I was at an interview recently where I was asked a very simple question,
“Tell me about yourself.”… And I didn’t know how to answer. I couldn’t wrap my head around what he wanted to hear from me. Was I suppose to tell him about how I came to live in this city in which I was living? Was I suppose to tell him about all the professional experiences that would lead to my success at this company? Was I suppose to tell him the emotional baggage a guy like me tends to carry in order to get done what needs to get done?
… I wasn’t saying anything at all… I just stared at him for the longest time arguing in my head as to what I was supposed to tell him and what I wanted to tell him…
And then I just said what I needed to say instead.
“I’m a factory jockey by trade… I’ve worked them for over twenty years but I never felt comfortable doing it. I suppose no one really does. Co-workers used to think I should’ve gone to college because I was reading books all the time– Classics and rhetoric mostly. The conversation around the cafeteria table on breaks were usually a barrage of whining about life… IF ONLY I COULD AFFORD COLLEGE, everyone would say and I would nod and drink my coffee. Until finally I spoke up and told them that the only reason we didn’t quit our jobs and go to college was because we were lazy and it was easier to whine than to do.”
by this time I had stood in this man’s little office and began to pace. I could see by the look in his eyes that he was taken aback, maybe a little afraid that I was cracking altogether so I smiled at him, but that might have made things worse so I looked down at the beaten brown carpet and continued…
“So I quit… I was a single dad with a four-year-old daughter at home who didn’t know it yet but was heavily dependent on me paying the bills and buying groceries–but I quit all the same. Terrified and riding high on adrenaline I spent the next month on unemployment and and focusing on getting my GED.”
I hate telling people that I didn’t graduate from high school. It wasn’t because of my intelligence but rather my lack of interest in doing anything with my life than the bare minimum.
“That problem was quickly remedied. For what I had put off for over a decade, I had breezed through in one month. and by that fall I had enrolled in community college… And I had no idea what I was doing.”
Now the man behind the desk was trying to interrupt me but by then I was in no mood for stopping so I held my hand up in the air as if I was stopping traffic and nodded at him reassuringly, letting him know that by now I knew how insane I must have looked but was letting him know that I intended in finishing my answer and would leave peacefully.
“I figured I would teach because the only reason I wanted to go to college was to study History and English and Psychology and Literature and Sociology and Rhetoric and… and… and…
I took every loan they offered and every grant they gave because that was the only way to keep a roof over our head and food on our tables. When that wasn’t enough I crawled to the county for assistance and signed up for MFIP and MA and a slew of other acronyms that would help me stay in school. I used the system to it’s fullest with the Machiavellian anti-hero sentiment that most middle classed people would scrutinized… A ward of the state, sucking off the states tit.
I picked up odd jobs and worked at the local Walmart while going to school full time. I started tutoring on the side and took MUCH MORE than the average load. I took classes that interested me more than the classes that filled a criteria and two years later I received nearly 200 credits for an Associates degree that only required 120 credits. My GPA was 3.5 and my daughter was proud of me. But I wasn’t done… I needed a Bachelors so I worked for three months at what I did the best, more factory work. I busted ass at 3m in their temp position and enrolled in the nearest state college to receive my teaching degree (really, what else do you do with the education I was getting?)
By that next fall I was in class again, moving my daughter and myself away from the support I was receiving from my loving family and into a city that neither of us were used to. I motored straight for a Bachelors in Social Science and Education…”
Throughout all of this I was amazed with how I wasn’t ushered out the door by security, or how I was able to just keep talking and talking while this man behind the desk sat quietly and watched. It was enough incentive to keep going.
“I repeated the same thing… received support from the county and medical from the state. Worked silly little jobs and kept tutoring in order to pay the bills.” (I never mentioned where the mother of my child was or why I never received child support, I figured one drama at a time please)
“During the second to the last semester in which I would receive my degree things started to fall apart. An internship was needed to gain my degree but I still didn’t feel like I knew enough to actually teach in school. My GPA was still above a 3.4, I passed all my classes but I felt like I was a fraud in the career I had chosen. I spent hours talking to my advisers and professors in which all agreed I was doing fine but I couldn’t see it. Than anxiety would set in and problems with my daughter at school began so even though I was uncomfortable being a confident responsible adult in an educational environment, I was still in a public school setting three or four times a week playing a concerned parent to a daughter who was showing some problematic behaviors in class… Behaviors that reminded me a lot of myself when I was younger. I started to lose faith in my decision and paid less attention in my classes. Often I would have to leave and pick my daughter up from school and would rely on those excuses in order not to do my own work. At the end it was obvious that I was no longer interested in teaching… or maybe I was just to scared to do it.
So I downshifted and received a Bachelors in History. Money was scarce and the process of putting a roof over my head was getting difficult. The county and the state, who had put faith in my ability, had to settle with a B.A. and was not very interested in helping me any further. I left school without attending any graduation for either of the degrees I had earned and felt like I had achieved nothing…
That’s what brought me here. And I realize why that question is so hard now because I don’t know where HERE is anymore… I’m lost and mostly I’m terrified.
Terrified that I can’t keep this momentum up and provide for my daughter, who is now diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder and may never be able to cope with life in a way that’s meaningful or satisfying to the rest of us. Terrified that I have made a series of decisions in which I will be lead further and further into debt and disappointment. Terrified that I will never get to use any of the training received at college because I can’t seem to break this strange wall of indecision and self loathing.
That’s where I am– That’s what brought me here.”
The man behind the desk simply nodded and sighed.
“Thank you for coming… We’ll be in touch.”