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My family’s fate weighed heavily on my shoulders. Everything I knew - my identity, my values, my ideals for the future - crashed down around me.
I was working three jobs and charging my credit cards just to keep food on the table for my daughter and I.
I wanted a way out, I wanted something - anything - to hold onto. I wanted to catch my breath because I was suffocating from the disaster that was my life.
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Then, I got an acceptance letter to the Master's degree of my choice.
But there was a big part of me that was afraid of my good fortune.
Now, I was in a position to study with some of the best and brightest professors in the country. The other students in my cohort had already done work with some amazing companies. Many of them were coming straight from college and were 5 years younger than me.
I couldn't escape the feeling that I wouldn't fit in.
I wouldn't be smart enough.
At my age (which I thought was soooo old) I should have a great career already, right?
And I had a few more struggles than the average college student.
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I AM A PARENT
I had my daughter at 19. Here is what that means:
I don’t have many friends that are my age who have kids.
I’m usually the youngest parent in the room at school functions.
I often need help from family and friends
I grew up hearing that having a child when you are a teenager is a kiss of death. In my head, I was already a “statistic” and would very likely struggle to make something out of my life.
And I struggled without a doubt.
My daughter accompanied me through my early twenties and going forward. Together we went on a journey of self-discovery. From undergraduate school to graduate school and from unemployable babysitter to gainfully employed data analyst.
I DIDN’T HAVE A BACKGROUND IN MATH
When I entered my graduate program, I learned that the degree I was seeking had way more math than I was anticipating. The professors would zoom through advanced statistics concepts and excel formulas so fast it that made my head spin.
I was lost. And it was obvious.
So I started to make friends with fellow students who breezed through class.
I NEVER HAD A FANCY JOB
I met several students in grad school who were much younger than I was, and they would boast about working for Fortune 500 companies and their fancy job titles. I, on the other hand, was a babysitter, a waitress and a freelancer. #awkward
When people would ask me “what do you do?“ I would instantly shrink on the inside and immediately froze up while trying to squeak out a job title that didn’t make me sound like a #loser.
I went to grad school so paranoid that no employer would ever want me because my competition was so much smarter and so much more marketable than I was.
So….. I worked harder. I showed up early to career services and stayed late. I did extra mock interviews and got my presentation polished to perfection by working with several on-campus recruiters. I volunteered for consulting programs and I did additional research projects.
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Looking back, I realize that everything I was able to accomplish was because of my weaknesses:
As a young parent, my daughter helped keep me focused and grounded through school.
Not understanding math (and being honest about it) helped me build connections with other people who had different strengths - and it helped me learn what my strengths were.
The fact that I didn’t have a fancy job motivated me to work hard in grad school to ultimately land my dream job.
The things that I thought were my downfalls, were actually the things that lead me to success.
Every personal struggle that I had imagined would make me different in a negative way…..ended up doing the opposite.
My past made me a stronger advocate for myself, resilient in the face of tragedy, calm when everything came crashing down, and a very quick learner.
Without the struggles that I overcame, I would never have built the mental tools necessary to overcome extreme difficulty. I wouldn't be typing this from my desk at my dream company. I wouldn't have a message to share with the world. I wouldn’t have a road map to my personal success to inspire you.
So, if you’re struggling today, or if you can remember a difficulty that you went through, take some time to appreciate that gift today.
Because the price that you paid to learn those lessons and build that resilience, will pay dividends for the rest of your life.
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