Tami’s Big Do Over: 21 Questions – Mostly Why?
(Tami Nutall Jefferson, a married mother and grandmother, is going back to school and she has invited us all along to enjoy the ride. For more posts in this series, click here: Tami’s Big Do Over. – ABT )
By Tami Nutall Jefferson
Whether you’re reciting the opening of Hamlet’s soliloquy – “to be or not to be” – or humming Black Sheep’s hook inside your head – “you can get with this or you can get with that” – the bottom line always comes down to ‘WHY?”
Why is being this better than being that? Why is doing this better than doing that? For me, the “why” was “why go back to college, at all, at this point in my life?”
Flashback — It’s Me
Last year, I read an article about this 50-something year old person who spent their lifetime transforming themselves from a man into a woman. In the end, they were ravaged emotionally and physically and a shell of their real self. The one thing they lamented was how, throughout their whole journey, no one had ever asked them why they were doing what they were doing. All he/she got was support.
In preparing for this conversation with you this month, I realized I, too, have been that person. The person that everyone trusted to make her own best choices. Everyone I knew, pretty much always supported me. No one ever really questioned or challenged me or my “why.” I always thought it was a blessing. Now I’m reconsidering.
Unlike ever before, when it comes to going back to school, everyone has started asking me “Why?” Almost all of my friends and business associates – even my own husband – everyone is asking me “why?”
I have been answering the incessant “why” question for the last 6 months. For the first time in my life, I have to defend my “why.” It was easy to defend it to myself in February when I first asked myself the question. “Because this is what I’ve always wanted to do and because this is what I came back to Texas in 2011 to do. So I’m doing it.” But on the other side of 30, you somehow loose the privilege of having “I don’t know” and “Because I want to” as your reasons “why” for doing almost anything.
No One Wants a Weak Why
I have invested over a hundred hours the last few months going through my old journals and goals lists, the TAMU course catalog and syllabi, professor CVs, advertised industry job descriptions, and the like. I have accumulated a paper ream of goals and plans written out over the years that all pretty much say the same three or four things. All of this, to get to my “why.” Through the practice of researching my ‘Why?’ I went even farther and took time to research the objects of my affection. It’s one thing to really want something or whatever your “why” is. It’s a whole other thing to really count the cost of being, doing, and having that thing. You might find that your “why” is not strong enough to withstand the test of living and – in Silicon Valley terms – you might have to pivot.
I planned on studying real estate development, urban planning, AND economic development and having a career doing all three. I began to ask myself, “In light of the fact that I can only take a limited number of elective credits, why do I REALLY want to take each of these subject matters instead of focusing on one specific one? Furthermore, what does each job truly entail?”
I read at least 50 job listings and resumes for these professions, as well as their respective trade associations and certification webpages. Conclusion – These are three completely different jobs with three completely different skill sets done by three completely different types of people. I’m only one of me! I can’t effectively do them all. I have to choose. So how do you choose? My life experience tells me if I go with choice B or C, then I’m always going be to distracted from my work and trying to figure out how I can jump the fence to choice A. I don’t have another 20 years to chase choices B, C, D, or Z. My time is now – or never, to be totally honest with myself. Researching and answering this hard “why” question has set me on a more attainable path with regard to my major and minor courses, my capital, my professional relationships, business endeavors, and so on. I essentially saved myself thousands of wasted hours and dollars, and secured my future Level 10 happiness. I pivoted – and it was okay. It was actually empowering. And my resolute “WHY” grew just a little bit more.
It’s The Big One
That’s great. But that still leaves the big WHY? unanswered. Why go to college in the first place? Every student has to answer this question – whether they’re 17 or 70. Often we ask it of ourselves as we’re pouring over some inane text at 2:00 am. This is where the “21 reasons why” come rolling out of my mouth. My “whys” range from the technical – learning more so I can earn more, to the passionate – my childhood dream, to the practical – I don’t want to be dumbed out of the future workforce. But as I look at them, there is no one Big Why. My “why” is like a pie, it takes many pieces to make up a whole one. There is no perfect blanket answer that will appease every asker. But if I know anything about life, it’s that any one of my 21”whys” will smack me square in the face when I’m faced with its opposition. Like a time, when I see the perfect job posting with educational requirements. Or if I should travel to Greece and see the hotelier’s TAMU degree on their office wall. Or when…
No matter what the occasion, audience, or location, my “why” has to be resolute, well-researched, and able to stand up to the caring people who ask and the dissident people who oppose it. That is something you don’t learn when everyone in your life, for your whole life, just blindly supports you without ever sincerely questioning you. That is something I’m learning now, and it’s something that I know will make me a strong leader.
And The Beat Goes On
I’ve been struggling all day with how to wrap this up in a nice, little bow. A well-versed conclusion. And I finally realize, as deadline approaches fast, there is no conclusion. This is the beginning. I’m only at the beginning of learning my “whys” and having them be real to me. I have 5 semesters to go and I’m excited to see what “whys” they will bring up. Especially that first semester. So until next time…
Tami Nutall Jefferson has over a decade of experience in real estate sales and management and currently works as a home and building designer. This Fall she will begin her first academic year at Texas A&M University pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Urban Planning and Real Estate Development while commuting between Waco and College Station. Her hope is that Waco becomes the most attractive, modern, vibrant, and prosperous version of itself as an inclusive city and her professional mission is to help make that happen. Tami is also a 2017 graduate of the Leadership Plenty Institute and volunteers her time and voice to many downtown Waco placemaking and economic development causes and organizations.