Autobiographical: Twenty-Year Anniversary of a Course Correction

I had a flashback this morning as I was getting the kids ready for school that reminded me of a time in my life when everything was so unsettled and chaotic. This seems to happen to me a lot more whenever summer starts to give way to fall, when I can smell the change of season in the air and the evenings get a little bit shorter. The memories of back-to-school anxiousness come flooding back and I get a pang somewhere in the recesses of my brain. Usually I’m transported back to being 13 and crying in the dressing room at Sears while trying on school clothes, but today’s memory was different. 

A couple of decades ago, after my third term at an enormous university, I flunked out of engineering school. It used to be a pretty big source of embarrassment for me, but after many years of learning about myself, I've come to understand the difficulties I experienced then were less a personal failure than they were the very obvious result of my crippling anxiety and undiagnosed ADHD. I no longer look at that time negatively, but rather an inflection point in my life when I had begun to understand myself better. 

For the next two and a half years after dropping out, I worked various service jobs and other menial labor for minimum wage, which was $5.15 per hour. I had worked as a pantry cook, gas station attendant, cell phone sales rep, water purification system sales rep, surf and skate shop associate, and I even working for an asbestos abatement contractor one summer. I was always broke and things weren’t going so great, to say the least. Often I found myself wondering what could have been and fell into a major depression. 

There were a few more twists and turns over this time period that I won’t get into here, but this week marks the 20-year anniversary of me going back to school and restarting my educational journey at a community college. After two years there, I transferred back to university and finished a bachelor’s degree, only to find myself working in a kitchen again because of the Great Recession. During this time, I applied to graduate programs. I was accepted at a top 3 public university, and a couple of years later I received my master’s degree in urban planning. As a result of that, I was finally able to gain a foothold in some meaningful work that actually paid a living wage at the ripe old age of 29. And the rest is history, or so they say. 

I likely would have avoided a lot of this hardship had I had financial support, well-connected parents, or even health insurance and medication for my anxiety. However, the fact that I did it on my own is a great source of pride now. I look back fondly at my time at community college. In a lot of ways, it was my best higher ed experience of all three I attended. But more than that, it laid the groundwork for the life I love now. 

Life of Bryan © Bryan R., 2024