Parenthood is an interesting phenomenon. For some, it’s a calling, for others it’s a rite of passage, for me becoming a parent was something I yearned for. It was a natural transition graduating from nursing school, becoming gainfully employed, finding Mr. Right, getting married, and then voila, welcoming that precious bundle of joy into our newly formed family. It was just something you did in the 1970’s. If you weren’t married by 22 years of age, the common age for nuptials at that time, you certainly HAD to be married by 25 or people would start to worry, especially your parents. In those days girls were raised to believe that motherhood was the crowning achievement, a career was just the interim thing you did until motherhood.
I remember my father telling me that girls did not have to go to college because they are going to get married. I often wondered if he could only see me now. After almost 40 years of working, where did my white picket fence, café style back door that Donna Reed and Carl Betz had, and the afternoon coffee klatches go? Somehow, all of that escaped me. Now don’t get me wrong, in the early years of raising my children, I felt extremely lucky and grateful that I was able to work per diem and/or part-time as an RN at the local hospital. My commute was next to none, less than 1 mile door to door, my colleagues’ for the most part, were mothers like me, so we had a lot in common both professionally and personally, and part-time employment was a wonderful balance between motherhood and my career. Life was good until one day as I looked around the nursing unit where I worked and I suddenly realized I wanted more. It suddenly dawned on me that in the next few years, if I wanted to educate my children, I would have to take the leap back into full time employment. Although vision boards were not popular back then, I actually envisioned doing something more although I did not have any idea what that something more looked like. Having gone to a hospital based nursing program to become a Registered Nurse, I knew that in order to realize my dreams I would have to earn my baccalaureate degree. Having three children under 6, a husband, and a home to take care of, the thought of going back to school seemed to be a Herculean task. Oh, and let’s not forget the money it would take to achieve that goal.
I began my journey by attending the local community college so that I could knock out as many prerequisite courses in the most cost efficient way. To my surprise, the Community College proved to be a wonderful life changing experience for me. As I sat in my first English Class, my mind was numb, my ears did not hear a word the professor was saying, and my hand eye coordination and ability to take notes were almost non-existent. All I heard was BLAH, BLAH, and BLAH. I couldn’t imagine what was wrong with me. Then all of a sudden as the phoenix began rising from the ashes, my mind clicked on, my hearing became more acute, the paralysis in my fingers started to wan allowing me to finally be able to put pen to paper and actually take meaningful notes. One year became two, two years became three and I finally had enough credits to transfer to a four year college.
I transitioned to a college that had a large number of adult learners and offered courses off site courses at local facilities. The first day as I sat in the odoriferous basement of a nursing home taking my first course as a transfer student, the woman in front of me turned around and our eyes locked. During the break we commiserated regarding our educational goals and realized how many commonalities we had. We were both graduates of three year diploma programs, we were both married with children, we both worked part-time and more importantly we both had approximately the same amount of credits needed to graduate. We made a pact that day, right in the basement of that nursing home that we were going to graduate within 9 months. This was September and we planned on graduating the next June. For the next 9 months, my new friend and I took courses at both campuses, one in Brooklyn, the other one in Suffolk County, Long Island. We took Saturday and Sunday courses, we attended Intersession mini semesters, and we challenged courses via the CLEP Exam. I had 39 credits to complete before graduation and my friend had 36. What that meant was that she was able to complete her coursework 6 weeks prior to the day we graduated and I finished my last course 1 day before graduation. Whew! I was finally able to take a breath. That breath didn’t last too long. Roughly a year after graduation, a close friend of mind suggested we attend Law School or go for an MBA. Absolutely NOT was my initial response, “I’m done!” I said having recently graduating from college. I finally acquiesced and agreed to go with her while SHE researched some graduate schools but I reiterated that I was not going to attend. I called my college buddy and told her what we were contemplating and all I heard on the other end of the line was a PRIMAL scream, and an ear shattering, ABSOLUTELY NOT response. Ok, I told her, I’m not going either; I was just keeping my friend in the loop. RIGHT!!!!! As we traipsed across several graduate school campuses we interviewed the Admissions folks as much as they interviewed us. We knew it had to be a good fit both academically, monetarily and personally. The culture had to mesh if we were to flourish.
That being said, two and a half years later, and at forty years of age, we donned those much yearned for caps and gowns and strolled up the aisle to success. Those graduate degrees propelled each of us on a trajectory that we could never imagine. Transitioning into the world of corporate America was a game changing experience. A defining moment for me was a day, early in my corporate career, when I had to attend an all-day meeting in Alexandria, Virginia. As I was winding my way through JFK Airport in order to catch the morning shuttle to Washington, DC, briefcase in hand, I actually laughed out loud. If my father could see me now, flying to an all-day meeting at 7 am in the morning returning home by dinner time. So much for being a stay at home mom!
The subsequent years have been good to me. Having embarked on a new career at a time when colleagues of a similar age were being promoted resulted in being managed by people who are several years my junior. Being fast tracked or “developed” at 40 plus is almost an oxymoron. Fast tracking is for those in their 30’s not late 40’s or early 50’s. Ageism is something that is not easily quantified. It’s insidious at best but it is real nevertheless. Of course it would be irresponsible of me to wave a blanket magic wand in order to indict every manager and every company. I am positive there are instances where an older newly minted employee has been fast tracked. It just wasn’t my experience. Needless to say, it wasn’t any of my colleagues’ experience either. Coming to terms with that has been freeing and strangely empowering. Being able to focus on my customers enables me to truly understand their needs. Providing exemplary customer service and giving back to my local and state affiliations became my passion. Being a role model for my children and their friends proved to be the biggest reward. My career with all of my challenges and achievements, good and bad, inspired and motivated them to reach for the stars. They truly understand, “if you can dream it, you can achieve it!” In the final analysis, we are all masters of our own destinies.