It was my daughter’s sophomore year in high school. We were having dinner, and the conversation turned to colleges.
“You need to start thinking about colleges now,” I told her. “It is important. It’s hard to be successful if you don’t go to college.”
“You didn’t go to college, and you’re successful.”
I started working for a property appraiser when I was fifteen. At first, I did filing and office stuff, and by the time I left for college some three years later, I could have run the company. When my boss called me a year later, at the beginning of my second year in college, he told me he needed another appraiser and offered me guaranteed a salary. The decision to drop out of school was obvious. Over the next decade and a half, I worked hard: eight years for him and then my wife and I opened our own appraisal company in 2005. My daughter was right, we were successful. But it took years of working 18- to 20-hour days to get there. I didn’t want that for her.
For the previous two years, I dreaded having this conversation because I knew deep down that she would respond this way. I knew that I couldn’t argue with her logic. I couldn’t win. Even though I knew what her response would be, I had no ready retort. Impulsively, without any hesitation, I replied.
“Fine. I accept your challenge,” I told her. “I will get my degree before you do.” There was a moment of stunned silence. I wasn’t sure who was more surprised: She? Or I? Or my wife?
“Me too.” My wife joined the challenge. She grew up in a small town where college was about as important as going to the moon.
“It’s settled then.” And it was. The next day, my wife and I enrolled in Spring classes.
If you own a business and are considering going to school full time, I’d advise against it. As hard as I worked, though, my wife worked even harder. Not only does she run the appraisal company, and go to school, she also had the lion’s share of the household duties. And, when we started, our son had just turned three.
Each day brought new challenges, new obstacles, new reasons to quit. We didn’t need to have college degrees for our company to be successful. We didn’t need to have college degrees to make more money in our field. We didn’t need to have college degrees to hang fancy diplomas on the wall for visitors and friends to see when they came to the house. We needed to earn our degrees because we said we would.
I don’t tell this story to pat myself on the back. It is not my intent to be self-aggrandizing. There wasn’t a week that went by where I didn’t think about quitting. I tell the story to illustrate a single point: Children, no matter how old, learn by example. They learn by watching their role models. Our daughter watched us struggle to finish our work for the day, eat dinner, only to clear the dining room table and start schoolwork. She began to take part in this, bringing her books to the table and doing her homework too. She started mimicking the work ethic of her mother.
In 2016, six years after that dinner conversation, I graduated with a degree in English. The following year, my wife graduated with her degree in psychology. We beat her, like we said we would, but just barely. What is more important is that school has become part of the nature of the household. My wife and I are currently both in graduate school, working on degrees in creative writing and social work respectively, and our daughter finishes her undergraduate degree next fall. In the musical Into the Woods¸ the witch sings, “Careful the things you say, children will listen/careful the things you do/children will see and learn.” I hope this is true.
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