The only comforting thing about the anger and disappointment I heard in my father’s voice was that I didn’t have to see the facial expression associated with it. It was easily the most frightening and remorseful phone call that I ever made, explaining why I was working, instead of being registered and enrolled for classes at Florida A&M University. I was double-majoring in Mathematical Sciences and Psychology, but not sure what I wanted to be. I’d always wanted to be an educator of some sort, but if not as an elementary school teacher or band director, then a professional trainer.
I gave him so many valid reasons that they ended up looking like excuses. What stuck out is that I had lost my scholarship after having been accused of a school violation I hadn’t committed. Thankfully, character references from instructors helped to exonerate me, which helped prevent expulsion. But (confession time) I had already been on probation for getting caught by campus police, two consecutive nights, enjoying “quality” time (keeping it Rated G) with a female companion in the swimming pool after 2 a.m. Any other time, my father would have patted me on the back, but not then. Definitely not at that moment.
I promised that I would return to school the next semester, once I’d saved up enough money. That same promise was made the FOLLOWING semester. Then the semester after THAT. Looking back, I see that I could have made a greater effort, but being young and stupid, I didn’t. I chased the money, not realizing that had I continued on the intended path, I would have been equipped with education, skills and most of all, become a college graduate. I had no idea that no matter how much I’d accomplished, I would be passed over, time and time again. But worse, I would suffer from the reminder of having fallen short of my father’s dream. My family’s dream. My dream.
He was especially upset years later when I told him that I took a job at a factory. In the steel industry of all places, like he did. I’ll never forget his words, either: “Boy, I didn’t break my back and burn myself over a melting pot all those years to see you work in somebody’s steel mill! Not my children!” Not that there was anything wrong with working in a steel mill, but he had other plans for us and didn’t like the idea of any of us exposed to the situations he endured.
I promised that I wouldn’t be there long and that I would still make him proud of me. Even after a series of promotions, he was still disappointed because he wanted me back in school, finishing my degree. It was 1994, 5 years after my anticipated year of graduation and at this point, not likely. I was married with 2 children, living in Maryland and focused on feeding my family.
Before I knew it, I was promoted to Plant Safety Manager and had received an award which put my name on the map, making me quite marketable in the industry. It helped me find better opportunities and convinced me that this was what I was meant to do: Safety and Training (my first love, other than music).
But something was wrong. I found that despite my successes and skills, there were some companies, particularly the high paying organizations, that wouldn’t touch me no matter WHAT I had accomplished or knew. It got worse when cyber job applications became the thing. I would fill out the online application and gave great answers to the questions until I hit the big one, “Do you have a college degree? Yes or no.” Unfortunately, there wasn’t any “No, but I make up for not having a degree with the following experiences and skills” button.
Click YES and I’d have to produce a copy of my degree.
Click NO and, “We’re sorry, but you do not possess the minimum qualifications for this position at this time.”
I had had ENOUGH! I was sick and tired of being passed over because of an 11″ x 14″ slip of paper! My father had long since passed away, but his concerns had become a factor in my search for the best jobs.
You know what happened next. I had no choice. I returned to school.
Because my job was a 24/7 on-call position, I couldn’t take night or weekend classes, so I enrolled at Columbia Southern University Online. This worked because my assignments were weekly and I could pick and choose when to read and complete my coursework, which was due each Saturday by midnight.
The sacrifice? Hanging out with the fellas in the evenings. Most of my night time TV dramas and sitcoms and tragically, Saturday NCAA football, which ran from 12 noon until 11 p.m.
Study was intense and I had to do more reading than I ever imagined, taking 3 courses per semester. My advantage was that I was already working in the field in which I was pursuing my degree. Much of the coursework was a familiarity: Chemistry of Hazardous Materials, A Guide To Human Factors And Ergonomics, Construction Safety, Accident Investigation Techniques, Toxicology, Fleet Safety, Supervisor Safety, etc. The discussion groups were great because I was able to contribute experienced input (or “expert opinion”, as my instructor often called it) each Thursday night.
It took hard work, but it also created another opportunity that I never foresaw. Being in school allowed for me to “practice what I had preached”! I was able to show my children, who (all four) were in school, the importance of a degree AND demonstrate the dedication and hard work associated with good grades. Yes, the pressure was on to out-perform them each and every week. It was even more fun, posting my grades on the refrigerator next to theirs. No excuses, boys! Ha!
The end-result? 5 years ago, I received this email:
I GOT MY DEGREE!!!
What’s crazier is that on the very same day, I went to the Ohio Secretary of State’s office and registered my first self-run business as an LLC. I still remember the sound of my mother’s voice when I explained the name, Docklen Safety Training Services, LLC (“Doc” is my grandfather and great grandfather’s name, as well as my father’s nickname. “Len”, for Lenora, my mother). She cried joyfully, praising God, screaming all through the house and killing a few of my hearing cells over the phone.
So yeah, I’ve got my own consultation and training company!
Wanna hear something even wilder?
May 5, 2014 I started my own business and was notified that I would get my degree.
May 6, 2010 was the day my registration was complete and I began my coursework.
It’s off by one day, but hey.
Here is the anniversary post I just saw on Facebook:
“Do you have a college degree? Yes or No”
Resulting Voice Mail message: “Hello, this call is for Kenneth Davis. My name is _______________ from ____________. I’d like to talk to you to see if we can set up an interview to discuss the resume you submitted to our company.”
I’m not saying that everyone needs to get their degree, but it does help in many cases. In my career, it definitely helped! What I AM saying is that you should “Never give up on your dream…” as Earth, Wind & Fire sang.
You see, life got much better for me after I completed the final phases of my Life Plan. But even better, I put the gnawing in my gut to rest; that nasty taste in my mouth from the bitter pill of disappointment and failure that I had to swallow.
Lately, I’ve had some recent developments that have inspired a different path for me to pursue, but no matter what I choose, I know I can do it. I have proven to myself that nothing is beyond me. It may not have happened in accordance with my schedule, but dammit, it happened.
Realize your dream.
Develop a plan and make it a project.
Make it a goal.
Make it a reality.
And never forget to THANK God just as fervently as you prayed to Him for help.
Father, it is finished.
I did it. WE did it.
I thank you. I love you. I miss you…
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