Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Next Level

It was already September of last year, Christmas was approaching, and the year had been full of setbacks and losses. I had been passed up twice for promotion, and it was apparent to me that my life was at a standstill. I felt like I was losing ground staying where I was, and was extremely restless and discontented. . I needed some time to reflect on where I was, where I had been and where I wanted to go. I remembered one of my favorite authors, John C. Maxwell, made the statement, "The road to the next level is always uphill." I finally decided I was tired of coasting and needed to make some changes.

The first thing I had to do was determine what it was I really wanted to do. I knew that more than anything else, I wanted to finish college and get a degree. I didn’t have the money, knew nothing about getting into college, or even exactly what type of degree I wanted to pursue. I only knew if I wanted to move forward, I was going to have to get out of my comfort zone and get a degree.

Linda and I had discussed my restlessness many times, and she was well aware of my state of mind. We talked about some of the things I had dreamed of, one of which was flying professionally. "You’re too old and don’t have enough life insurance," she told me. She has a way of saying just the right thing, even when I don't want to hear it. Having 28 years of work experience has its advantages, and we decided that staying in the field of investments would probably give me the best opportunities when I finally graduated. After all, I'll be 50 if everything goes according to plan. We talked about some of the things I would need to do in order to afford college, if I was not going to work while being a student. It was evident we needed to have a long-range plan.

My first major action was leaving my job of four years. I decided that even being unemployed would be better than staying in a job that was going nowhere. Since I was now unemployed, I thought I might qualify for a Pell grant. I visited the college financial aid office and found out where I needed to apply online. I then sat with a counselor who helped me formulate a degree plan. I collected a large amount of information and knowledge that I needed to sort out and pull together into a workable solution.

I had to make several more visits to the college for counseling, testing and registration. This was definitely getting to be an uphill journey! Since I had not been in school for the last 30 years, I had to take college entrance exams, which I took reluctantly, having been miffed and intimidated at first. Actually I was pissed I would have to prove my worthiness for college. But after receiving my scores, I was glad had taken the test because my scores were high enough to keep me from having to take remedial courses. In fact, I think they over-qualified me for my college Algebra class, which I struggle daily with.

After several weeks, all the requirements and preparation were complete. I had qualified for and received a Pell grant, and I went to register. I felt pretty damned proud of myself, knowing I had just overcome the first major hurdle in getting an education. I remember having a big grin on as I left the counselor’s office. I had just registered and knew that everything would be paid for. I thought of the promise I made to my father before he died, that I would go back to school, and how proud he would be. For the first time in years, I was excited I had a plan, and knew it would be worth the investment. I was ready for the challenge and focused on a new goal.

The last several weeks have been full of challenges, because I am taking a full schedule of college courses, and also working full time. I have been challenged in balancing my school and work time with family and personal time. It has been hard to complete all the assignments for school and learn all the new things I have to learn. I keep focused on the fact that I am going to the next level, and I have to take one step at a time.

The most influencial man in my life was my father. All of my life he told me over and over, "This is America, and you can do whatever you want to do, you can be whatever you set your mind to be. If you're going to dream, you might as well make it a big dream." Well, Dad, I'm doing it. I've decided to pursue something I've always wanted to do...I just never had the balls to do it before. I believe he would say, "It's about damn time, son...I'm proud of you."


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