Twenty years ago at this time, I was returning home from my first year of college as an utter failure. My plans to do a summer work-volunteer program and live in one of the “fun” houses on my Liberal Arts college campus, occasionally open-air camping with my housemates in “the Meadows” and probably experimenting with recreational drugs, never came to fruition. Technically speaking, I flunked out. All of those years of “Academically Gifted” programs, going to Duke’s TIP Summer Writing Workshop and being one of the select few 8th graders to take the SATs, way too many Advanced and AP high school classes, and hours of extracurricular time at school with theatre, Key Club, French Club, and Marching Band ended up doing…nothing. If I had a dollar every time I heard my dad say “you just don’t apply yourself” then I wouldn’t need a job at all. (Technically yes I would, because the market volatility of 2008 would have dashed my savings anyway, plus health insurance.)
Why did I burnout? Did I go too hard, too fast? Was it because I decided not to go to the uber-competitive high school in Raleigh and took the “out” when my parents bought a house in the suburbs? Did the bullying I faced (admittedly caused by my own actions) throughout my 8th grade year scar me for life? Nope. The answer is simple: I didn’t apply myself. I got lazy. I thought I was too smart for college. I wasn’t even a partier, I just stayed up too late listening to my hippie roommate sing with her band. It was some real kumbaya shit in my dorm. Seriously, not much has changed:
So I came home, tail between my legs, and started working. I became a lifeguard and a certified water safety and swim instructor. I taught swimming and canoeing at a day camp, often working the 4-hour 5AM shift at the pool before heading to camp, or working the early camp shift and then working 6-10PM in retail. By my estimates, I averaged about 70 hours a week for 2 summers. Between camp, I got my Early Childcare credentials and worked at a daycare, I taught private swim lessons, and eventually spent a summer as the Camp’s Director. I was 21 years old, getting my first experience in real leadership. I hired and trained a staff, gave evaluations, was responsible for the safety of 60+ children in an outdoor, wilderness-setting State Park every day. I had to worry about snakes, spiders, drowning, fighting, broken bones (or true story, broken teeth), field trips, and hydration (outdoor camp in NC is no joke). Thank God I didn’t have to worry about electronics.
When camp was over, I was asked to be the full-time assistant manager at the small private gift store I had been working in. Shortly thereafter, our Manager moved on and I was promoted. Once again, 23 years old, put in a position of responsibility. I would never think to label myself a “leader”, but over and over this is where I seem to fall. If you look at my work history, you can tell I’m definitely not a Millennial: 6 years at this location (3 promotions), 5 years here (promoted to Store Manager), 5.5 years here (3 promotions), and my shortest stint was 2 years in a miserable job where I despised my manager, yet still managed to become the team lead. Through all of that, I never thought to go back to school. I worked hard, and retail management jobs pay well. I took a pay cut to move to the financial industry and start fresh, but it was worth it for those bankers’ hours. (Actually, if I were just a single person with no kids, I would love to have retail hours again. I have always been a night owl, and I still hate waking up any time before 8AM.)
What changed? I came to work for a new company, a tiny little firm where I was employee #4. Where there are big plans for the future. Where I was hired because of my ability to not just manage an office, but to eventually hire and train a team. I work every day around discussions of market volatility, exchange rates, alternative investments, exchange-traded funds, and keeping the fiduciary interests of clients at the top of our process. I started reading articles on the gentrification happening in the poorest neighborhoods of Raleigh (the ones my parents and grandparents lived in as kids), and then found other articles about how New York and other urban centers are addressing the issue of adequate low-cost housing during rising real estate markets. I started reading about how blockchain technology will change literally everything eventually, and about the emerging cryptocurrency market and possible paths to regulating it. Basically, I decided that I want to understand these things better than I can by reading about them. And I want to offer a more well-rounded individual to provide the specific skills my firm will need in ten years. Or if that doesn’t work, you know, maybe go work for the UN or IMF (they have an opening in Fiji, although if I’m going that far off the grid I’d probably rather have Montana or Colorado).
And so at the age of 36, with a one year old and a 1st grader, I enrolled in Community College…