Posted in Life

Start From Where You Are

We’ve all had it happen a time or two. For whatever reason, life just comes tumbling down. Everything we’ve built, or have been trying to build, is suddenly in splintered pieces around us, and we are left with nothing.

It could be anything that put us there. Job loss. Divorce. Bankruptcy. A string of bad decisions that have finally caught up with us. Backstabbing friends who screwed us over. Or we could have just been blindsided by tragedy. But, now one morning, we wake up and find that the life we have been trying to build is gone. And in its place are emptiness and heartbreak.

How do you respond to this? This is the life lesson I have been learning. I have found the answer to be—start from where you are. You can wallow in regret, and live in denial at where you should be. You can rail and curse your wicked lot and everyone whom you feel is responsible. You can tend the weeds of regret, anger and bitterness until they grow like a ragged garden in your heart. You can roll over and give up.  Or you can take the higher road. You can face what has happened and say, “Well, this is where I am right now. For better or for worse.”

So, you have an MFA, and after years of disappointing interviews, finally got a job…at Forever 21. You can call yourself a failure and let the hours behind the counter erode your self-esteem and drain the light from your eyes. Or you can tell yourself, “It may not the right job, but it’s the job for right now.” Start from where you are.

Work at Forever 21 with integrity, faithfulness and humility just as you would an executive job. And then…watch the doors slowly start to creep open. They will, as long as you don’t drop anchor. Money follows money, movement follows movement. Sometimes getting off Craigslist, and off our basement couch is just the movement we need, to create the movement we want. Keep trying. Keep moving. Money and opportunity will soon follow. But you have to start from where you are.

So, he’s a punk and left you with three little kids so that he can be a rockstar. What are you going to do about it? You can let yourself be so consumed with what he isn’t, and let him take more of you with each passing day. You can becry what you weren’t, blame yourself, and die inside, leaving the kids to raise themselves. You can rogue your lips and swish your hips oh-so-desperately to get him back. Or you stand up say, “Okay. This is where I am. What can I do about it?” Start from where you are.

So, you can’t be a stay-at-home mom anymore. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep moving. It will get better. I promise. But you can’t die here. Not now. Your family needs you. You need you. And you deserve better. On the other side of this, you will find that you are an empowered woman, capable of so much more than he ever realized. More than you ever realized. And when that time comes, and he comes crawling back to you on his belly, you will hold the cards…not he. But you have to start from where you are.

When we are young and starting out in life, we somehow believe that life is a straight shot from graduation to success and happiness. Life teaches us otherwise. How we respond to it determines our character and our destiny. Start from where you are. Sometimes that’s all you can do.

Posted in Life

On Education Part 2: The Value of Community College

Today at work, I got into a conversation with a young woman who was vacillating on her education. Her current position paid little more than minimum wage, but she wasn’t concrete on any future plans. “I want to go to college, but I just…don’t know what I want to do.”

Well, you know what they say, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making grand plans for it.” So, I suggested the local community college. We have an excellent system in our area, so I extolled the virtues of it to her.

We all know the common benefits: It’s cheaper. Lots cheaper. You can live at home. You can keep any job and wage that you may already have. The classes are smaller. Blah. Blah. Blah.

I did community college for a short time, and I had a great experience. It’s not right for everyone, but here are a few advantages to community colleges that not many people know.

Teacher Quality

Many professionals will make extra money by teaching a course or two at the community college. All you need is a Master’s degree or equivalent experience in the field you are teaching. After all, if you’ve been in your field a while, why not make a little extra money by going down to the college and talking about what you do for three hours a week? That’s a few hundred extra dollars for you, and you can pat yourself on the back for investing in the next generation.

I had a journalism instructor that was a copy editor at one of the largest newspapers in Texas. It was an intro course, and he just taught the one class and worked at the newspaper the rest of the time. His experience was much more current and relevant than say, an ex-reporter that had been teaching at a university for the last decade. When I transferred to a university and took the next course in that series, I actually knew more than the students who had taken the intro course at the university.

Sometimes, if a university instructor is not under contract, they will teach summer courses at the community college. I got a lot of instructors that were current or former instructors at the local universities. Some of them would even insist on using the same textbooks because it was easier for them to keep the material straight. If they were doing that, they thought, then why not use the same tests and assignments? Basically, it was a university quality course, at a community college price.

The GPA Booster Trick

 This is a little known fact that university students work to their advantage. Your community college grades do not transfer to a university. Only the credits. So, say you are a student at maybe, the University of Texas, and you come home for the summer. You know you are horrible at math, but your degree plan calls for one course. So, you take it at the community college. As long as you get at least a “C,” the university will accept the credit, and not calculate the grade into your GPA.

For some people, the general education classes are the hardest. Their major courses are easier because it’s something they are passionate about, or have a natural affinity toward. Getting those gen-eds out of the way at community college can be a smart trick for a higher GPA on your resume when you graduate.

 The Sophomore Advantage.

This is a bit more of a traditional reason, but I will mention it anyway. Most universities only  consider high school records for freshman. Once you have completed thirty hours of college work (one full-time year), your high school records, test scores, etc. are usually irrelevant. This means, if they weren’t that hot to begin with, taking thirty hours of college work erases all of that. You start over. That is the sophomore advantage.

However, the danger with community college, is that it can be so accessible, and so available that many people ultimately don’t use it. They talk about it. They think about it. They plan to do it. But they put it off or take it slow until they turn around and realize they have pretty much missed the boat on college. If you’re going to go, then go. Yesterday is a memory, and tomorrow is not guaranteed. You only have today. Make the best of it.

Posted in Life

On Education Part 1: To College or Not to College

In the last half decade or so, I’ve  worked with quite a few young adults. With this group, the question will inevitably arise: To college or not to college? This is a fundamental question for life in the first world and people have hard set opinions on this issue.

Now, as the latest batch of seniors wraps up their applications, I offer my humble opinion. I did the whole traditional college thing—an out-of-state private university, complete with dorms, roommates, tiered lecture halls and bad cafeteria food. I also spent some time in community college, and then joined a ministry movement filled with vocationally fulfilled young adults, most of whom didn’t go at all. (One such leader commented, “My opinion—people who go to college usually end up working for those who didn’t.” Hmmm…I found him a bit snotty).

But, after all of this, I think I have a pretty rounded view on what college is and isn’t.

To understand what college can or can’t do for you, you have to understand why it was created. In the Middle Ages, there was a discovery and of long-lost Greek and Roman artifacts and writings. (I would like to say it was also the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, but don’t quote me on that).

The young people of the day wanted to know about these things, but only learned scholars could interpret them. So, the rich young people would rent out community centers and hire the scholars to teach them about these artifacts and how to read and interpret these writings. Eventually, they organized and created entire schools around these meetings. By and large, this is the model we currently have for university training today…young adults pay older, wiser people to teach them the secrets of the world.

But, only a certain kind of people are actually interested in learning the liberal arts—science, literature, philosophy, mathematics, history, etc. So, to keep the students enrolling and the money coming in, the powers that be, in their infinite wisdom, have mixed this classical learning with vocational training.

Now, students spend half of their time learning the secrets of the world, and the other half being trained for a career—in which, classroom training may or may not be the best way to learn that career. But, vocational training is still what we use to market these universities. When the marketing comes up short, well, we have disgruntled graduates who flood the job market with student loans and useless diplomas.

On the other hand, college can be extremely valuable if you take it for what it is. It is a place to learn, explore your identity and grow into your adulthood. It is a place where you will be exposed to a lot of new ideas that you may not have gotten in your home circle. (Is it so bad to be taught the enduring secrets of the world?)

College is a place where you can how to learn, how to think critically and how to evaluate life and the world you will taking on. It is a place where you will be challenged and learn self-discipline. For me, college opened my world in a way I would have never been able to. In the end, I had to learn to just be grateful for that, and not get caught up on the diploma and marketing ploy.

My advice to graduating seniors: Diplomas don’t guarantee success, people do. A college education won’t necessarily make you rich, but it will open up your world. What you do with that, will determine your success.