Thursday, December 18, 2014

Something is Missing From the Picture Hook On My Office Wall

I have lived in the house we are renting for over two years now.  It is a five-bedroom home, and it is just the two of us - my partner and I - living in the home.  Obviously we occupy the master bedroom.  We have a guest room.  My partner uses one of the bedrooms as his office.  One of the spare bedrooms is used as a workout room.

That leaves one spare bedroom.  For about six months, the only contents in this additional room were some leftover boxes of my old miscellaneous junk and mementos.  In September 2012, I left my job and decided to start focusing on school and starting up a business.  Shortly after I left my job, we turned this spare room into my very own little office.  I took a few months break - for the first time in my life - to destress from a toxic job before I started focusing on school.

I knew that after sitting at an office desk for fifteen years, I needed to have a desk in my home office to be more productive.  To set up my office, I purchased a glass desk from Costco.  I set my desk up to face the outside window, and my neighbors have a few bird feeders set up in their backyard.  I keep the blinds halfway up so I can watch some of the gorgeous birds that stop by throughout the year.

I found the most perfect desk chair for my needs - a lovely four-way adjustable lumbar, mesh chair with an adjustable headrest and armrests.  I put up some pictures of my cat and dog on the desk, and it was officially an office.

I purchased some desk accessories - pencil cups, file organizers, and a trash can - at Ikea.

I even set up a small five gallon aquarium with the tadpole babies that resulted from a little tryst between my two guaranteed-to-be-the-same-sex African dwarf frogs from Brookstone (I guess some guarantees aren't nearly as assuring as others).  I now have six adult frogs swimming around in this tank at my desk.

This is the first time I have had my own official "office" in my home.  I have never really needed one since my previous jobs only allowed a very special exception for telecommuting.

Now that I have my own office, I more readily notice something's been missing from my office and my home for ages now.  Sometimes I can almost feel its absence burning a mark in the back of my head.

You see, the previous tenants left a picture hook in the wall of my office.

Normally, when I move into a house that has such things remaining from previous tenants, I either go "Sweet!  I don't have to measure!" and hang one of my pictures up in its place, or I rip it out if I do not like its placement.

This little hook is seemingly perfectly aligned right in the middle of this wall, and I just didn't want to remove it.  The first time I noticed it, I thought to myself: "I know what belongs there..."

No, it's not that "Ele Dreaming" photo I have had my eye on for ages now.  Though yes, I'd give just about anything to have that hanging on my office wall!  Yeah, that's pretty much never going to happen!  In that particular photo, it looks like the elephant is butting its head against a tree out of frustration, but actually it is drunk from the fermented fruit that previously fell off the tree.  From the first day I saw that photo in Peter Lik's gallery, I knew I wanted to hang it in the most appropriate of all places where frustration runs rampant - an office wall.


Still, it's not that photo that is missing from my wall.  My bachelor's degree diploma belongs there, but I don't have one yet.

There are a variety of reasons I am now thirty-three years old, and I still don't have my bachelor's degree.  Most of them have to do with the religion I was raised in, and some of it is because of other things that had to take priority.  Let me explain.  It's a long story, and I apologize in advance for being long winded!

Before I get into it, let me give you a little background on some Jehovah's Witness (JW) terminology so you are not completely lost with some of the things I mention.  Forgive me if I fumble this, because I rarely spend time trying to explain my former beliefs to anyone who isn't familiar with the religion.

  • Worldly - They don't use this phrase to describe someone who is well traveled.  Jesus said he was not part of this world, so basically this phrase is used to describe anyone or anything that is not fully aligned with serving Jehovah (God).  It is used in the sense of all of the things that non-believers seek to achieve or obtain as a means of accomplishment or satisfaction that may take away from their number one priority, serving Jehovah.
  • The Truth - This is the phrase they use to describe their beliefs.  They use it since they firmly believe that others who do not believe the same things they do - they have been lied to (and JWs feel genuine pity for them) because JW beliefs are based "strictly" on their interpretation of the bible.  It is used in sentences like this: "Is he still in the truth?"  This means "Is he still a Jehovah's Witness?"
  • The Kingdom - This means "Jehovah's Kingdom," as in his rulership, and being aligned with it in every aspect of your life.

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Growing up in a Jehovah's Witness household, the focus was not on "worldly" things such as riches and possessions.  Yes, my penchant for a very expensive piece of art would be frowned upon in the JW world!  Though I certainly do agree there is at least some wise advice in not being so heavily focused on to "keep up with the Joneses" and losing sight of the important things in one's life.  There are so many more important things in life than material possessions.  After all, we all enter this world with nothing and we leave with nothing!

The JW enterpretation of not focusing on worldly things went much further than that.  Heavy emphasis was put on "seeking first the Kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you."  This meant that a higher education that would possibly prevent you from attending meetings and doing field service, was frowned upon.  Considering the fact that I was also raised in a small town and as a Jehovah's Witness, it was frowned upon even more so due to a lack of exposure to alternate opinions and experiences, just as small town minds will do sometimes.  In bigger cities such as Austin, the attitudes are a little more relaxed towards higher education.  All of this meant that I never really grew up with the thought of going to a four-plus year college in my mind.  It meant that college degrees just weren't very prominent in the Jehovah's Witness world, especially in the 1990s and earlier.  Sure, there were a few Jehovah's Witnesses who were doctors and lawyers, but the majority (not all) of them had converted to the religion after going to college and establishing their careers.  For the most part, JWs occupations center around things that could be learned on the job or that were taught by friends and family members.

JW assemblies talked about how the pursuit of higher education could compromise one's beliefs because of some of the things they teach in science and various theology courses.  So the general consensus amongst the Jehovah's Witnesses was that higher education wasn't necessarily a good thing.  The last "official stance" I heard from the JW world is that college education is just considered to be a "personal choice of conscience."

Don't get me wrong here; my parents were all for my education.  My father graduated high school, but my mother did not.  Until I turned 18, neither one of my parents attended college, but they were always fantastic students.  My father is a very sharp man in general, and my mother is quite book smart as well.

There came one point where my mother had to miss school due to a serious illness.  She grew very sick when she was only sixteen years old, and she was less than twenty-four hours away from requiring a hysterectomy!  One day, her doctors told her if she didn't stop hemorrhaging by the next morning, they would have to give her a hysterectomy.  Fortunately (for my own existence!), she recovered.  However, since she was out of school for an entire month due to her illness, she fell very far behind in her school work.  She had a tutor when she was in the hospital, but it wasn't good enough.  She grew frustrated with how far she had lagged behind, and she dropped out of school.  Such was the way of life in the 1960s.

My parents worked very hard for a living, and I'm very glad they instilled the value of hard work to my brother and me.  Even so, they knew they didn't want their children to have to work as hard as they did to make ends meet.  My mom knew she couldn't go work in an "easy desk job" (relatively speaking, folks) when she didn't even have her high school diploma, though she did a spectacular job when she worked for the census bureau and with my father's book work for his business.  Not having an education meant she was forced to do "grunt" work in spite of the fact that she was a highly capable human being and always willing to learn.  I'll talk more about this later.

My mother took me to house cleaning jobs when I was a pre-teen, and I helped her clean houses for a local Realtor.  She did this because she wanted to buy new furniture for the house they had just purchased, and my father's income just couldn't be stretched to buy new furniture.  As always, my parents looked for quality items because they would take good care of their things so that they would last a long time.  Since my mother was buying bedroom furniture for me too, I was put to work!  She did pay me a little bit too.

I remember at one job, she was warned that the previous tenant was HIV positive.  Since this was in the early 90s and HIV education and understanding wasn't what it is today, she was a bit scared to take the job.  She did it because she needed the money, and she made sure to use heavy latex gloves the entire time.  I had received a bit of education on the subject in school, so I also helped reassure her that as long as she didn't cut herself, she should be absolutely fine.

At one job, she showed me her chapped and bleeding hands after scrubbing a particularly grody bathroom with bleach, and she said to me "I don't ever want you to have to work this hard to earn a living.  I want you to get good grades and get an education."  I cannot begin to tell you how thoroughly that lesson stuck with me.  I carried those words of wisdom with me from that moment on.  The takeaway from this is: parents, please, talk to your children about the importance of education.  You just might be surprised to find out that they will listen to you when they see examples of what education can do for them and what a lack of education can do.  Prepare your children for life, and you just might feel the joy of knowing that some of the most important life lessons managed to "stick" with them.  

When I hit the eighth grade right along with my fellow JW friends, a lot of my friends' parents pulled them out of public school.  My family was criticized for not following suit and not "protecting" me from "the world" and accused me of being worldly and/or eventually becoming worldly because of this choice to not switch to home school.  My parents had decided that was a terrible idea because "You're going to have to get out there in 'the world' one day, and we'd rather you learn how to deal with it while you're still under our roof."  Additionally, since my mother would have been the person to become my home school "teacher," my parents knew I would receive a better quality education if I stayed in public school with the professionals.  Thanks, mom and dad for not being complete nut-jobs about this one thing!

The bottom line is that my parents weren't completely against the idea of me pursuing a college degree, although college opportunities weren't really discussed before I hit my teen years.  Frankly, I originally figured my parents wouldn't let me go since I knew they had seen it go "poorly" for others before, in terms of keeping with the religion.  Once the discussion did happen when I was in the 8th grade, I discovered my parents did have one hard and fast rule about their children going to college.

They had seen friends whose children had gone off to college and "fell away from the truth" as they always put it.  They had gone to live in the dorms and discovered that life could be pretty fun when you weren't under the constant scrutiny of your parents' watch.  Imagine that...  A few of them strayed away from the religion for a little while during their college years, and a few of them came back to the fold afterwards.  Most of them ran for the hills!

My parents did not want to see that happen to me, so they came up with a rule about college that they applied to both my brother and me.

"If you want to go to college, we will support you as best as we can.  However, you will have to live here at home with us so that we can help make sure you keep your eyes on the prize and do not stray away from Jehovah."

I know some people would hear of my parents' offer and say "I wish my parents would have let me live with them while I went to college!  I could have saved so much money!"  I know some of my fellow JW peers from back in the day would have said "I wish my parents would have supported me going to college at all!"  Yes, I am ever-so grateful that my parents were supportive of my education.  I am even grateful that they made this offer in the first place because I know their intentions were good.  Their intentions were always good.

I had many friends, including my ex husband, who asked their parents if they could go to college, and they replied with a frank "No!" in a sort of "How dare you ask such a ridiculous question, child!" way. In some cases, it was because their families couldn't afford it.  After all, it can be difficult to afford college for your offspring when you follow a religion that tells you to "keep your eye simple" and "keep on seeking first the kingdom," and then "all of these other things will be added to you."  In many JW families, it is because it was considered a frivolous expense and merely a means of seeking "worldly" riches!  Even so, many families out there cannot afford college, but there are programs out there to assist (Pell Grants, student need grants, etc).  I have a few friends whose parents adamantly refused to provide their financial data, so they weren't even allowed the opportunity to even try to obtain financial aid!  Some of them declined because they were paranoid over handing over financial data, and some of them declined because they didn't want their kids to go to college!  What a sad situation!  Truly, I am grateful for the support my parents did provide me, especially when I know how things have turned out for so many others out there.

However, in my own personal situation, my parents' supportive offer wasn't nearly as enticing as it may appear at a cursory glance.  As I previously mentioned, my parents didn't want my brother and I to have to work as hard as they did to make a living for all of us.  Even though my parents were quite supportive of my brother and I going to college (especially when compared to other JW families), it still wasn't an ideal thing for me to spend that extra time living with my parents.  For a variety of reasons, I am not going to go into great detail explaining those reasons in a public forum such as this.  I knew I needed to get out of my parents' home as fast as I could.  All I will say is my father was making it increasingly difficult for me to keep living there.  I knew I would not be able to last an additional four years past high school graduation in my parents' home.  I had my eyes on moving out for as long as I can remember.  In fact, the biggest reason I sped up high school graduation to the age of 16 was to facilitate an earlier move out!

In the years since I was a teenage JW, they have relaxed - ever so slightly - their general stance on college degrees.  It's a cultural shift that has gradually grown a little more tolerant.  Basically what I am trying to say is that it isn't quite as frowned upon as it was when I was a teenager.  It is even less frowned upon for men since they are supposed to support their families and be "head of the household" in the JW world.  My older brother bared the brunt of a lot of criticism for obtaining - gasp - his Associates Degree!  I know there was a lot of criticism towards me in obtaining my Associates Degree too, but I just didn't care.  I had stopped listening or caring about what a certain group of individuals in the congregation thought about me because long ago, because I had figured that they were nothing but a big group of idiots - and jealous idiots at that!

As a female, I didn't have the same congregation "privileges" that my brother had as a Ministerial Servant, so I didn't have to suffer quite the negative consequences he endured.  It was one thing to have people merely spreading hate-filled gossip about me.  That had no real impact on my life.  You cannot control what people are going to think or say about you, so there was no point in worrying about their opinions!  It was another thing to have back-stabbing reports written that meant my brother was not recommended to be a Ministerial Servant when we changed congregations to get away from the negativity that certain individuals perpetuated.  Fortunately their little scheme didn't have any real impact on my brother's desire and ability to be a Ministerial Servant, and he was re-appointed after the congregation transfer.  It just made him very sad to know that the years of resentment towards my family had caused certain individuals to stroke their own ego and exert their power to hurt him, especially when he had never done or said anything to hurt them.  Vindictiveness has always been an incredibly undesirable trait to me.

When my brother graduated high school, my parents tried to encourage him to get his Associates Degree for CAD/Drafting.  He initially refused to go because he hated the English classes so much, and he didn't want to take another class.  For that first year after high school, he worked for a local builder and he earned minimum wage.  Minimum wage was $5.15 per hour during that time period.  He would come home exhausted.  After all, construction is difficult work in the South Texas heat!

One particular day, he came home exhausted and seemingly very depressed.  It was his pay day.  He was laying in his bedroom, staring at the ceiling fan that seemed as though it could not spin fast enough to keep up with the heat.  I asked him what was wrong, and I eventually dragged the answer out of him.  He was feeling down over the fact that it was pay day, and his paycheck was basically already gone.  He made his truck payment, filled the truck with gas, and he had practically nothing leftover from his check!  I told him in my best Shatner voice, "Just.  Go.  To.  College!"

He rolled his eyes and responded with the phrase we had grown all-too familiar with: "But I don't want to take English!"

I shook my head at the sheer stupidity of this stubborn refusal and said "I will help you with your homework."

My offer sealed the deal.  I wish I could include my perfect auditory imitation of his response of "Okay..." into this blog.  Many people have told me it is a spot-on imitation.

At nineteen, my brother enrolled in the CAD program at the community college located an hour away from our home.  He finished his Associates Degree when he was twenty-one, and we were all very proud of him for it.  Yes, I did fulfill my vow and helped him with his English homework.  Though to be quite honest, he didn't really need a whole lot of help.  He mostly just needed some proofreading assistance.  If you can pass a high school level English class, you can pass a basic community college level English class.

Mind you, I was fifteen years old when I had the aforementioned conversation with my brother.  I was about 1 year away from my own high school graduation.

My brother had participated in the "DECA" program the last two years of high school, and he only went to school for a half a day those last two years.  In the first semester of my freshman year, my mom discovered a newspaper article that the state of Texas offered high school students $1,000 in college tuition if they graduated a year early.  Frankly, this is my earliest recollection of a discussion of the possibility of me being allowed to go to college.

I showed the newspaper clipping to my school counselor, and she had never heard of it.  Apparently it was a new program.  She was on board with it, and she helped me ensure I took only the required courses in order to graduate.  I had considered doing the DECA program myself, but I figured "Why should I go to school half a day for two years when I can just go to school all day for one year and get it over with?"

I had received high school credit for taking honors classes in middle school, so I was ahead of the game.  I decided to take "zero hour" classes by coming in early to get ahead.  When I did the math, I discovered that I would only need an additional six hours of credits for that last spring semester (third year) of high school.  I signed up for summer school after my freshman year, and I was set up to graduate an additional six months early, with one extra credit!  For those of you who aren't doing the math, that meant I graduated an entire year and a half early!

Incidentally, the same girls who criticized me and my parents for not switching to home school used to brag saying that home school was so much better because they could graduate early!  Guess who graduated high school first amongst our age group?  Yup, that was me!  Trash talking gets you nowhere, kids; action does!

After high school, I had decided on only obtaining my Associates Degree in General Business because I wanted to have a job that would allow me to work Monday through Friday, from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and not be on call outside of those hours.  Since my parents had drilled in the importance of attending meetings and going out in field service, I focused on setting myself up for a job that would keep those hours.  Also, since I wasn't sure where I would move after I graduated (though I did have my eyes on Austin), I also wanted to have a job that could be found in any town in any place.  Plus I knew that being a nurse or dental hygienist wouldn't be a great idea with my vasovagal response to needles.

For the summer before my last semester of high school, I enrolled in twelve hours of college classes.  When I enrolled, the director of the local community college sat down and talked with me personally before I started.  He asked me "Are you sure you only want to get your Associates Degree?  Are you sure you don't want to just do some classes here and transfer to Texas A&M?  It's right there.  You're very smart, and I know you can do it.  I've seen your test scores and your grades."  I assured him I was positive that I would only go for my Associates Degree.  I didn't explain precisely why I needed to "GTFO" of Kingsville so quickly, but I did assure him that I just wanted my Associates Degree.

During my fall semester of high school, I took one three-hour night class.  Oddly enough, my college professor was also my teacher for one of my last high school classes that semester!  We laughed about how odd it was that I had to ask her for permission to go to the bathroom during the day and not at night!  She would tell me "Just go!"

After high school was over, I started full time on college courses.  I took seventeen and eighteen hour semesters.  During my first spring semester of college, I took a business course.  One day, our professor approached the class with an offer.  She offered to work with a few local businesses to get some of us a non-paid internship to work a few hours each week.  If we did this, we would not have to take the final exam.  She recognized that some would not be able to take advantage of this offer because some of them had families and jobs to take care of, but she put that offer out there to everyone.

I was sixteen, and the only work experience I had was doing college tutoring and working with my parents' family business by helping my mom do bookwork.  I didn't just jump at this opportunity, I leaped at it!  I knew I needed experience to put on my resume, and not having to take a final seemed like a win/win!  Sure, I wouldn't get paid for it, but I knew I knew the importance of good job experience and references, and I knew it would be worth it in the long run.  I was right.  After the semester was over, several of the students concluded their work at the same business I volunteered for.  I was the only person they asked to stay afterwards - paid!  Sure, it also was minimum wage, but I appreciated the experience opportunity!  Every single job I ever worked ultimately paved the way towards the next one.

During this non-paid internship job, I discovered my love of marketing.  I knew this was what I was meant to do.  I liked the art of capturing the attention of customers and figuring out what drew them in.  However, I knew that I just could not take an additional two years of living in my parents' home.  Plus by this time, I knew (I almost feel like I should put that word in quotes just to take away from the finality and seriousness of the word!) I wanted to get married to my boyfriend and move to Austin.

About a year after I started college, my brother and I convinced my mom that she needed to go back to school.  My dad's health was failing, and we were worried that she needed to have a means of supporting herself in case something happened to him.  Fortunately, he did make a good recovery in the long run, and he is still with us to this day.  Still, there really wasn't much of a need for her to not obtain her GED and get a job.  Her last child (me) was moving out soon, and she was still only in her 40s, so she had plenty of time to do something new in her life!

My brother and I helped her study to obtain her GED.  I will never forget how proud and happy she was when that certificate arrived in the mail!  She came running into the room I was in, excitedly stamped her feet on the ground, and jumped for joy!  The giant smile on her face was something I will never forget, and it brings tears to my eyes to even recall it right now.  Once the GED was accomplished, it was time for her to start college.  She went for the same degree I had started.  She used all of my old books (and notes!) and she even had classes with so many of my fellow students and professors!  We never took any classes together, but I did help her with her homework on occasion.  She was a fine student, and it certainly proved to me that my mom didn't drop out of high school because she just wasn't "smart enough" for it.  She was also very proud and overwhelmed with a sense of accomplishment at the fact that she was the very first member of her family to go to college.  Heck, she was the first one in her family to obtain a GED or diploma, period!  After all, her father was illiterate, so this was a huge deal for her.  I am immensely proud of her for all of her accomplishments!

My last semester of college for my Associates Degree was quite tumultuous.  I had to drive to a different college campus for my last 2 courses, and I was working about 35 hours per week.  Then my fiance was in a very bad car accident about a month and a half before I graduated.  He almost died, and he spent about a month in the hospital.  He also went into a full time therapy facility for a few months after being released from the hospital.  It was a rough year, but I was in "full steam ahead" mode!  At the time, I was very thankful that I still lived with my parents.  My mother took care of my laundry and all of those things I just did not have the time to do.  It was difficult balancing everything - work, school, finances, a relationship, religious obligations, etc.  Since gas prices were extremely cheap - $.72 per gallon, yes, seriously! - I was able to afford to drive two hours, each way, every weekend, to see my fiance during his recovery.  I knew emotional support was going to be an integral part of his recovery, especially since he had no choice but to move back in with his parents.

My college graduation time came when I was eighteen years old.  My fiance missed my college graduation, but his family attended, and my mother attended.  I received my Associates Degree two weeks before my old high school buddies received their high school diplomas.  I had no regrets.  I remember telling my high school friends that I was graduating early, and they said "But you'll miss all the great things about senior year!  Prom, homecoming, dances, senior trip..."  It was almost cute that they thought my parents would finally let up and allow me to participate in those things - the things they had never seen me participate in even once in my whole life!  I knew there was absolutely no point for me to spend another year in high school, and I have never regretted that decision.

I got married to my fiance about a year after his car accident.  Now, I do admit I have regretted that decision!  I moved to the Austin area right after we got married, and I managed to get a job as an admin at Dell.  I was nineteen years old.  I remember my hiring manager asking me during the interview, "You don't have to answer this, but... how old are you?!"  I shocked him when I said I was nineteen, but my ambition and achievements really impressed him.

After a year of working there, I was eligible for tuition reimbursement through Dell.  I knew I wanted to go back to college to obtain my bachelor's degree.  There was a community college right across the street from my apartment complex, and I knew this was something I wanted.  I figured it would be cheaper to get a few basic courses done there and transfer them to University of Texas for my bachelor's degree.

I started looking into it, and I discussed it with my husband.  Since his parents adamantly refused to allow him to go to college, he was a bit upset with the notion of me obtaining my bachelor's degree when he hadn't even obtained an Associates Degree.  He had moved out of their home at seventeen.  When he moved out, he lost a lot of his school books.  Since he was home schooled, this meant he was not able to finish his high school studies.

Right before we got married, his father came up to my parents and very quietly talked them into encouraging/sort of demanding that he obtain his GED before we get married.  My ex never even knew this conversation happened between our parents.  His own parents felt it would be very difficult for him to obtain a job and support a family without one.  I thought it was a bit weird that now they were worried about his education.  So I talked to him about it, and he went and obtained his GED.  I left out the part about his father being the initiator of this endeavor because I knew it would only sour him on the idea.  About six months before we married, he took a few study classes and obtained his GED without issue.

When my ex complained that it "wasn't fair" that we would spend the money on me getting my bachelor's degree before he obtained any college degree.  So I told him "Go get your Associates Degree.  The college is right there (across the street)."

I pointed out that if I were to go to college, it was reimbursed tuition.  He still seemed perturbed at the notion of spending our own money - even just up front - on furthering my education before his.  Of course, since he was incredibly selfish and all talk and no action (in every sense of the phrase), he didn't do it.  A year or so after this conversation, I was laid off from my job, and the opportunity of tuition reimbursement went out the window.

After enduring enough of the aforementioned "crap" (and much, much more!) from my ex, I decided it was time for a divorce.  Shortly thereafter, I decided to leave the religion I was raised to believe.  No, I have never regretted either one of those decisions.

After my divorce, I looked into going to the University of Texas to obtain my bachelor's degree.  Since I earned just too much money (as a single woman without any dependents) to qualify for financial assistance that didn't involve loans, the cost of tuition was way out of my reach on my income.  I did the math.  Considering the fact that I had built my career up to the upper ranks of my wage bracket, it would have only meant roughly an additional $5-15k per year - it I was lucky - once I obtained my bachelor's degree in the field I wanted.  My new employer was supportive of the idea of me going back to school, but they didn't exactly offer to foot the bill.  They offered "something" - they used that exact word - since they didn't have a formal tuition reimbursement program as a small business, but they never stated exactly what that "something" was.  I ultimately decided the cost of tuition at UT Austin was going to be out of my reach, even with loans.  Sure, it would have eventually paid off, but it would have taken a long time to do so.  I decided that I needed to wait until I would be in a better position to afford paying for school out of pocket, or at least until I was in a better position to be able to add loan payments to my budget.  Since I was also in the process of trying to save up for a house, there was no way I could do both at the same time.

After my partner and I became a long-term couple, we moved to Portland.  I landed a job working downtown, and I decided to start going back to school.  I enrolled in two night courses at Portland State University, and I was ready to start this whole bachelor's degree thing.

What a waste of my time (and money) that turned out to be!  First of all, PSU lost my transcript.  That resulted in a major delay in enrollment.  Then they didn't transfer my credits properly, and this caused me to have an even bigger delay in enrollment.  Because of this, I didn't get to start on one of the classes I really wanted and needed.  I ended up enrolling in two courses.  I started on one of the classes, and I realized I had already taken this class during my last semester of college!  Since it was way too late to start a different class, I just finished the class and submitted a transcript correction to have them give me credit for my previous class and remove that one class from my bill.  Since I had just recently moved from Texas, I had to pay insane out of state tuition prices - about $3,000 for one three credit class!  I dropped out of PSU.  I refused to give that university one more dime.  Their prices and their incompetence was a major turn off.

When we moved to Seattle, I looked into attending the University of Washington.  Once again, I was a bit turned off by the tuition prices, but the biggest deal breaker was the fact that I would have quite a commute to go to school.  When you factor school in with a full time job and how much pain that commute caused, it was not a feasible idea.

Then I discovered WGU - Western Governors University.  I was in!  Spending ~$3,200 per six months for a college degree was an absolute winning proposition for me!  Incidentally, that one class I took at PSU - the transferred credit didn't even fulfill one single requirement for my degree with WGU.  I'm not exaggerating when I say PSU was a waste of my time!

So here I am, with only three classes left to go before I finish my bachelor's degree.  As you can tell, this has been a long, arduous journey for me.  This is something I have wanted for a very long time.

I know I have been turned down from countless jobs because I didn't have my bachelor's degree.  I've been on the receiving end of stunned looks from snobbish people when they find out I did not go to a fancy university, let alone any university at all.  I'm sure some of them would still give me a similarly judgmental look since I didn't go to an Ivy League school or a "real" (subjectively) university.  Naturally, their opinions mean absolutely nil to me because I have no interest in getting to know anyone who looks down on people who do not meet their self righteous standard of companionship or conversation based on education, material possessions, net worth, or career.  That brand of snobbery does not sit well with me.

I've also heard people say "Really?  You don't have your bachelor's degree?  You seem so smart, educated, and eloquent!  I would have figured you even had your MBA!"  It just goes to show that education doesn't always have to happen inside brick walls, people.  I have lived.  I have grown.  I have worked hard.  I have soaked up almost every single learning opportunity that crossed my path.  I have observed the world around me.  I have toiled and earned practically every single thing I have ever owned.  I am damn proud of that fact.  I am grateful for the life experiences that came my way.  I have appreciated all of the career advice and learning opportunities that my employers have provided me and all the bills they have facilitated paying.  I am the person I am today because of all of the opportunities, troubles, and decision points that have been thrown in my direction throughout my life, and I apologize for none of it.

Do I have any life regrets?  Sure, I have a few.  I wish I had learned long ago that I didn't need certain individuals' support for my life choices and goals after all.  I learned the lesson eventually, and to go back and change any single minor to major decision point would mean that my life might have taken a completely different direction.  I do not regret where I am today.  I wouldn't have met some wonderful friends through previous places of employment if life had taken even one slightly different turn early on.  Sure, I would have met other people and life would just be a little bit different, but who is to say which life would have been "better?"  The life I have now is the best life I could have chosen given the knowledge and decisions I had to make.

I have waited for the day when I get to finish my degree.  I have worked hard for it.  I have earned this .. but not quite yet.  I'm almost there.  Just know that when that day comes, it will be one of the proudest days in my life.  When you really want something and you work hard for it, you appreciate it that much more.  Believe me, I will appreciate that little piece of "artwork" on my wall for the rest of my life.  It will be way more valuable to me, personally, than a copy of "Ele Dreaming" on my wall ever could.

I've heard many people say "You don't just need a piece of paper on your wall."  Some have said it in an attempt to encourage me over my own insecurity over my lack of a bachelor's degree.  Others have meant it to discourage me from getting my bachelor's degree.  The thing is: it's not just going to be a piece of paper on my wall.  For me, it's a symbol of many things.  It's a reminder that I can accomplish the things I want to in life.  It's a symbol of all the hard work I have done in my life.

It's a symbol that we are never truly done learning.  Learning is such a beautiful gift.  All of the knowledge in the world cannot fit into one human brain, but it sure is fun to try, isn't it?