Balancing Ambitions and Responsibilities
I joined College in recent years. I realized life will never be the same. As much as I wanted to excel in academics, I still wanted to have my upkeep, which I could not bend so low asking for money from my parents. I could not keep approaching my father, who was serving in the military by then, asking him for a dime to purchase a pair of Sketchers. Sitting on my couch in my rented apartment, I thought of ways to balance my dreams in school and still have some income to pay for my rent, just like my elder brother, who had been studying at North Carolina University. My father used to tell us when we were in High school, “Sometimes you got to do what you have to do to survive, and in as much as I invest in you, you must give me back my return. So, work smart, learn to be independent because that is what a man is.”
My mother had a small Grocery which could only sustain the family regarding food and clothing. I told myself, “I am too old to depend on my mother. Let me leave that to Angelina, who was only eight years old when I joined College as a Freshman. College life, for me, was a fabric woven with aspirations of knowledge and self-discovery. However, it was also woven with the financial challenge that came with tuition some extra-curricular and living expenses. The struggle to make ends meet weighed heavily on my mind, threatening to overshadow my academic pursuits.
During all this financial reckoning, Jones, my orientation partner, encouraged me to join a work-study program that could make me quite comfortable in school. A memo urged the students to apply for a few school programs, but my heart could not cope with laundry and other handy jobs and workshops around the school. I remembered what my father used to tell me: “Sometimes pride can win you a prize by not just accepting what is given, yearning at least to be a level higher”. I decided to look for a part-time program in the city and see if any could fall in my way.
Let me say I had faith and confidence in myself, but then I was choosy, a character I had inherited from my grandpa. I didn’t tarmac for long because I knew what I wanted. Within two weeks, I had found several programs from which I could weigh my options. There was a federal program that offered me the chance to earn income while pursuing my degree. I sighed with relief because this wasn’t just a job; it was a bridge between my ambitions and the financial realities I faced. As I talked with Jones, who seemed so envious, he congratulated me for the effort.
“I have never realized your father’s ego can be passed to you, brother,” he said and laughed. I told him, “By now, my father is living in his dreams, and I want to take a different path from his and see if he can still appreciate me for my little efforts”. My first day as a work-study student was a whirlwind of anticipation and uncertainty. It was an Insurance Company. I found myself in a small, lively office surrounded by friendly, welcoming, and calm Staff. They had never seen a freshman so confident to keep up with their tasks, so they quickly became my mentors. My job involved administrative tasks, offering some directions to clients, from filing paperwork to answering phone calls. It was a world far removed from my academic pursuits, yet it held a profound purpose. They taught me the importance of being a perfectionist, concentrating on details and completing effort.
Within two weeks, I had settled into my role, and since I did not have some morning classes, it was at least permissible for me. I worked at least five hours daily, attended my two lectures and participated in the new football club, which had the vision to find sponsors for needy and bright students. Either way, I had to show my prowess and be fearless. We juniors had a lot of discouragement from the senior footballers. They mocked us with their skills, but that could not discourage me because I always believed in the time change factor.
Balancing this with some school parties required careful time management and prioritization. My days were whirled with lectures, study sessions, office hours, football and some off-school activities. There were moments when exhaustion threatened to overwhelm me, but I reminded myself of the bigger picture. My work-study job was about more than just paying bills. It was an investment in my future, and by then, I had even forgotten if my father ever existed in my academics because we rarely talked and met. Furthermore, I seldom went home during the first holiday. This occupation taught me the value of hard work and resilience, qualities that would serve me well beyond graduation.
Within the first year, I realized I had grown to be a man full of character, which was one of the best rewards I ever expected. There was another human connection factor, especially with my ranch, who always greeted me in the morning saying, “Believe me, son, there is another limit beyond the sky”. Mark, one of the Staff who handled accounts, was eager to drive me home because he saw me as his eldest son, who was now an addict. “I can see some light in your dark tunnel, kid”, he said. “I have never been comfortable going home because family matters are such a distress; as a father, every blame on the family’s downfall and incompetency will always fall on you”, he mourned. I gained insights and confidence into various career paths because I was involved in the information systems around the insurance company, be it accounting IT, procurement Management or operational level. All this section had challenges but degradation from some staff who saw me as anxious and wanted to know everything. Their limitations on me could not hinder me from doing my daily chores. Sometimes, I could even forego a football practice for my work-study.
From an academic point of view, I had grown in reasoning. I had even written a thesis, which I presented during my second year as a practice for the ideas that came into my mind. My mother was so concerned with my progress and visited me sometimes to see my progress. The power of words and character can transform a person into a whole new individual.
When I look back on my journey, I can see some tumbles of perseverance because every day was never the same. Some days were cold, and some were warm. There was more pressure on the academic side, but the idea of balancing, communication, and motivation has kept me on my toes. I can finally argue that personal responsibilities. My work study has brought determination and willingness to embrace challenges from which one can balance between one’s dreams and responsibilities. I can confidently state that one can be fulfilling and enthusiastic and be on a journey of purpose through the meanders of challenges in College.
West, Libby, and Ashley Stirling. “Re-Designing Work Study as Work-Integrated Learning: Examining the Impact of Structured Learning Support in Part-Time On-Campus Employment.” International Journal of Work-Integrated Learning 22.3 (2021): 385-395.