When I ask my students to write about themselves, they all moan. I encourage them that they are unique and their experiences are worth writing down. And believe me, I’m right. Most of the people I teach have come back to school after years of being away. Many of them are middle-age workers who have been laid-off, down-sized or “right-sized.” In other words, their companies unceremoniously dismissed them for unknown reasons, and all of them are wounded. Then I assure them that I have been where they are, and I understand their feelings of not being worthy to keep their job. It stinks. It hurts. Then I say, life goes on. Pick up your pens!
The problem with the whole idea about writing about your own life is where to begin. Do I say, “One day, I was born.”? Of course not, we have all been born; I don’t know any other way into this world, do you? So, what’s an autobiographer to do?
Just like anything else, you have to narrow the topic. Talk about a “day in the life” or talk about “the first time I road a roller coaster”, and then the task becomes manageable. You might even have fun reliving something special that happened to you, or you might feel pride of something you accomplished.
Now I should practice what I preach. Right? So here goes . . . a snippet of my life just for you.
It seems I’ve always been out of sync with the rest of society, even though I’ve tried to follow the cultural rules. I never got in trouble as a kid, I got good grades in school from kindergarten on through high school. I went to work as a secretary after I got my diploma and found myself 17 in a world of 30 year old people. To solve that problem, I got married at 20 and had two daughters. I strictly followed the rules, but I always felt out of sync. The truth was, I was out of sync with me, not society. I let other people make choices that should have been mine.
I started straightening things out after my best friend died from breast cancer when she was only 35. I was a couple of years younger than her, but this tragic event made me realize I didn’t have forever to make myself happy. One of my biggest regrets never going to college. So, I enrolled.
Everyone from my mother, to my husband to some of my girlfriends told me I was nuts to go back to school “at my age.” What was I trying to prove? What was I going to do with an English Degree anyway? Why would I spend so much money on tuition when I had it all?
Did I tell you I can be very stubborn? Long story, short–I went anyway. I faced the fear of being almost old enough to be everybody’s mom. I faced my lack of self-confidence to be able to do the course work. I faced the selfishness of my husband and kids because I couldn’t maintain the my slave-labor activities any more. Plus, I figured out how to manage it all. I got an on-campus job so I could pay my own tuition. I learned to study with distractions all around me all of the time. I bought a couple of pair of jeans and some sweatshirts to fit in with my fellow students. And I persevered. I learned. I grew.I finally found “Barbara” again.
Much to my surprise, I found respect. My new friends, my professors and a few true old friends rallied around me, and in four short years I graduated with honors — Magna Cum Laude. I was proud of me and that’s all that mattered.
I’ve never regretted going back to college ,even though it threw the rest of my life into turmoil. A divorce a year later, alienation of my children for a time, and getting my first career position at age 40. Yeah, it was tough, but I still feel it was worth it. Since my college years, I’ve been happy. I know whatever problem comes along, I can handle it–somehow. Before college, I didn’t feel that way. So, yeah, the sacrifice and hard work was worth it. In fact, I always look back on those college years as some of the best in my entire life.