After the first time I was done, I swore to myself that I would never go back. I thought up every excuse in the book, just to convince myself, let alone anyone else. Too much debt. Not enough time. No clue what I want to do. That was just the tip of the iceberg. I had just graduated from Rutgers University with a B.A. in Political Science, and was still naïve enough to believe that the piece of paper I received, regardless of what I majored in, would see job offers thrown at me from all directions like baseballs from the stands. I went to college because that’s what you’re supposed to do after high school nowadays. I had no idea what I wanted to do, and it didn’t help me figure it out. I’ve spent a long time cursing my decision to ever go, blaming it for leaving me directionless and saddled with a mountain of debt. I’ll never regret the experience, though – the lasting friends that I made, blowing right past the “Freshman 15” and packing on double or even triple that with bad dining hall food, learning to love beer, being able to take afternoon naps, discovering new ideas, new music, and new people – I loved every minute of it. But I was done. I was exhausted, afraid and completely unprepared for the “real world.” I was set adrift, devoid of direction or any real ambition, until a life-altering incident ignited a fight-or-flight response in me and challenged me to choose a path. At that time, running away was not an option, so it came time to fight.
Now, years later, in the waning days of my twenties, I had been tossed out on the street again. I had just been unceremoniously discharged from my job, the first such experience in my life. Like a newborn, I didn’t know whether to cry, scream, or pee in my pants out of fear or the simple inability to consciously function. I dug myself into a rut over the years, not only striking out repeatedly, but going down looking most of the time, without even offering a swing. I had just struck out again, but this time it was with a full count and the game on the line. I spent the better part of a decade wandering aimlessly through a forest of thankless retail jobs, failed relationships, and general confusion, much like I imagine most twenty-somethings do. I trekked through the darkest part of that forest and finally found the clearing.
Little did I know at the time, getting fired from a miserable job was to be a blessing in disguise. I spent the rest of the summer after my separation from that company searching my soul and the world for my next step. My days were filled with walks and bike rides out to the bay, where I would sit and stare out at the water, sometimes for hours. On many of those days, the water was calm and peaceful, save for the occasional wake left by a lone boater passing by. Sometimes, the water would be choppy and chaotic, tossed around by the warm but forceful summer wind. There were enough of those placid days that I found the answers I needed, listening to the smallest of waves creep quietly ashore. While a healthy dose of fear had taken root in me, all I could do was remember how lucky I was to be able to feel the summer sun on my face and the breeze rolling in off the otherwise quiet bay.
I had always heard the saying, in various iterations, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Maybe that’s true, but it doesn’t account for how easy it is to become comfortable and even complacent in a situation that you know is slowly killing you. This time, however, I decided to believe in that well-traveled advice and do something to reinvent myself. I could not keep doing what I was doing. I had grown up, given up on the anger of my youth, and decided that the only thing that would make any sense was for me to go back to school. I have truly come to believe that a person should never stop learning, either about themselves, about the world, or about anything they choose. I have reached a point in my life in which I know that I should never stop improving. As the great Gene Hackman said to struggling quarterback Keanu Reeves in The Replacements, “When I look at you, I see two men- the man you are, and the man you ought to be. Someday, those two will meet and make for one hell of a football player.” While I never laced up my cleats and battled it out on the gridiron, I found that quote to be quite applicable, knowing that I had so much more to offer to myself, and to the world, and only had to figure out a way to complete that transformation. Knowing what you are capable of is just part of the battle, but the full siege lies in finding the confidence to succeed.
There are countless ways to get an education, or to set on the course to fulfilling your destiny – whether you find your answers in a book, in a classroom, in moments of zen out by the water, or in something as simple as a quote from a favorite movie. I know now, as do all of my classmates that sit beside me or roam the halls to other classes – the ones fresh out of high school, the ones who have long settled down with families and are looking for better job opportunities, as well as those in their golden years – that purpose and direction can always be found through education. Whatever your struggle may be, the next time you’re in the batter’s box, wait for your pitch, and when you get it, send it over the left field fence and don’t look back.