Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Finding My Way

I consider myself an independent scholar, a lover of learning, one on a quest to know and share.

It is in that space that I recently did a walk down memory lane and a brief view through the looking glass at what a future possibility could exist for someone like me.

Let me explain.

There was something on one of my social media sites that made me think about the time that has gone by. Perhaps it was the news that one of the "known" tweeters during the Black Lives Matter movement has been invited to teach at Yale, or maybe it was the continued circus that is the Republican presidential candidate cast of characters. Whatever it was, it made me think of time that has gone by and time yet to come.

College inevitably came to my mind.

Through my life spaces and choices, my collegiate choices were not traditional.

First, I had a child shortly before I graduated from high school and subsequently suffered through that child's murder. I've written about him before. One of the promises I made was that his short life was not going to be in vain.

The thing that I did next is perhaps something else I would go back and change.

When the trial was over, I returned to my home state. I wish I hadn't. Life was laid out before me like a landscape, waiting for me to take a new trail. Raise to be obedient and filled with a bit of fear, I stuck with the familiar. It is something I have tried hard to not instill in my living five
One thing I do not regret is getting my "Technician's Degree" as they called it. It is in Secretarial Technology and that vocational institution is still producing job-ready graduates. It is what set a foundation for me to be able to work full-time while attending college full-time. It is what propelled me to being an independent person.

Perhaps then returning to my home state was not a bad idea.
The Governor's Garden. July 5, 2015. Copyright, Tayé Foster Bradshaw

Regardless, there are moments that I regret not having the traditional college experience.

One, I started my baccalaureate a full two years after I graduated from high school. Two, I started in the evening college with real adults, me just a twenty-year-old kid with a full-time job and an apartment. I walked from work to class, every Monday-Thursday, to take a full schedule of twelve academic hours. I supplemented for the missed class by taking six hours every summer.

It meant that I did not have the opportunity to live in the dorm or develop those young relationships that turn into lifelong friendships. I did not know the culture of my HBCU during the day and only knew a handful of people. It is something I wish I could change, perhaps I missed a chance to be connected with professors.

The other thing I wish I would have changed was my major.

I was a marketing major and while that afforded me the chance to be creative, it was not my gift.

Everyone in the business department was IBM focused, it was the late 80s, after all, and we were the last of the Baby Boomers or Jones Generation. It was a chance for women to enter the professional world on equal footing and not just as Secretaries or Administrative Assistants.

If I had it to do over again, I would have gone away to school, to another state, perhaps in the south, and I would have been an English, History, or Sociology Major. I would have focused on my creative writing and may have focused more on that passion.

There is the spiritual part of me that thinks we end up where we are supposed to be and that what happens to us through choice or chance, ultimately puts us on a life path that is part of our destiny.

My career choices and degrees, now three, has enabled me to travel, to work in a variety of industries, to be fulfilled through volunteer encounters, and ultimately, to develop a platform in social justice and advocacy.

I gained skills that current employers are either outsourcing or wishing the Millennial Generation has the professionalism to possess. Skills like organization and professionalism, being able to craft a well worded letter or email, something as simple as knowing how Windows operates and being able to quickly learn a new software. Even the fact that I type 80wpm, the old fashioned way with memorized keys, is a skill that I would not trade.

In further examination of reaching back and looking forward, I am giving myself permission to appreciate my experiences and also pushing myself to remain sharp in new platforms like using Android, Smart Phones, Tablets, and even Windows 10. I've worked in both MAC and PC environments and can function in both. This is something that makes me feel pretty good about the future ability to present my manuscripts or write my blogs on Blogger or WordPress. I can prepare draft presentations that I can send to my graphic artist for her whizbang. My ability to think strategically and bring a big picture is something else I am happy to have in my arsenal.

Looking forward, though, I realized that in some industries, my depth and width of experience is seen as archaic and in others, it is seen as invaluable. The trick for me is to focus on those places where wisdom, professionalism, and earned experience will be seen as an asset.

It was at one point during this week of reflection that I became a bit envious of that Yale teaching gig offered to a young man, for tweeting!

I thought, wow, so is that all it takes.

Now, to his credit, he is a great communicator and used the tools of the times to tell an effective story. He has branded himself with his tell-tale blue vest and used a multi-platform tool to be relevant, now, and top of mind to the producers or directors of programs.

He was living out what I used to teach my students at the three universities where I stood in the front of the room as their marketing, advertising, consumer behavior, or management professor.

Be memorable, deliver something that is unique, or make them think that your packaging is exactly what they needed.

He did that.

So, I sat myself down, took myself off my advocacy and social justice commentary and took a hard look at my own brand.

I am a "blue" according to one of those personality evaluations I took at one of my consulting gigs. I'm very intuitive and have an inclusion mindset. I seek common ground and have a big picture focus. I used to call it my helicopter. This also means that I hate to be bored, I am truly an ambivert and I like to hit the ground running, systems annoy me, bureaucracy really annoys me, and intolerance annoys me beyond anything else.

My preference has been to work alone, something I've had to do over the past decade upon leaving my corporate gig and focusing on bringing my last child to health. I'm very proud of my children and the investment in their possibility. The skills to teach, mentor, advocate, research, and usher a son to college, now a senior, and to shepherd the last two through the maze of school tests, teacher biases, and a culture that is not used to diversity, I'm pretty happy with where they are in middle school.

I used my ability to multi-task and focus on a couple things at a time to volunteer with arts programs, mentor young literary scholars, and learn to prepare young people for the growing STEM environments.

It was a good moment for me to write down everything I have done and do a brand cheer for myself. I remember engaging in ideation sessions with one of my former corporate positions that essentially allowed all the brand managers to celebrate our strengths and realize our weaknesses were our opportunities.

What I walked away with this week in my reflection was that I am a lifelong learner, one on a quest to not only know but to teach. I decided that I would probably not be in a traditional classroom and while I was accepted to the PhD Project, most likely will not spend the next five years of my life pursuing a doctorate to only wonder if I will be on a tenure track when I hit my middle.

Writing has always been my focus and my passion. Telling and crafting stories has been part of the string that has woven itself through the tapestry of my career. Back in my vocational training, I took a couple extra classes so that I could get a "degree." That meant that I was learning more and writing more. I also did writing in college that was praised.

Fear was the other thing I had to face during this past week.

One thought I had was what if they say I am too old.

Then, I would wonder, how can those republicans be running for office when almost all of them are a decade or two older than me. If they are not too old to stand on a stage and for some, make complete fools of themselves, then I am certainly not too old to make contributions.

The other fear I had was would I really be fairly and fully compensated for this hard earned and developed expertise. I just have to let that sit in the wind and see. I know that I am in a place that not many others are, I can keep being independent until the right fit comes.

Finally, I realized that in my writing career, one of the fears was in the transparency I have developed over the years that I have been musing.  It was in taking back the power of my story and knowing that it has motivated and encouraged someone. I also realized that the one big story, that book that i have been putting off, is calling me to bring her story to life. My second son, my fellow muse, has been after me to write it.

In taking a couple weeks to reflect, review some previous work, receive some unexpected praise, and just renew my heart, I walk away with the promise that as long as I am breathing, I am possible. Like Emily Dickinson's first line in her poem, I dwell in Possibility - , and that is not a bad place to be.

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