When I was in eighth grade I had a science teacher ask me “what do you want to do when you get older?” It’s one of those memories that is so distinct. You can remember everything.
It was lunch time and me and best friend (Jamie) at the time would eat in his classroom to escape from the nastiness of all the asshole prep kids in the cafeteria. I remember the cold floor, the chairs neatly placed under each table, some chairs were upside down on the table (the way you do it when class is over and the chairs need to be taken off the floor, signally that the floor is ready to be cleaned and/or class is out). The room smelt cold too- like a mix between science experiments and cold metal from sinks. But the room was comfortably warm- but not warm enough that you’d take notice of it while in the moment. I recall him sitting with his other teacher friend and he was eating a sandwich on white bread. It looked like turkey with mustard falling off. He had a napkin in his other hand. Like he was talking with him mouth half full and he kept the napkin close to hide his mouth after he asked the question. The chalk board was blank. Everything neatly placed on the science workbench. Posters on the wall the way science rooms in middle school do it.
“What do you want to do when you get older?”
“[pause] I guess I want to be a secretary” – this was the answer I knew was right. I loved organization and filing papers and writing neatly and prettily on a blank paper or writing near perfectly within lines on a paper. I loved taking those silly quizzes on paper that tell you what car you are, flower, celebrity you look like, MASH… My mother always told me I had really pretty writing and I had writing that was better than hers. At home, the house was always a mess. I hated it. You couldn’t breathe because there was shit everywhere – keep in mind how young I am in eighth grade. I would try to help clean up by stacking everything up and placing it out of site. Obviously I wasn’t actually cleaning. I was moving garbage/ junk/ items that mattered from one place to another without any thought process behind it. I loved doing all that because it made me feel good about my surrounding, that I contributed to the house, that I took care of something, I was productive in a way that I imagined a secretary would be like.
“[drops his sandwich and napkin] What?? You are way too smart to be a secretary [in disbelief and concernment]”
I was stunned. How could I be smart? Did getting a 3.95 GPA really mean I was smart? School seemed so easy and I assumed I was less than brilliant because I wasn’t viewed as popular. I equated worthiness with being accepted by my peers. And I was the most non-smug person ever. I was oblivious at the time that being a secretary isn’t a degrading comment or a hit at anyone that is a secretary. I didn’t know at the time he was advocating for me to believe in myself.
Nearly two decades later, here I am on my newly started blog site. I recall everything so clearly. I now perceive him as my biggest academic fan. I wonder where he is at and if he is in good health. I wonder if he knows that he was an incredible teacher who cared about his students beyond earning his paycheck each day. I wonder if he remembers me… if he remembers the ONE remark he made that changed my life forever… I wonder how many more lives he transformed by his inspiration.
My counselor has asked many times “what made you pursue your undergraduate degree during a time of shit” (I paraphrased that). Or she will say “how did you get to your a job paying 35 dollars a hour, or have your own house, or a nice car – when all we talk about is how crappy your life has been” (all paraphrased obviously, she is incredible).
I have made extraordinary progress in my mental health struggle over the last year. I am so proud of that. I literally did a 180. Literally. I didn’t feel like I belonged in my family, I had debilitating anxiety, avoided people, slid by on life eating and drinking for comfort, I slept and sat on the couch to hide from depression, I cried everyday, I didn’t want to live…
And not once did I realize what has been behind my drive and passion to pursue a career that pays well and gives me socioeconomic status. And in my last blog I rambled about how unhappy I am.
So now that I know what drives me… maybe it is time to start believing in myself and ask myself “what does my future look like?” and “do I really want a career that pays a lot if it jeopardizes my happiness?” and “what do I envision my life to be like?” and more importantly, if the sky is the limit “what does my future look like?”
More to come……