Today marked five years since I completed my Bachelor’s Degree. That was just about one year before leaving the career I felt like I needed that degree for. I believed in my heart that the degree would validate me. It would give me the credit I needed to feel as though I had earned the position I was in. To be equal to others doing the same job as me. Because somehow that degree was going to define me. But you know what I did when I finished? I started another thing.
Shortly after, in the midst of my flashy cool job, with my fabulous wardrobe and a carefree no-longer-just-a-young-mom-trying-to-outgrow-feelings-of-not-living-up-to-all-I-should-have attitude, we built a farm and I decided I wanted to milk cows.
Looking back it is so clear that God let me work my own insecurities out with this one. You see, I got pregnant at 16. I had worked so hard to graduate from high school two years early, started taking college classes, and was on my way to living the never-getting-married life of a lawyer in the city. But in the midst of growing up so fast, I met a boy who loved me (and still loves me) more than I can put into words, and we ended up teen parents. We got married when I turned 18, he worked hard, went to school, got a great job and I was afforded the “luxury” of being a stay at home mom of three by the time I was 22. We struggled, of course, but it was really a charmed life for the statistics most would expect from our situation.
But I was terribly insecure. Most of my friends went to college, got their degrees, lived their early freedom years, and I felt like I had failed to live up to my expectations. I took college classes for years, in just about every subject (except math, I am terrible at math and perfectly okay with that). I would get a job I thought would fulfill me, and my husband would, in pure heart would tell me, “I can work two overtime shifts and make what you make all month,” so I would quit because it wasn’t doing for my heart what I thought it would anyway.
One day, I got THAT JOB. The job that I let define me. It was the kind of career that had clout and made people like you, and made me feel like I defied the odds and finally made something from the disappointment of being a teen mom. So in my mind, the last thing I needed to do to fully earn that career and become equal to all of the other 29 year olds I thought I was lining up against, was to finish that BA. And I did. Five years ago. Do I feel like it did anything for me? Yes and no. No, I did not need it for my career at all. No I did not get a raise or even new useful knowledge from it. But yes. What I got from that degree was the clarification that it did not define me and neither did that job. And I needed to earn it to understand that.
Clearly the way I was striving to affirm myself was completely wrong. But I didn’t know that until I stopped only looking forward and looked back. This stigma had haunted me from the inside for as long as it had been part of my life’s story, and honestly I don’t when it stopped. And even writing this tonight, I have new perspective.
Because we were married and had our kids young, we have lived so much life. We have raised three articulate, kind, adventurous humans, built two farms, a beautiful business in our community, and we have a great story of grace to share. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of road in our future, but He’s using our past to able us for it. All too often I get so focused on striving for the future that I forget to look back; when really we should be celebrating those obstacles because we cleared them. I was carried through the valleys to the next level each time, even if the next ridge was the base of another mountain.