Recently a reader of this blog wrote to me and in my reply, I summarized the message with “don’t live regrets, make it happen.” That phrase which fell out of my head (not some on-line “inspirational phrase” library) tells my story.
So what’s that story?
The story about how I got to where I am now is rather long and rather boring, but I’ll give the highlights and lessons I learned along the way. This is part 1 of a multi-part story.
Coming from a large family, I was raised to be prepared to be totally on my own by the time I graduated high school. My parents taught my siblings and me many life skills that gave us the work ethic to earn our own money to pay for essential expenses — housing, food, and clothing. Any money left over could then be used for wants rather than needs.
By the time I graduated high school, my twin brother enrolled in an out-of-state university on an athletic scholarship and lived on campus. I enrolled in a university that was closer to home. But Mom wouldn’t have me live with her. She wanted me to be on my own. To prevent me from “hanging on” at home, she sold the house and moved into a retirement community where residents had to be at least age 50. So no staying home with Mom while in college… drat.
I never wanted to live on campus because of the hours kept by students — up all night with loud running around, partying, and noise. I have always been an “early-to-bed / early-to-rise” kinda guy.
Since I couldn’t live at home and didn’t want to live on campus, I did the next best thing: by convenience of timing and circumstances, I moved into the fully-furnished basement apartment of our family’s next-door neighbor. Her previous tenant had just moved out. She was living alone and needed help maintaining the house and yard. In return for a number of hours for home maintenance, I was asked to pay a very nominal rent for that apartment. I could even keep my family cat with me. Suited me (and the cat) quite well for my first three years of college.
During college, I worked at three jobs to pay my expenses — tuition, books, housing, meals, cat food, gas, etc. A job at a local camera store kept me connected with the community and gave me spending money. A job on campus filled hours between classes and helped to pay tuition. A terrific summer job that required long journeys of international travel and paid extraordinarily well for a college student (because I racked in about 90 hours a week, with double time over 40 hours, then triple over 70) … I actually saved thousands of dollars each summer of four summers I worked for that organization. I was able to buy my first motorcycle and my first car with cash.
Then an “opportunity” was presented to study abroad. Not just a six-week short gig, but a full year. I leveraged resources from the connections made through my summer job employer to work and earn college credits at a major university in Italy, while traveling throughout Europe on three-day weekends. This was a tremendous opportunity.
Some of my family and friends said, “but you’ll only get 12 credits for a full year! You won’t graduate on time. It will cost a ton of money! You’re nuts!”
To me, this was my first (but not last) endeavor to do something different / new / intriguing. Something from which I would learn a lot, but not necessarily what one would describe as “book learning.” More like “life learning.”
I stood my ground against the nay-sayers and went to Europe. Visited 18 countries, learned smatterings of 11 languages, lived with 12 host families in 11 different countries, and gave me a much richer and greater understanding of life and living than most any college students would ever have.
This post is getting long and I have other things to do, so let me summarize Part 1 of my story: if you see an opportunity, make it happen.
Making that living-abroad experience happen — bringing it all together, organizing the travel, venturing into new-to-me places where no one spoke English, living on a shoe-string without any income — all of that — taught me many skills that I could not have learned in college.
How to learn from and make friends with people of different cultures and backgrounds. How to communicate. How to manage my crazy diet restrictions (yep, even back then I had my “challenges”). What new foods were edible and which ones were not. How to read a train schedule in a dozen languages. What to do when the train arrives late at a transfer point and the train you were connecting with left an hour ago — and how not to fall off a turnip truck (literally). How to herd sheep, cows, goats, chickens, and cats (well, sorta). Essentially, my first life lessons in “making the best of it.”
More in future blog posts about the rest of my college life and first jobs… then, eventually, how I got to where I am today.
Thanks to my loyal blog reader for the inspiration to begin to document and tell my story.
Life is short: make life happen!