What do you do?


There is the age old question that happens when you put adults in a room. That question is, “What do you do?”

“What do I do? I am a student.”

“Oh really! What are you studying?”

“I am trying to get into nursing.”

“So good of you to be going back to school.”

“Ha, yes, but the thing is…”

Then I explain how even though I am back in school, I have been in school. I have done school, and I have done it well. Sometimes I need to emphasize that because people become condescending.

Nothing makes me more afraid than being read like a stereotypical black woman. You know the black woman of many a racist imagination; young single mother, uneducated, poor and struggling.

The fact is I am none of those things, except single. I am old, not a mother, definitely educated, earning a living and thriving. I am nobody’s cliche. But as you learn when you have lived in America long enough as a Black woman, nobody gives you the chance to define your existence. Your being is defined for you. Sometimes, when you realize that your autonomy is being taken away, you become defensive.

The thing about going back to school for me is that for the first time in a long time, I feel like I am walking a path to somewhere I want to be . I am not doing it for anybody’s acceptance or to prove that I am intelligent. I am doing it to fulfill my own needs. I am finding every day that because I have nothing to lose, I am enjoying being a student.

Back in that room where I am being maligned for being a student, I have learned to relax and let people make a fool out of themselves. If I am feeling particularly mean, I start talking about my background. On the days that I feel kind, I smile. I have nothing to prove.



Mastery of Self

doingThere is a story I like to tell about my college years. It is the story of me almost failing Latin as a junior in college. It starts with me studying hard and doing everything I can possibly do to rescue my grade. It ends with me getting a C- in Latin. A C- is the lowest possible grade I could have gotten to pass that class. I am convinced that grade was awarded to me at the discretion of the instructor who saw how hard I worked and wanted to spare me the heartache of having to retake the class.

I have never believed that I am academically gifted. Maybe it comes from a childhood when I often felt like I was struggling to grasp concepts. Through Junior Secondary School at Queen’s College to Senior Secondary School at STEE Academy, I felt like I sometimes just could not get things the way others did. The only thing that was different was that I learned early on that I could not depend on learning everything in class, so I learned to study and how to study.

Developing a mastery of my own learning needs has not saved me from the heartache of bad grades. I think sometimes that is what makes getting a bad grade heartbreaking for me. I feel like I do the best I could absolutely do and sometimes it still goes south. As a 30-year-old student, though, I am learning not to let my school life become the center of my life.

When I first returned to school over the summer, I disappeared. Friends told me that I was gone and it was clear that I was stressed out. Maybe I can justify my imbalance with the excuse that accelerated classes have a way of sucking the life out of you. Maybe it is a good thing it happened because now I am staying away from anything that says accelerated.

In this second phase of my academic life, I am learning that the mastery of self is the beginning of happiness. By tapping into what makes me happy, I am able to create a life that balances my academic goals with my social and personal life. Some days when it all comes together, there is a bliss I feel in knowing that I am doing it all and I am doing it as best as I can.