53: On My Own

53: On My Own

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

On My Own

To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.

~Søren Kierkegaard

No sooner had I signed the contract than I began to regret it. I hadn’t been a student for nearly thirty years. At the age of fifty-something I should have been looking forward to bouncing grandchildren on my knee, not writing research papers. Yet I’d always wanted to earn a master’s degree, and my company would pay if I promised to stay with them for at least two years after finishing. So why did my palms sweat once I made the commitment?

The registration form in my hand listed the first class I would take — Business Theory. I could write a book on what I didn’t know about that topic. I envisioned a classroom filled with eager young minds and wondered how I could possibly compete with them.

At the university bookstore, I searched for the two textbooks required for the course. It looked more like a mall than a place to buy books. Shirts, cups, license plate holders… you name it. Every item imaginable surrounded me, each emblazoned with the university logo. The only thing I couldn’t find were books. I saw a ponytailed clerk who appeared younger than either of my two children.

“Excuse me, Miss. Where are the textbooks?”

“In the basement. Over there.”

She pointed toward a door in the far corner. Though her tone was courteous, her eyes held a hint of condescension. I slunk away and crept down the stairs. The neat rows of books made me feel much more at home than the shopping paradise above had done. How strange that a bookstore should showcase everything except books. I smiled at the irony and found my required texts.

At home, I flipped through the volumes and frowned. My husband Phil looked at me.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m not sure what I’ve gotten myself into. I wish I hadn’t agreed to do this.”

“Well, then don’t.”

It would have been easy to agree, but I pressed my lips together. The thought of being a quitter stung my pride. Yet doubts continued to haunt me. I needed to figure out why.

I knew I could do the work. Maybe not as effortlessly as I had once done, but I’d simply work harder to get the job done. I had the time. My children were grown and out on their own. Although it would be a stretch to squeeze in class and study time between a job and household tasks, I wouldn’t be in school forever. I had the desire. Getting a master’s degree was something I’d been thinking about for years.

So why did I still feel so nervous?

Phil interrupted my thoughts.

“Let’s go out to dinner and relax.”

That sounded better than any internal argument. We headed for our favorite Mexican restaurant. Over chips, salsa, and a margarita, we discussed our upcoming plans with friends and a potential weekend getaway. It felt good to talk about something other than my worries regarding school.

On the drive home we were too full of food to speak. The absence of conversation let my mind wander back to my problem. The dreaded Business Theory class was scheduled to begin in only two days. I felt just as conflicted as I had that morning and finally blurted my question out loud.

“Should I do it or not?”

Phil’s voice was matter of fact. “If it’s going to keep you this keyed up, I vote against it. Go out with your girlfriends instead and have a good time.”

His words hit me over the head like a club.

Somehow over the years, “me” had disappeared into “we.” I couldn’t remember the last event that I’d attended by myself. Whether with my husband or a friend, I always had someone with me. Going out alone seemed like having peanut butter with no jelly. No wonder my brain put up barriers to school. I’d forgotten how I used to take a deep breath and march straight into a new situation. Even my first day in kindergarten, I had no problem letting go of my mother’s hand to navigate my way through a sea of unfamiliar faces.

The idea that I’d become such a wimp made me squirm. I didn’t care if it meant walking into a classroom of strangers without a single ally to study a topic for which I felt woefully inadequate. I knew what I had to do.

“I’m going to that class and learning Business Theory if it kills me.”

Phil grinned at my determined tone.

“Somehow I suspect you’ll survive.”

Although it wasn’t easy, I did survive. And at the end of three long years I came away from the experience with two very important credentials. I had a master’s degree in Nonprofit Management and a life lesson in what I could achieve once I remembered that I didn’t need to rely on anyone’s strength but my own.

~Pat Wahler

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