The Best Lessons Learned Aren’t Learned in School

Back in 1978, when I was in sixth grade, I had the ideal life–two loving parents, two (mostly) loving sisters, a new 10-speed bike (a recent upgrade from my beloved purple banana seat bike that I had recently outgrown), my own bedroom, and hardly any chores.

My dad was executive vice president at one of the two banks in our small Wisconsin town, and my mom was a homemaker, so she was always around for me and my sisters–Bridget, who was in eighth grade, and Colleen, who was in seventh. She cooked our meals, cleaned our rooms, and carted us around in our wood panel station wagon wherever we needed to go. We had it made…

Until Mom decided to go back to college.

After graduating from high school in 1957, she had attended the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for two years until she changed course and started working at the First Wisconsin National Bank, where she met my dad.

They got married, had us three girls, and were living the American dream. But for Mom, something was missing. So, at the age of 38, after having been out of school for nearly two decades, she went back to college to finish her undergraduate degree to become a teacher.

All of a sudden, my nice, easy life became a little harder. Like any major change in a household, this new reality took some getting used to. I thought, “Wait, what? I have to clean my room? I have to put my laundry away? I have to do the dishes? What the heck is going on here?”

We all had to pitch in more, and it was weird not having Mom home after school every day. Because the nearest university was more than an hour away, and winter roads in Wisconsin can be dangerous, she sometimes stayed overnight at a hotel.

As we all took more responsibility for ourselves and running the household, things started to go more smoothly. We learned how to cook, clean, and plan for when we needed to get somewhere so Dad could get us where we needed to go.

For the two years it took Mom to finish her degree, we became appreciative of all that she had done for us. We no longer took for granted that meals would be cooked, dishes would be done, and rooms would be cleaned. We gradually learned to fend for ourselves.

My sisters and I also learned how important it is to get an education. When Mom and Dad first told us Mom was going back to school, they explained that a college education was necessary if we wanted a career and not just a job. We saw first-hand how much harder it was to go to college when you have children, so we were all on the same page about going to college right after high school.

We learned that it is never too late to finish something you started earlier or to try something new.

We learned that your comfort zone grows bigger when you step outside of it and challenge yourself.

We learned that anything is possible if you really want it.

So, when Bridget decided at age 39 to go back to school to earn her Master of Education in Professional Development, when Colleen decided at age 35 to move to Boston for a new job, and when I decided at age 47 to start my Master of Arts in Professional Communication and Leadership, we were ready.

We knew we could do it.

Mom had already paved the way.

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