Fighting for My Future Now

Amie Bernstein

Instead of completing high school, I elected to obtain my GED due to an anxiety disorder that kept me from being successful in the traditional school setting. At sixteen years old, I thought I had it figured out. I was going to go to college before my high school class graduated, and I would be ahead of the curve. But I learned quickly that college coursework is tremendously different from high school. College requires a level of self-discipline that I had not yet developed. More importantly, college requires a substantial amount of courage and confidence that I was sorely lacking.

In the spring of 2005, I attempted to take my first two college classes. I withdrew from both within the first month. I made excuses as to why I could not complete the semester. I told people that it was the professor’s fault for making the information too difficult or teaching the material too quickly. I told other people that the readings were too easy and I was wasting my time. The truth was that I was afraid to try. I was afraid that if I tried, the result would be failure.

After eight consecutive semesters, I had completed only five classes successfully, accrued seventeen withdrawals, and got three failing grades. In those four years, I was placed on academic probation five times because I neglected to withdraw from classes and just received a failing grade instead. I made the decision to find an entry-level job in an office so I could grow with a company to be successful instead of getting an education. Through a little bit of searching, I found what I was looking for. At the time, it seemed like the perfect place to be, and I was excited to start.

I was working at an HVAC company in the office part-time as a general office assistant. My duties included answering phones and taking messages. There wasn’t a great amount of room for growth, however it had a better salary than any of the previous jobs I had at fast food restaurants and retail stores. I worked at the company for nearly two years before I asked for a raise. It took a month of contemplation, and the owner finally agreed to give me a raise. I waited for my next paycheck, excited to see the increase in pay even though I knew it wasn’t going to be very big.

The raise meant that I had accomplished something, but when I received my next paycheck, the pay rate wasn’t changed and it felt like I had accomplished nothing at all. When I questioned the owner about it, he said he forgot and he would change it for the next pay period. This same routine went on for two months until I made a big decision. The moment I received my paycheck, three months from when I originally asked for a raise, I walked out of the office and drove directly to the registrar on my local community college. I registered for classes again, but this time I promised myself it would be different; I was fighting for my future now.

I then started taking classes again in the fall of 2011 going part-time. I attended every class and studied as much as I could. I took every opportunity for extra credit assignments. I didn’t stop to doubt myself. I just kept my thoughts focused on finishing the assignments—one at a time. Before I knew it, I had successfully completed the semester. I continued to take classes and try my best—taking every challenge head-on.

A year later, in the fall of 2012, I received a letter in the mail inviting me to join the honor society. Up until this point in my life I had let my anxiety disorder rule my life. This was proof that I was finally on the right track. I reluctantly joined and decided to continue to further push myself outside my comfort zone to challenge my anxiety.

Not only did I start going to meetings, but I participated in every event that the honor society had to offer. That included bake sales, volunteering for nonprofit organizations, and volunteering for the college itself. The opportunities came at me from every angle.

I then started to be recognized by the college. In addition to being recognized for my good grades, I was also recognized for my involvement with campus activities through the honor society. I received both a Distinguished Student Award from my college and a SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence. I joined everything I could after that, including two more honor societies, one for English and the other for Psychology. I enrolled in a non-credit bearing leadership class on campus so I could have even more experience that would help me with my future goals. I even went on to run for a regional officer position in my honor society and won. I was able to travel to California, Florida, and Missouri, all because of campus involvement in the honor society.

I still have anxiety, but now I am able to cope with it without letting it dictate my every move. I have confidence. I always thought that because I wasn’t that cookie cutter all-American student, my opportunities would be limited, but getting involved on campus opened so many doors for me. I learned so much about what it was to be a leader. I learned what it meant to be part of a team and the value in building relationships. I learned what it meant to be engaged both inside and outside of the classroom.

I developed a deeper sense of who I am through my campus involvement. Sometimes I think about what would have happened if I never had taken that step and joined the honor society or never attended any meetings. Honestly, I probably would have been okay. I would have been steadily gliding through my education. I would have shown up to class, taken notes, then gone home and studied. I would have probably then gone on and found a decent job with a regular amount of satisfaction. But who wants an okay, decent, or regular life? I don’t; I need more. I want to love what I do and enjoy every moment I can.

Maybe the honor society isn’t something that you are interested in and that’s okay. Do something different and learn about all of the opportunities that your campus offers and pick one to try out. Make your life more than run of the mill—and start now.