a good place to start. My counselor told me that I was not college material, but I could try to apply and see what happened. I applied to the local community college, and I was accepted on academic probation. That meant I had to make good grades the first semester or they would kick me out. Well, that was easy—I just needed to crack a book every so often—if I could make C’s in high school without opening a text book, this should be easy! It was, and I was quickly removed from academic probation.
I do not understand why most of my life my decisions were made by what I didn’t want to do rather than what I wanted to do. Part of the reason is that I was never encouraged to have dreams—things that I would to love happen in my life. My life was reactionary, rather than purposeful.
I made new friends in college, and fortunately they were good “church” kids, so I never got in trouble or partied hardy, or anything like that. My friends were good students, and I worked a bit harder to do well, because I liked having a bit more independence. Not doing well in college would mean dropping out and working for my dad. That was not an option for me.
As my second year in college was going full steam, I realized I needed to figure what I was going to do for the last two years, where to apply, and what should be my major. I am really embarrassed to admit this, but I picked my future college and major by what would be the easiest. A couple of my friends were transferring to Southwest Missouri College (now Missouri State University). I checked out catalogs from the school, and I found out that if I majored in Sociology and minored in Psychology, the only hard course I would have to take would be Statistics which was required for my minor. There was no foreign language requirement, and the math requirement was low. I happily transferred to this college, and spent my last two years, having a wonderful time with my friends, and doing what was minimally required (in my opinion) to graduate with a Bachelors of Science in Sociology, with a minor in Psychology. I am sure I learned a lot, but don’t ask me today about it. I think I know more psychology than I do sociology. That is sad.
Next problem—what does one do when they have a college degree and no idea what to do with it. Back in the day there were no internships for students to work places that would require this education. There were academic advisors back then, but I do not remember one of them asking me what I wanted to do with my education when I graduated. I do have to say that I am proud that I took only four years to get my degree, and I proudly received my diploma, and my family was proud of me.
I married shortly after graduating college. I went to find a job, and I had no clue where and how to find one. This was 1970. I remember being asked if I was married or single. I was asked what my husband did for a living. I was asked when I planned to start a family. Yes, all those questions were legal back then.
I struggled over the years working. Then I started my family, and I stayed home when they were babies. When my youngest was 2 years old, I realized my marriage was falling apart and I needed to go back into the workforce. The easiest jobs for me to get were secretarial, because I had all the skills needed, and those were quick hire positions. The biggest problem is I hated being a secretary. I could type, file, answer phones, and pour coffee, but I found no satisfaction in the work. Seventeen years after graduating from college, I called a local college and told them that I needed to come back and get a different bachelor’s degree. The school said the they thought that since I had been working in business most of these years, that if I could pass the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test), they could put me into their MBA program. The rest is history. I have my MBA. For the first time, I started making my way rather than being reactionary. I wanted to go into Human Resources. The reason for that at first was reactionary. So many places I worked, the Human Resources person was absolutely no help to me as an employee. I told myself I could do a better job supporting the employment process from start to finish, and I could do better caring about both the company as a manager and the employees who worked everyday and needed to be helped and encouraged to be the best employee they could be. That gave me purpose.
I did not have the maturity at 19 years old to decide what I wanted to do in the future. I am sure there are 19 year olds who may know their direction, but on the whole most don’t.
I am grateful for 2nd chances. God has given me second chances in so many areas of my life. I retired as a Senior Human Resources Manager for a Fortune 100 company. I absolutely loved my chosen career. I love when on occasion I get a phone call from someone who wants me to consult with their company. I love being able to dip my toes back into HR for a short time.
My life is no longer reactionary. I have hopes and dreams, and I work toward them every single day. I am sure I must know something about sociology and psychology, but I do know and understand business, strategy, employee and management issues, and every single person who walks into the workplace is important and valuable.
Yes, I may have made some different decisions than I made at age 19, but in the end, God has moved me zig-zagged, to where I am today. I am grateful for all the experiences, and especially grateful for the wisdom I have acquired. Does that mean I am finally mature?