Are You Determined?

Although I work in the marketing department of a small private school, sometimes I find myself teaching. One example of this is my new(er) role as the yearbook advisor for the high school students. I couldn’t be more thrilled or excited. They all have editorial roles, and each student is simply bursting with creative ideas and articles. One of our Friday meetings was cancelled due to a snow day, and the kids took the initiative to work on a few of the pages and interviews during their lunch hour throughout the week. They completely surprised me with it last Friday, and honestly, I nearly cried.

Kids are awesome.

The truth is, over the last few weeks, I’ve become a friend to these kids. And they’ve started to look up to me as a teacher—not just the girl in the marketing office, running around making copies of flyers and spreadsheets. They’ve been saying goodbye to me at the end of every school day and making sure to include me in classroom discussions.

“What about Emily? We need to meet for yearbook!”

“Can we have a 2nd yearbook class this week?”

(My hair is big enough, let alone the swelling of my head they are encouraging.)

Last Friday, the students were so caught up in their articles and photoshop workshops, that some of them missed the first 15 minutes of their lunch hour. I made an announcement, but they just kept working! After most of the kids left for lunch, there was one kid that stayed behind from the others.

He said, “If you don’t mind, Emily, I’m not really that hungry. I’d really rather finish writing my article on the guinea pig farm.”

To give some context, the private school offers remedial support for students with learning disabilities, health problems, or otherwise need support the public, cyber or charter schools cannot provide. Some of the kids go to cyber school, but need in-class instruction to supplement their programs. It’s a melting pot of specialized educational programs and individual circumstances.

The student that stayed behind is a teenager that has been attending the school for years. He also has high-functioning autism. When he first came to the school, he wouldn’t make eye contact or speak to anyone. To be honest, I didn’t know this much about him before last Friday, and I didn’t suspect the severity of his autism because he is so talkative in our yearbook class.

Nonetheless, he stayed behind and continued reviewing the notes he took from an interview he gave earlier in the workshop. And then he paused.

“Emily, if you don’t mind, I have a few questions for you,” he said. “You know Sally is so determined about making this yearbook so good. She wants it to be perfect. And, Suzy is so determined about finishing her book and raising a lot of money for her cousin. But, I don’t know what I’m supposed to be determined about.”

I think my jaw hit the conference table.

“Well, Billy, do you mean you don’t know what to be determined about for the yearbook? Or, life in general?” I asked.

“Well, I want to do a good job for the yearbook because it’s a school activity. But, I’m not sure what I should be determined about in general,” he said.

Can you believe the conversation I’m having with this student? Not really a teacher, only advising the yearbook class for about a month and a half… I was dumbstruck for exactly three seconds. Maybe four.

“Billy, I want to tell you something. You don’t have to know that right now. It is great that you’re concerned about it, but you don’t have to have all of the answers right now,” I started.

His eye contact was unwavering.

“I’m going to tell you about me. When I first moved to Pittsburgh after high school, I was so determined to be a writer for a big newspaper. I had all of these great plans. But, then I got a great job at a newspaper—And I didn’t like it,” I continued.

He looked surprised.

“I didn’t like working at a newspaper at all. So, you know what? I had to change my plans. I had to find out what I was going to be determined about again. Life is like that. Life changes your plans, and you have to start all over again. I’m still figuring out what I’m most determined about, but I think I’m getting close. You don’t have to have all the answers right now. You see?” I asked.

“Yeah, I do. Thanks for sharing your story with me,” he said with a small smile.

We continued to talk about me moving to Pittsburgh, school and plans. He never ran out of questions or curiosity, but decided that he was kind of hungry after all. As he excused himself to eat his lunch (while still scribbling away in his notepad), he said that he really enjoys yearbook and thinks I do a great job.

I’ve tossed around about a million ideas and dreams for my future, and I still do. Late at night, when the sound of silence is deafening and your eyelids become curtains for the play of your future life. I’ve thought about being a reporter, a novelist, a singer, a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, a therapist, and on and on. Today, I’m in an MBA program at the University of Pittsburgh, and I am exploring the pathway of a career in marketing and strategy.

I’m not exactly sure what I’m determined to be. At first, I thought that was an odd way to word his question. I wanted to correct him. But, the more I think about it, the more fitting I find the word. Determined. What gets my blood pumping? What keeps me up at night—in a good way? What gets me out of bed in the morning?

I don’t know quite yet. And, that’s okay.

I have quite a few things that I’m great at. I’m good at a lot of things, too. I love certain projects. I like doing others. But, what am I determined to be?

What are you determined to be?




Love Your Job; Money Will Follow

Today, on, there was a story listing quotes from the women of Old Hollywood. Really, they weren’t just quotes, but words of wisdom about careers, success & money. Of course, I have some favorites, but the one that spoke most to me today was by Hedy Lamarr:

I know why most people never get rich. They put the money ahead of the job. If you just think of the job, the money will automatically follow. This never fails.

For me, this is a hopeful nugget of advice, a yellow brick road to my Oz, an end for my means. In May, my mom passed away due to complications with her battle with alcoholism. She is free. I couldn’t be more relieved for her freedom. But, as with many major life events, I was faced with an unsettling combination of feelings, including fear and a sense of being completely lost. I also faced the ice-cold truth that I was unhappy in my job and the career path to follow it.

I left my job – a very comfortable, salaried position from one of the biggest employers in the Pittsburgh area. I took a look at my options, deciding that I’d rather make minimum wage facing customers, doing something I enjoyed, than make a salary, continuing to work in a suffocating, cubicle, data processing position. I knew it would be tough, but I had done it in the past. I mean, while I was an undergraduate, I was working up to 3 or 4 jobs at  a time to make end’s meet while taking 18 credits per semester.

I could handle minimum wage while in grad school, right?

Wrong. See, when I was an undergrad, I hadn’t gotten used to making much more per hour than I made at those 3 to 4 odd jobs. Now, I was used to a salary. I was used to spending my money a certain way, living a certain lifestyle and worked my relationships around these truths. I had to re-learn how to budget, cook creatively and date my boyfriend cheaply. And, it hasn’t been easy.

Since I resigned from my salaried position, my Downtown cubicle with a view of the city, I have taken myself on a ride, trying to find my new path. Tonight, on New Years’ Eve before the first day of 2013, I can see that I’m finally coming into my new path. After various attempts to find my new path, including a stint working in retail again, being a full-time grad student, and then working as a barista, I find that my current path may not be a perfect fit, but it’s an excellent start.

Today, I have a full-time internship in marketing at a school, continue my studies in the part-time MBA program at University of Pittsburgh, and work one afternoon a weekend as a barista. It’s just enough to feel overwhelmed to scare me into accomplishing everything I need to on a daily basis. It’s diverse enough to keep my engaged. And, as always, I’m a jack-of-all-trades, wearing many colors on my colorful cloak.

Sounds great, right?

Well, unfortunately, I am barely making end’s meet. I’ve had to ask for financial help from our parents, and have had to depend on others to make it through each month. (Luckily, they can help and I am so thankful for them.) For the six days per week I work, the six hours of class time per week, the homework, and LIFE, I am not even making half of what I made at my last position. Gas money and groceries are sometimes provided by my piggy bank. My morning latte has been replaced with coffee made in my Mr. Coffee and a hot shower. I eat Cup of Noodles on the regular again for the first time since my dorm days. Instead of buying a refill for my toner, I’m digging through my old products for a suitable substitute. My boyfriend and I have changed our date night venues from some Pittsburgh favorites to Chipotle or places for which I’ve found coupons.

And you know what? I couldn’t be more thrilled.

This bump in the road is exactly what I needed to get back to me. I’ve always made these thrifty choices, and I’ve always been most inspired and driven by tough circumstances. It’s almost like I become stifled the second I get comfortable, or normal.

Ringing in 2013 is not just looking forward to what’s in store in the coming year for me, but it’s also slamming the door on what 2012 brought. I learned a lot about myself, my family and my future; I wouldn’t trade these lessons for the world. However, I couldn’t be more thrilled to see 2012 go. I’ve made many goals that I’ll share in coming posts, but I wanted to give you a glimpse into where I am today, on the Eve of the New Year. With that, I’m taking into account that I’m doing just what Ms. Lamarr suggested. I am focusing on the task at-hand, not the money. Let’s hope her story is true.

And if my fortune cookies from the past few months are any indication, I’d say it’s safe to say I have some green in my future–