I originally wanted the caption of the picture to be “We finished nursing school today.” Not ‘we’ as in the class of May 2016, but ‘we’ as in all the friends, family, and strangers who have helped me for the past 22 years, and me.
I did not complete nursing school...or Baylor...or high school...or middle, or elementary...or my toddler years...in a vacuum. This may seem obvious, and in theory I think we all recognize its truth, but in practice we don’t always live like we believe it. We’re incredibly intent on, possibly even idolatrous of, individual achievement. But it’s only a myth...an often dangerous one, at that.
When we allow ourselves, our culture, to embrace the Myth of Individual Achievement, we give ourselves FAR too much credit. In seeing ourselves as people who can accomplish things “all by ourselves,” we inherently view others that way too. “If SHE did it, why can’t I?” “He made it happen--I can too.” We simply do not give enough credence, in practice, to the ways in which we are supported, built up, helped along, given breaks, and connected to others.
We also don’t give enough credence to our circumstances--the type of home in which we were raised; the financial capabilities of our parents; the color of our skin; our external appearances. ALL OF THESE THINGS are factors that help us succeed, or sometimes keep us from being able to do so. Most importantly, ALL OF THEM are OUTSIDE OF OUR INDIVIDUAL CONTROL.
The other day, I learned about multi-billionaire Sean Parker, one of the founders of Facebook. Wikipedia described him as a “self-made billionaire,” and I shook my head. ZERO PEOPLE are self-made anythings. Sean was born with an incredible mind, sure. At 15 years old he was making $80,000 a year because of his technological inventions. How? Through sheer self-determination? Well, a bit. But also because his parents let him use the family computer, which they were financially cabale of purchasing. And because he had a roof over his head and a bedroom in which to sleep and a mom to cook him meals so that he could spend his time working on his inventions. He had good friends who were also smart, with whom he collaborated, and a family environment stable enough that he was not psychologically damaged as a child. Then, he happened to be at the right place in the right time, befriending Mark Zuckerberg...and on and on and on.
More and more, this narrative of “pull yourself up by your boot straps and you can become whatever you want to be,” isn’t jiving. I actually am not where I am solely because of “hard work and determination”. I think that narrative is both false and destructive. We need to be more nuanced than that. For one, I am here (a woman educated, able to vote, etc.) in part because of the suffragist movement. For two, I’m here (financially stable, able to own land, with parents who own land and a house) because at one point the government gave my ancestors money to homestead and farm, up north and out west. For three, I’m here (with minimal college debt, money in my bank account, and promising job prospects) because I had the good fortune of attending a solid high school with teachers who really cared, so I received nearly half of my Baylor tuition on merit scholarships. I have money in my bank account because I have an strong support system and therefore was able to pass nursing school with honors and hold down a job at the same time; and I have promising job prospects because I happen to know “the right people” and have a vast network of friends and family (and strangers) to connect me to the right people.
Yesterday, my car broke down...twice. The first time, I had to buy a new battery. The second time, my alternator went out and both my alternator and A/C belts were shot. It was a $700 day that could have been stressful and exhausting, but it was neither. Why? Because I have parents who pay for me to have an annual AAA membership (so all I have to do is make one phone call when I have a problem, and someone comes to wherever I am, within an hour, and helps me) and because all the people who helped me yesterday did HUGE favors that were 100% outside of normal operating procedures to replace my alternator and my belts before 5pm. Also because I have an “emergency family credit card” in my wallet, so I simply charged all the expenses to that and didn’t give it a second thought. I’ll reimburse my parents at some point, but it’s not like I’ll be wanting between now and then. For some people, a spontaneous $700 day of car repairs would send them into debt...or break them.
When my family lived in Texas, they let me take “whatever I needed” from the house every time I came home. I don’t think I’ve had to buy toilet paper, paper towels, almond milk, coffee, flour, or sugar in four years. My Nana bought my bed and couch from an auction one Easter...and my down comforter, too. My printer is Dad’s old one, and Jake gave me the dresser from his bedroom.
When school was overwhelming, Trent and Bree would encourage me to the nth degree. When I needed to verbally process with someone who could reply immediately, Paige was on the other end of Voxer. My Baylor friends Skyped and called and kept the Family Group Text going, for comic relief, and faithful pen pals from high school and college continue to write. Vanessa sent me a box of love that arrived on a horrible day, in the rain; Suzanne still leaves me voicemails telling me she loves me; Nicole gives me permission to let my hair down; Sydnie leaves the kindest comments on my instagram.
Mentors from home (too numerous to list, honestly) have been cheering me on since I was a little girl. Aunnie, Uncle Greg, Jennie, and Stephen love me like none other, and Grandma bought me rainboots. Alli keeps me grounded and will forever be my Roomie--our memories together are unending. I have a dozen “second families,” and my second moms take care of me like I’m their own. The Starnes let me sleep at their house and fed me for over half the weekends of my nursing school career; the Falcones let me keep 33 boxes stacked in their family room; Elizabeth and Jimmy taught me about Jesus. The Ecclesia staff let the church become my “home away from home,” and my introverted self spent countless hours down on the couches around the church offices, doing school work and reading. Luke and Phil helped me stay sane by forcing study breaks (“wanna grab a beer after we get off work?”), and my PaperCo coworkers provided an incredibly fun environment in which to work and make tips. Aunt Michelle & Uncle Rex, Laura & Justin have been just a phone call away. Truthfully, this list is only the tip of the iceburg.
So what I want to say is: Thank You. It’s easy to believe that I’m pretty darn great and smart and hardworking and put together, until I stop and think about it for half a second. If I am working toward becoming any of those things, it is only because I am loved so well by you all.
We did it. We finished nursing school. Let’s keep doing life together--we make a good team.