Thursday, January 12, 2012

Wandering in the Undergrad Wilderness

Few nights back I was lucky enough to spend some times with my "college friends" for dinner. It feels a little weird to be saying that especially since all of us have completed our degree more than ten years ago. I was older than my group of friends because of the time and journey I took before completing my degree. After dinner as I was driving home I reflected on what it took for me to complete my program and realized the divine participation in the entire process.

I was not a model student in college whatsoever. In fact it took me FOUR YEARS of community college to accrue two years worth of transferable credit to a four year university. Once I got to my FIRST university, I didn't too much of what I was supposed to do.

So I transferred from Peralta College to San Francisco State University in the 90s. For every four classes I took per semester, I completed between 1-2 classes. And that was considered a "good" semester. Because of the financial aid I qualified for, signing up for classes and dropping before the drop deadline and sell/resell books became an "enterprise" for me. Unfortunately that "enterprise" was not creating enough income, so another "enterprising" friend introduced me to MLM. I wasn't really interested on the marketing or the selling aspect of MLM which was why I was unsuccessful at it, however I discovered a new love and passion: personal growth/development. It became such a priority, the semester of completing 1-2 classes for every 4 classes declined to 0-1 class for every 4 classes per semester. Since I wasn't selling enough in MLM and since my "enterprise" declined, I took out more loans. After all, it WAS "going to my 'education.'" Eventually academic probation at SFSU won out, so I was given an opportunity "get a REAL education." (Personal growth)

I set goals for myself that I considered at that time "unreachable." One of those goals included tracking down my biological mother. (Another project in addition to personal development that took priority over SF State) When I achieved that goal of meeting her and coming face-to-face, it added a radically new dynamic into my life that I was totally unprepared for. It became a situation where I learned the meaning behind the saying:

"Be careful what you wish for, you just may get it!"

The meeting and encounter opened a can of worms that was overwhelming, and as a result, I found myself seeking refuge in the underground rave scenes and bars. Even that refuge took priority over the quest for personal development. Eventually I was at such a loss, that's when seeking a religious path became a way of life for me. In a way, the religious path became my personal development program. To say that I was a bit overzealous...yeah I was. I had to be at that time. I had to dive in head first. Eventually I no longer worked in MLM and found full time work with GTE, which was the predecessor to Verizon. (I had set another goal in the early-mid 90s, to get a cell phone before it became the norm to have one. This was still during the pager days, and having a cell phone means having impeccable credit which I did not have after defaulting on my school loans.) While working with my cubicle mates at GTE, we compared our salaries and I learned that my colleague were making about 30% more than I was. The difference between them and myself was because they had a BA degree. I later learned that they had different degrees, none had anything to do with working in telecom or business. They just had a degree and were offered more for the exact same work we were doing.

I was selected to travel to China on behalf of my church to teach conversational English for the summer of 1997. Funny part during my goal setting session in one of my personal development class, I wrote a goal to "be in Hong Kong before July 1, 1997." Guess where I had to stop first before China? Yup, Hong Kong! Guess when I arrived there? June 14, 1997. Talking about exceeding my expectation, I got to be there when The Handover occurred!

Among our team of 8 assigned to teach English, 7/8 were either still in college completing their degree or had already completed their degree. Guess who was the single teammate who was neither? Yup, and guess who was having an inner turmoil of self-consciousness, inner shame, and un-worthiness because of that? Yup, me. So as we were wrapping up one of our assignments at JiShou University, I completely lost it during a banquet. The University President hosted a banquet in our honor to express gratitude for teaching his students, and spoke about excelling and valuing education and how his students specifically made extraordinary sacrifices in order to be students there. I eventually took a turn to speak on behalf of the entire team following his speech. I shared that I now understood what I thought was an insane obsession of my father for me to attend and finish college, how I did not take advantage of my opportunity to complete my degree, and how honored I felt that he entrusted our team (specifically me) to teach them English and American culture. I also impulsively declared that I would finish my degree once I returned to the States. I was then invited to the table of the University President who personally toasted me and wished me well. Now receiving a personal well-wish from a host with such a position at a Chinese banquet is a big deal. I made a declaration that I had no idea how I was going to keep. My full-time job at that time awaited my return.

Or so I thought.

Upon returning home from China, I learned that I was permanently replaced by the one who supposedly "temporarily" my replacement while I was gone. So it was back to job hunting again. I came across for a community development position at a local Christian university. Job requirements include office admin experience, public speaking experience and "an extensive knowledge of Oakland California." Benefits included medical, dental, and included classes and degree completion paid for by the university!!!

Talk about synchronicity, right? It was "a God thang" too, right? Well...yes it was.

So when Mike called me from the college to scheduled an interview for the position, I was ecstatic. I even wore an entire suit for the interview as opposed to my Dockers style pants with a button-down shirt and tie that I normally wear to interviews. We even had a conversation for a good fifteen minutes after the interview concluded. He assured me that I'll be hearing from him "soon."

Two weeks later, I received a phone call and job offer from Eve at Paging Networks. I asked her to allow me 48 hours before accepting the position. She gave me 24. I contacted Mike at the college. He said he offered the position to someone else. I started my new position at Paging Networks the following week. That was the fall of 1997. I worked with a motley crew of a department. It became a "day in, day out" routine for me. I eventually forgot about my impulsive declaration I made months earlier in China. After all, it was so far away. And its not like this president guy will ever find out anyways. I'm sure he'll never know one way or another. But I knew. So in the beginning of 98, our entire company received a pink slip or the option to re-locate to Utah. As for my department, we were on an "indefinite transition timetable." In other words, they knew we were going to be cut, they had no idea when. Little by little, Paging Networks office became more and more derelict.

Completing my degree just wasn't in the cards for me.

As my colleagues began to look and locate other jobs in the area, I too began a new job search. While other folks began to take time off for interviews, my supervisor would not allow my time off and eventually began demanding a doctor's note for each sick day. Anytime we received a new memo, we held our breath. A new memo meant a change and new policy creating a more challenging work environment which meant lower morale. Even at one point, my department jokingly voted me a "Most Likely to Go Postal on the Next Memo" award. When we received a new memo one day, we were getting ready for another "what the hell now" moment and one of my colleague began to drum roll in giving me my "award."

On behalf of Paging Networks, we would like to thank you for your patience and commitment to our transition. We are pleased to announce that as an additional assistance to ease the burden and transition of our dedicated employees, we have approved to all employees the tuition reimbursement program originally slated for our managers only.

I applied for the next quarter at Cal State Hayward and was accepted. To qualify for the tuition reimbursement, I needed to take courses that were considered "work related." My first course I signed up for was "Stress and Coping." After submitting the proof of enrollment for that specific class, I was pre-approved. With support from that professor and her colleague who was a clinical therapist, they submitted a document to what was left of the human resource department pleading for them to allow me to be approved for workman's comp stress-related work. Unfortunately I was approved to receive disability benefits only.

Regardless, I was able to take the time and attend school on a full-time basis. I received my BA in 2000 from Cal State HAYWARD, NOT East Bay.

I really thought I was meant to be offered that position at the Christian college to complete my degree. I even thought it was a "God thing" when I was getting closer and closer to the possibility. You could imagine my "what the hell" moment when I accepted to what was considered a "dead-end" job position. You could imagine the "what the f*ck" moment when the company announced the closure and the eventual, subsequent "WTF" moments with each company memo(s) that followed afterwards.

Yet it was all part of an elaborate scheme to an end result I declared in the summer of 1997. Was it a mechanism and a path I personally would've chosen to take? Absolutely not. It was, in the whole grand scheme of things probably the best thing to happen. Not knocking the Christian college, but the degree completion at that time was on organizational management, which was a business-related degree. It was far from where my passions and my academic strengths were. Also as a student at Hayward I was allowed an opportunity to pursue my craft of acting and theater which I would not have gotten at the other school. Lastly from a human resource standpoint, most people have heard of California State University, but the Christian college has less notoriety.

Here I was having dinner with friends from college (Hayward) reflecting on the journey that enabled us to cross paths with each other, and the thought occurred to me.

No way would I be enjoying this dinner had that job that I initially wanted been offered to me...

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