Everything That’s Worth It Will Cost You

Someone recently asked my opinion of a long-term goal of theirs.  As usual, the words I wanted to say did not come out.  Instead, the response to escape my lips was the generic kind: of course you can, if you really put your mind to it.  Pondering the question more carefully, there are plenty more things to be said.

You know who you are.

My mother once told me that nothing in life is easy.  Unconvinced and full of ideas, at the ripe age of sixteen, my mind rejected this opinion.  I was the one who began working at the age of 12 selling newspapers outside of grocery stores, later perfumes to my brother in law and cousins.  I knew English.  I had just signed for my own used car lease.  I was the one that was graduating from high school that next year.  I was the one having adult sex as a teenager.  Who was she to tell me what I could not do in life?

For as long as I can remember my long term goal after high school was to find a job inside an office, away from the sun, with air conditioning, not at a restaurant or cleaning offices, that would pay me $10 an hour.  If I could achieve that goal I would have it made, or so I thought.  In my mind I was almost there.  The co-ed class I was taking allowed me to attend school in half-day intervals.  When everyone else was heading to lunch (suckers), I was heading out the door to make out with my girlfriend at her house or her parent’s warehouse, where we both worked.  I know now you can’t really call it work unless you’re actually working for longer than 40 minutes at a time.

I’d seen how my sisters struggled to get office jobs.  How my mother basically forced the eldest to apply everywhere, while she constantly reminded her she had a high school diploma and didn’t need to be cleaning offices or working at a restaurant.      She finally made her volunteer for the county for about a month before they hired her.  I’d been to Mr. Roof with my dad and felt the burn of the scorching sun on my skin.  Usually he’d feel sorry for me, though, and just leave me behind at the warehouse organizing tools and cleaning.  There was no air conditioning, but it beat working on roofs in the Texas sun.

Once when I woke up late and my dad had to drive me to school, he yelled at me the entire way there.  That was the first and only time I remember him cursing directly at me.  I can’t attest for the accuracy of my memory, but these are the words engraved in my mind:  What the hell is wrong with you?  Are you fucking stupid?  Stop fucking crying and get off the car.  I don’t want you fucking working in the sun.  You are not going to work in the fucking sun.  Leave that to people like me who didn’t have the chance to study! You think working in the sun is fun?  No.  It’s fucking hot.  That is where you are going to end up if you don’t get an education.  Get out of the car and go inside.  Now!!

Tears racing down my face, I jumped out of the car and made my way inside.

Four months before the end of my senior year, I achieved my career goal!  The local phone company hired me as a customer service representative to work in an air conditioned office making $11.45 an hour.  My excitement could not be contained.  I felt so accomplished and validated.  I had made it, and high school wasn’t even over yet!

That fall semester I signed up for a few college classes just because everyone else was, but in the back of my mind I knew my phone company job was paying me more than I would ever need.  I stopped going to class and didn’t even bother to drop my classes.  Waking up at eight in the morning was unnecessary for a professional.

Eventually, the honeymoon wore off.  At the age of 20, I found myself with a mortgage, a new car payment, a job that I hated, and nowhere else that I could go to earn $40K as a customer service representative.  I was stuck.  That’s when my father’s words that morning came back to me.  I was not working in the sun, but I was still in his same predicament.  I had to keep working for the sake of working.  Just to make ends meet.

My mother told me the other day that no matter how hard we try to forget our upbringing, we always find ourselves coming back to the values we were taught.  I truly believe those four years spent working full time and attending the University of Houston full time were a testament to what my parent’s taught me about hard work and dedication.  Looking back, I do not know where that energy came from that allowed me to function on four hours of sleep for so long.  But walking down that stage, wearing that cap and gown, and knowing that everything my parent’s had done for me had culminated in that moment is incomparable to anything else I’ve experienced.  The fact my sister Tina was walking in front of me was the icing on the cake.

I guess what I am saying is that life is hard, that nothing in life is easy, that todo lo que vale cuesta. But when you truly want something, you can achieve it.  Believe in what you want, and use the values and life lessons passed on to you, to make it happen.