I can vividly remember the year, the month, the day and the hour that I made the decision to let go of my dream. It was something I felt I had to do. I'll never forget that day.I knew exactly what I was giving up when I made the decision.I was giving up my future. I believed, at the time, that it was the right thing to do.It was a sacrifice. I was willing to it. It was for something that meant even more to me, which was my family.
I was married at a very young age against the advice of my parents and even more so, against the will of my girlfriends family.I knew I was too young to be getting married, but again, I did it because I believed it was the right thing to do.
A couple of other men had hurt my girlfriend, at the time, deeply; she was fragile, in this sense. They led her to believe they loved her and then they broke her heart. I promised I would never do that to her.She believed me. She trusted me. I loved her and she loved me.I kept my word and married her, as I promised.
In the beginning, I had no regrets about it. I was happy as I could be with her. I loved her dearly and nobody in the world could have convinced me, at the time, that I had made a mistake.
My in-laws were furious about our marriage. They had much greater plans for their daughter's future than for her to be married to meat such a young age. We married without their consent. We married outside of their faith.We invited them to our wedding, but her mother and sister showed up.It really hurt her that her father didn't come to the ceremony. It bothered me too.
In time, my in-laws came to realize they had no choice but to except our decision to be together. They eventually started coming around, but I could tell they deeply resented me.They believed I was going to ruin the life of their daughters. They hated me. They tried not to show it.
Everyone, in wife's family, was highly educated.They all held high paying, professional positions. They drove expensive new cars and owned beautiful homes in the nicest neighborhoods. I was determined to show them that I could be successful too. I was determined to, one day,to buy my wife and children a home that was even nicer than was theirs. I would show them all that they were wrong about me.
It didn't take long for me to learn that it's hard to make much money with only a high school education. I was still a teenager with no experience or job skills of any kind. No matter how long or hard I tried to work, I wasn't able to make enough money for us to make ends meet.
Soon our family of two grew into a family of five. Financial pressures were all over me. There was never enough money. I was always in debt. It seemed like no matter how hard I tried to make it for us,it wasn't enough. We had no choice but to apply for food stamps and every other kind of government assistance we could possibly get. This made me feel even worse about myself, especially in front of my in-laws.
My pride was really beginning to suffer. I was starting to feel like a real loser. I knew what I was doing wasn't working. It wasn't that I wasn't willing to do it; it's that it wasn't working for us. It simply wasn't enough to build our futures on and I knew I had to do something to change that. I knew I needed to go back to school to increase my earning potential.
I thought my in-laws would be happy to hear of my decision, but they were not. They didn't want to hear anything about me wanting to go back to school. It was too late for that now, in their opinion. I insisted on marrying their daughter against their will and now I was going to have to pay for it. That was their attitude about it. They didn't care if I had to work three jobs for the rest of my life if that's what it took to provide for their daughter. That's all that mattered to them.
Again, I decided to ignore to them and to follow my own heart. I had always wanted to be a teacher growing up and whatever it was going to take, I decided I was going to pursue my dream and become a teacher.It was something I needed to do for myself and for my family. I realized that I may have made a mistake by getting married too young, but now I was going to do the right thing and go back and do what I should have done in the first place.My wife was in complete support of me doing it. She was excited about it. She was willing to do whatever she needed to do to help me get through it. Again, my in-laws were furious with me. They resented the fact that their daughter was working to support our family, while I was attending school.
Every holiday my wife's brother would come home from college and talk about all of his school experiences and adventures.The whole family was so interested in everything he had to say. They were so proud of him. I tried to join in the conversations by telling them about the experiences I was having in school. They all ignored me, including my younger brother-in-law. It was a shame to them that I was a full-time student when I had a family that needed provided for.
I would've gladly attended school part-time and worked full time, but that would've taken me too long to graduate with the degree I needed to become a teacher.My wife and I decided it was best for me to go full time and get it over with as soon as possible. We were willing to do whatever it took to make it happen.
My in-laws never let up. They made me feel like a total loser every time they saw me.They never wanted to hear anything about school, which was my work. They refused even to talk about it. They wanted me to quit school and go back to work.
I completed the first year at Ohio State University, with a perfect 4.0 grade average. I made the dean's list every quarter. I ranked in the top 1/2 of 1% of my class.
I absolutely loved school. I was born to be there. I couldn't imagine myself anywhere else. I knew I had finally found my place in this world. I decided I wanted to be a lifelong student. Even more, I decided I wanted to earn a PhD and teach at the college level some day. I couldn't wait for the day when I could begin my new career.
I didn't even take the summer quarter off, as most students do. I kept on working towards my degree. I had no time to waste. I needed to graduate and get back to work for my family as soon as possible.
But soon all the pressures started getting to me. I was embarrassed that my wife was working while I was not. My in-laws kept making me feel like a loser for trying to better myself. I started feeling guilty for being a student when I had a wife and three kids that needed me to work and provide for them. Soon an opportunity arose and I found myself considering it.
I heard our local city water department was taking applications for an opening within the water meter division.Over 300 people had already applied for the position. I didn't feel I had a chance, but I decided I would apply to make everybody happy. Up until that point in my working career, the only jobs I had ever had were restaurant and janitorial positions. I knew absolutely nothing about water distribution or water meters. I wasn't too worried about getting the job.
A couple weeks later, I got a call from the supervisor of the water department to come in for an interview. It went extremely well. The interviewer said he was very impressed with me. A couple weeks later, I received another call from the same man. He wanted me to come in for a second interview, with his boss.I couldn't believe this was happening. I didn't want the job, but how was I going to be able to refuse it? My whole family was ecstatic about me receiving the call out of over 300 applicants. My in-laws were especially happy and beginning to show a little pride in me.
On completion of my second interview, I got the job. I told the interviewer that I needed the weekend to talk to my wife and think about the offer. It was a great offer compared to anything before. Great starting pay, excellent benefits for the whole family, paid holidays, paid sick leave, paid vacation and excellent working hours with weekends off. A job many men would do cartwheels of joy to have. Not me, I wanted to be a teacher.
I went home and informed the family of the good news. Everyone was so proud of me. My wife felt my sadness. She knew I didn't really want to take the job. She told me that she would support me in whatever I decided to do.
I walked up to my study room, which I had made for myself when I first started college. I loved my study room.I gave it one last look, as tears filled my eyes. I took such pride in decorating it with all my school colors and memorabilia. I had it fixed up to look like an office used by a teachers. It was a room I was proud to show people. I always felt like I was accomplishing something when I was in there working hard at my studies.
I sat down at my desk one last time and considered the offer I was made. I didn't have to think about it long. I knew what I had to do. I couldn't turn the job down. My family needed me to take it. My wife needed help supporting the family. It was too much for her to handle all by herself.
I took an empty box out of the closet and began filling it with all of my schoolbooks and office decor. I striped the room down to its bare walls to where there was no evidence left of a student ever having been there. I didn't want to have to look at it any more. It would've only made me sad. My life and work was going to be with the city water department now. That was something that I was going to have to learn to accept.
I remember looking at the calendar and at the clock in the hallway. It was 10 September 1986, at 1:10 pm. I recorded this time and date to memory because I knew, at that moment, that I was letting my dream of being a teacher go. I knew, at that moment, that it was never going to be.
I picked up the boxes I had filled with my school stuff and I sadly walked them down the stairs of our three-bedroom townhouse to the living room below. I placed them in the very back of the storage closet and shut the door. I informed my wife of my decision to quit school and go back to work.
She asked me, "Are you sure?" I told her I was sure.
Soon, they promoted me to the top water department position, within five years and ahead of those who had been there for much longer. I had 25 more years to go to retirement and there was no higher position that I could accomplish, without a degree. I felt so unmotivated.
I was nothing like the other workers there. I had nothing in common with them. I wished I had stayed in school and fulfilled my ambition of becoming a teacher. My job with the city was a good job, but I was unhappy there.It wasn't where I belonged. I felt like a fish out of water. I missed my classes at Ohio State. I missed my study room. I missed having a dream. I missed the hope of a brighter future.
I quit the water department shortly thereafter and tried to find fulfillment in dozens of other jobs. I have never succeeded at finding it in any of them.
Sadly, after 17 years of being together with my high school sweetheart, our marriage ended. We weren't prepared enough to survive the trials and pressures of life. We married too young. We had not taken the time needed to prepare ourselves for success,as our parents tried to warn us.
The moral of the story is this: Hold off on worrying about building a relationship with someone else until you fulfill your dreams. This is not only good advice for young people who are starting in life; it's also good advice for those who are older, like me, who begin their life again. The same rule applies regardless of age or circumstance.
This is something you must do for yourself, by yourself, before you ever consider trying to add someone else to your life. It rarely ever works exactly as you wish, no matter how good are your intentions. The point is to try.
As Steven Tyler wrote, at age 25, "Dream on, dream until the dream comes true." It's sage advice, at any age. One more quote for Tyler, "The light at the end of the tunnel is you."
M Adam Roberts lives and writes from Clearwater, Florida.
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