Having left formal State education at the tender age of fifteen, (rebelling against strict parental rules) I was thrust into the labour market at a very young age with limited skills and a whole lot of attitude. I survived, and with various bumps, joys, and disappointments along the way I clawed my path through life. I married my husband when I was twenty and he was twenty four. We were in love with life and each other, and I truly believed that we were invincible. We both had jobs and we bought our first house together shortly before we were married.
I continued working full time during those first few years but we wanted to start a family and our son was born when I was twenty three and our daughter arrived when I was twenty six. I quit working outside my home for a few years to concentrate on rearing my children.
I loved being a parent but often wondered if life had more to offer me. As the kids grew older I began to see gaps in my education and at times it was difficult to address homework issues with them. I always figured that I wasn’t stupid, but lacking formal state examination certification because I was an early school leaver, I believed that I was somehow worthless in comparison to my smart and clever children. This was the monkey on my back and I didn’t like him.
As time went on I enrolled in day classes and night schools. I participated in various courses in many disciplines and I slowly began to build up accredited learning. It sometimes felt like a never ending quest , and that old monkey was always present. In time when my children were teenagers I returned to full time employment and although I was better equipped skills wise, I still lacked that all important state educational certificate. This was a major factor that contributed to stagnant opportunities and cul de sac promotional prospects.
In conversations about qualifications, people always began with the the question” What grades did you achieve in your Leaving Certificate” (which is the final State examination at 2nd level before embarking onto 3rd level at University). I felt so ashamed so often admitting that I never completed that stage having voluntarily left school early. My mistake. My Monkey.
I continued reading and learning during the years that my children became young adults, and despite the fact that I had well paid jobs during this time and was happy in some of them, that monkey was still lurking.
When my children finally finished college and were on their own chosen career paths, I often considered the advice that I had given them over the years. I thought about the importance of education, and about how their father and I had supported them emotionally and financially, and paid for extra curriculum help when it was needed. Education gives you power and I wanted that for my children. I had never compromised on it. I took a long hard look at my own life and wondered why was it that I placed such importance on their education, but didn’t rate my own. Was it too late for me, and had I missed the boat?
Destiny has a funny old way of working.
On New Years Eve in 2008 I met a neighbor at a party who had a few drinks and was feeling happy and full of enthusiasm for her New Years resolutions. When we started chatting, she told me that I had inspired her to look beyond her then boring job, and to reach out and do what she had always wanted- which was to be a teacher. She told me that I was the most positive person that she had ever met, and that because of me she was currently a mature student in a University getting her teaching degree and that she was on her own personal path to fulfillment.
Her conversation staggered me. I had no idea that my simple encouraging words to her at a previous party had led her to take such a huge step, and I left that night feeling bewildered and flummoxed by her apparent sincere feelings of gratitude. I came home and reflected on what had happened and realised that I was so busy encouraging other people to find their own destiny that I had completely relegated my own.
Before I went to bed on that fateful night -Jan 1st 2009- I had applied online to Maynooth University as a mature student for a Double Honor Arts Degree in English Literature- Sociology and Anthropology.
I have that wonderful woman to thank today as this is the eve of my Graduation. Without her kind words I would never have had the courage to leave full time employment to take up the College place that I was subsequently offered. She told me that I inspired her, but she actually inspired me to act, to take a chance and to grasp life. I have had a wonderful three years in a University where I have had the education that I had previously only dreamed about. My world has expanded beyond belief because of this experience, and I am so happy to say that finally, that monkey is off my back. Goodbye- I won’t miss you.
Destiny feels a little closer tonight.