This is the Turning Point Series where I recall events in my life that changed the course of my journey in some significant, impactful way. I almost entitled it the TP Series but then thought better of it. Given the state of our world with covid and everything, I didn’t want people to wrongly assume this was the central spot to find the best toilet paper sales in the north (it’s not, btw).
“I can’t possibly do this!” I tearfully cried to my sister on the phone. I was in a frenzy; my thoughts were scattered, and I was beginning to spiral out of control. Typically, in these instances I would start talking myself off that invisible ledge: everything will be okay, it’ll be okay. But in my mind, I was screaming. How? How will this be okay?
I was about to start my first year of university. I had already completed a 2-year college diploma program and was now pursuing a condensed 4-year program in 3 years). Because I had racked up approximately $12,000 worth of student loans from college, I decided to opt out of applying for more student loans. My plan was to work part-time while in university to pay for tuition instead of increasing my debt load. I naively thought, how hard could this be?
My whole life, I’ve always worked. I had some previous management experience at a small local business the summer I graduated high school so when I saw a retail management position advertised at a mall nearby school, I decided to apply. My initial thought was this would be the perfect convenient side job while in school. I also applied thinking the likelihood of me getting it with my itty-bitty management experience was close to nil. So, there I went with guns blazing and confidence brewing. What have I got to lose? Well, luck was on my side that day and the manager hired me on the spot. His parting words, after giving me the good news, were, “Send me your availability and I’ll forward you a copy of your schedule.” I had envisioned working part-time hours (maybe 20 hours a week, maximum) while I was still in school and gradually increase my hours during the summer months to make more money. So, to my surprise when I got my new work schedule, I panicked. My manager had scheduled me for full-time shifts (37 hours per week).
I had mistakenly filled out my availability based on all the days and times I wouldn’t be at school thinking I was giving him flexibility (I didn’t want to seem too rigid), but what I didn’t realize was he was asking me for all the times and days I could/was willing to work. I froze. I had no foreseeable days off in my future.
“Is this even possible?” I asked my sister. “I will have no time. I am either working or at school every day, if not both! I literally don’t see any free time in my schedule! When would I do schoolwork?”
My fear of failing at both was weighing on me tremendously. I wanted to quit. I wanted to quit bad. Truthfully, if I hadn’t officially called the student loan office to withdraw my application the week prior and if I could have still received loan assistance for that semester, I may have quit right then and there. But the reality was I had bit off more than I could chew: I had passed the point of getting out of my university courses for that semester, I didn’t have any other way to pay for school and I had already made a commitment to my new job.
After that panicked call to my sister, I shed a few more tears and then I sniffed the hardest sniffle I could muster. I gathered my wits and prepared for take-off, as one might do when fixing to jump off a cliff hoping the end result is flight rather than complete obliteration. Oh, you better harness your inner-whatever and get out there and do your frigin’ best. Fly, damnit!
I did indeed take flight. Actually, I never stopped flying. For three years I rarely had a day where I didn’t work or go to classes, and more than likely, I juggled both daily. I’m not exaggerating here. If I wasn’t at work, at school or commuting from one place to the other, I was sleeping (sometimes). I had to take time off just to study for exams and even that was done very sparingly. That first year of trying to figure out how to balance a 37-hour work week with a full semester course load was abysmal. I had no inkling of how I was going to make it through; I just breathed and took it one day at a time. I remember nights where I would get home at 10PM (after being in classes from 8AM to 4PM, then working from 5PM to 9PM) and scarf down whatever was edible in and around the fridge only to retreat to my bed to finish my assignments due the next day (often using a flashlight because my grandmother had a sleep schedule of 9PM to 5AM and there was nowhere else in the house to work).
I was a working zombie for the majority of those years. I remember finding empty cubicles at the library during my lucky spares just to fit in a desperate catnap. By the last year of this insane chaos, I had somehow managed to find my balance.
I recount all this not for empathy or praise but to illustrate how much something like this can change a person’s perspective, values, and life. I developed an impeccable work ethic; I finally understood the value of time (your own time and other people’s times) and I took note of what I falsely prioritized over what was truly important in my life.
For a while after I finished that 3-year stint, every time someone complained that there was not enough time in a day to do everything they wanted, I always secretly thought, “Yes there is.” To me, it’s all about making space (removing things that don’t serve purpose) and carving out appropriate time.
When was a time you worked the hardest you’ve ever worked? Did you ever think about quitting?
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