10 years ago I started a new job working in a university’s marketing and communication department.
One of the perks of working at this particular university is free tuition. Free education! Free classes! Free knowledge for the taking!
So I promptly enrolled in an organizational behavior class. Nevermind that I was 27 and the only “old” guy in the room other than the professor. It was a bunch of undergrads struggling to stay awake and me on my third or fourth cup of coffee of the day hanging on the professor’s every word and engaging in class participation like a crazy person.
There was also one other problem. The class was at 10 am, right at the height of the workday. I had never cleared this with my boss.
I don’t remember exactly how I was found out. Maybe there was a meeting I was supposed to be at that I never showed up to or something.
When my boss found out, she sat me down. It was a George Constanza moment for me. I gotta plead ignorance here. Was that wrong? Was I not supposed to do that?
(That was actually true. I had come from a job as a reporter, where you come and go on your own schedule as long as you meet your deadlines. Working in an 8–5 office was a big adjustment. Ironically, I was in organizational behavior trying to figure out how to behave in an organization.)
I think my boss was more exasperated than angry. I seem to remember sighing. But she was very gracious. When I said I’d drop the class, she told me now that I had started I should keep going. She told me to just communicate better next time. She told me I could do it.
It’s now been a decade. I’ve been taking classes off and on for 6 years. I’ve taken classes in three programs, everything from accounting and calculus to models of sustainability and communication theory.
I stopped and I started. I went from a class in the middle of the workday to classes at night. I went from the old guy in a room full of undergrads to the old guy in a room full of graduate students. I didn’t always know where I was going. I didn’t always think I could do it.
Tomorrow, I take my final class in my master’s program. After all these years I’ll actually have the paper to show for it. It feels surreal.
I feel grateful for bosses and mentors that encouraged me to keep going even if I didn’t go about it the right way or wasn’t quite sure where I was headed. I feel grateful for an understanding wife and family when I was gone 2–3 nights a week teaching or taking classes. I feel grateful for the professors and colleagues who thought I could do it.
So thanks Mary Pat, Tricia, Tom, Gee, Sarah, Gary, Jess, Clara, Xavier and everyone else who has helped me get here. Thanks for believing I could do it, even if I didn’t always know what “it” was.