I am writing this piece in response to a prompt on The Red Dress Club.
This week we were asked to tell a story of a time when we were proud, without any trivialization or modesty.
When I was 23 I had been to college once, earned my diploma as a Health Care Aid/Personal Support Worker and was employed at a Nursing Home. This position was challenging both physically and mentally and it taught me lots. I loved the residents and the workers but after four years working shifts and holidays I was motivated to look at changing careers.
I was drawn to the Military, this could be because of family ties with the Royal Canadian Legion, and so I attended a recruiting day at a local High School and underwent their aptitude testing. The results surprised me; they would choose to educate me in an Engineering related field. I had never seen myself in this light, my high school councillor had directed me to social works. My father was an Engineer; let’s just say that winning his approval had always been my goal. That day I applied to the Armed Forces but their next available date for “boot camp” was 8 months away.
Not one to wait, I gathered local college course books and selected 3 schools which offered Mechanical Engineering Technology/Drafting and Design. I then sat with my parents, with whom I lived, and outlined my plans. On that night my father told me the following: “If you finish first year I’ll be shocked, 2nd year I’ll be amazed and if you finish the 3rd year I’ll be proud.”
I applied to all 3 schools that night and when all 3 schools accepted me I was scared to death. What was I doing? I had no background in this area, I was never going to be able to do this, I’m in way over my head! That summer I was a ball of nerves and yet excited for my future.
When September came I moved into a house with a mentally challenged man to whom I would provide support in the evenings and weekends in exchange for free board. There would also be a relief worker who would cover the times when I would be working my job at a local bar.
At the first class it was apparent how out of place I was, I was significantly older than the other 179 students and I was the only female. They didn’t know that I was essentially computer illiterate but that fact showed itself by my second class, Computer Aided Drafting.
That first month was really tough, I was totally out of my element. For the first time I was living with someone who was dependent upon me, I was learning to think in entirely new ways and I was working as a bartender 3 nights a week. Knowing all this and that I was the underdog (in my own mind) I buckled down, asked for help from other students when I saw their strengths were my weaknesses.
Very quickly a group of us in the program banded together and formed a study group. We helped each other and boosted each other’s morale’s when they were low. Over the next 3 years we were like family, sharing heartbreaks, challenges, victories and food when necessary.
I found my groove by never losing faith in myself. Studying was done whenever possible; it wasn’t rare to find me between classes in the Lab while my friends were out watching a school basketball game. It was the hardest I’d worked for anything up until that point.
Over those 3 years I grew in many ways, never doubting that I face a challenge. I had the courage to admit my weaknesses and where to go for help. On average, I held down 3 jobs at once to make ends meet, continued living in the same place for the majority and slowly became an adult.
By the end of the 3rd year I was one of the 8 students left in this challenging course and my father said that he was proud of me.
I recall sitting at my desk at my first real job, seeing my nameplate and feeling pride in my efforts. These efforts have brought me through career changes, companies failing, marriage and children with a strong educational foundation to rely upon.
My pride was well earned.