With all of the students returning to college, I began to reflect on that amazing time of my life. It was the fall of 1976 and I was seventeen years old when my parents dropped me off at Georgia Southern. I don’t know if they cried or not on the way back home, but I was elated to be off and on my own! As the daughter of a preacher, I had been raised in a fairly strict environment and I loved the new experience of walking out of my dorm and not having to respond to those questions I had become so accustomed to… “Where are you going? Who are you going with? What time will you be back?” Obviously, as I became a parent myself, I learned to appreciate those questions as they were really parental efforts to keep me safe from the dangers of the world, but at the time - not so much.
What I loved most about college was that I began to learn more about myself and began a journey of appreciating who I was without feeling the need to change in order to please someone else. Here are a few of the things that I learned about myself early on:
1. I am a procrastinator. That in and of itself is not such a great thing, but what I learned in college was just how long it would take me to complete a task. I know my limitations and exactly how long I can wait before starting a task to meet a deadline. That has served me well over the years because I am still a procrastinator, but I can get things done.
2. I am stubborn. I realized this my freshman year in college. Many of those close to me would be astounded that it took me that long to realize that I actually was stubborn! I went to my chemistry class and during the introductory time, the instructor discovered that I was an education major and quickly let me know that I had enrolled in the wrong class. It seems I was in the Chemistry class for pre-med students. I took that as an affront to my intellectual ability, and decided to remain in that section of Chemistry. I have never studied so long and hard and yet be so delighted to get a low C! A smarter, less stubborn person probably would have taken the easier road and switched classes, but my “I’ll show him” attitude turned into perseverance with a realization of my limitations.
3. I like to be in control. I was one of the seemingly few college freshmen that did not drink. This was very unusual at the time because the legal drinking age was eighteen. I thought that I might be ridiculed because of this, but instead, people accepted my not drinking and I enjoyed time at parties with friends while becoming the designated driver. In my senior year of college when I did choose to drink too much (that punch tasted nothing like beer), I hated the feeling of the bed spinning, being sick and having no control over how my body felt. It was at that moment that I knew I would be in control of my body and not let any substance or anything control me. It was not until much later in life that I learned truthfully that I am in control of very little.
Knowing those things, I entered the adult world and began teaching school. There were even more things I learned about myself as an adult:
1. I had great parents! It was not until I began my teaching career and saw children whose parents were absent and neglected them, or were angered and beat them, or left their children to care for themselves that I realized what wonderful parents I had. My parents, although strict, loved me, supported me, disciplined me with love and encouraged me. I learned to work hard and be responsible, because that was expected of me. I gained a great appreciation of the blessing that was!
2. I discovered that I had gifts of which I was unaware! My mother was a teacher and according to all of her former students and colleagues, she was an incredible teacher! She was a teacher leader and actually developed the first high school psychology course in the state of Georgia. My father was a preacher and an excellent speaker. He was able to say so much in thirty minutes while weaving stories and illustrations through his message making his talk easier to be remembered. He used to tell me that no one will listen after thirty minutes, so you need to say whatever it is you want to say in that time frame. As I was teaching in my late twenties, I discovered that I was able to creatively engage my students in the lessons as well as speak to other educators about methods and strategies. I discovered that I was creative, and that I was not afraid of public speaking, but embraced it and enjoyed speaking to groups.
3. I am not in control of anything. While I like being in control, as an adult I learned that I am not in control of anything, but do have a choice about how I respond to the things that life throws my way. After thirteen years of marriage, my husband left and my life drastically changed. That stubbornness that I had embraced in college combined with my faith is what kept me afloat during that difficult time.
I have a daughter who initially made poor choices in her early twenties relationally and financially, and while those decisions brought me great sadness, I have great joy over the beautiful grandchildren that I have and I am enjoying watching her discover gifts that she may not have known she had. I see her gifts demonstrated as an incredible wife, mother, teacher and businesswoman. I see so much talent, initiative, love and leadership in her and I know that even with her rocky start to adulthood, she has overcome so much and has what she needs to navigate life.
I have a son who has tread in dangerous waters with substance abuse and addiction. I have held fear and have watched him self-destruct and be extremely close to death – every parent’s nightmare. He is now thankfully a recovering addict and I believe he is just starting to recognize some of the gifts that he has – gifts of compassion, creativity, organization and leadership. He is an overcomer and I know that even with the baggage of his twenties, there are amazing things in his future!
4. Joy can come from sorrow. I thought my life had ended when my divorce was final and I was a single parent of two children and a school administrator. I never intended to be a single parent and was not happy about my situation. I was a single for ten years before marrying my best friend. Our life has been so blessed and together we have walked through some difficult times, but are so appreciative of each other and what we each bring to our relationship. Life is full of sorrows, but the good news is that you don’t have to be stuck in sorrow mode. Joy may be just around the corner, you just have to get there.
5. You need to appreciate who you are and be OK with you. I learned how to appreciate being alone. That is a difficult task. To do that, you need to appreciate who you are, the good and the not so good. We were each created uniquely, but we were no mistake. God never makes mistakes. While I wouldn’t necessarily advocate being a procrastinator or being stubborn, I am both of those things and have discovered how to work those qualities for my good. You are who you are – so begin to appreciate that and discover the talents and qualities that make up your personality and demeanor. I don’t really think we change who we are over time; we learn to best utilize who we are. Consider making a list of your attributes and think about what they say about you. Then begin to appreciate who you are!