Picture this: you're a freshman at your dream college, away from home and completely on your own for the first time. With wide eyes, you can't believe you finally made it here. Four years later you'd be the first in your family to graduate from college with a Bachelor's degree, completing obstacles you couldn't have imagined would arise. This was me in 2012, eager, ambitious, and ready to take on the world. Five years later with one degree and a diverse group of experiences under my belt, there's no stopping me now.
"IT WASN'T ALWAYS PEACHY KEEN AND I DIDN'T ALWAYS HAVE AN OPTIMISTIC SPIRIT, BUT I CAN'T IMAGINE WHERE I'D BE IF I HAD CHOSE TO SEE THE DARKNESS INSTEAD OF THE LIGHT."
There are so many pieces to my journey that from time to time, cause me to stop in amazement and thank God for the position I'm in today. From losing my father my senior year in high school, having to pay for my junior and senior year in college with little notice and trying to graduate while my mom was facing major health concerns back home, it's been a journey. It's eye-opening to stop and think about how far I've come. It wasn't always peachy keen and I didn't always have an optimistic spirit, but I can't imagine where I'd be if I had chose to see the darkness instead of the light.
What kept me grounded was my goal to succeed despite my circumstances. I didn't have the perfect idea of what success was; I just knew that I wanted to keep achieving. I wanted to think outside the box, create my own path and make a positive difference in a few lives along the way. I share this mantra with my friends and family, in efforts to remind them that the world is our canvas. In the words of J. Cole, it's up to us to, "paint it how we want." Here's what helped me:
1. MAKE A PLAN
When I found out my mom couldn't afford to help me pay for college anymore, I was devastated. I didn't have much money of my own saved up to fill the void. I didn't know what the heck I was going to do, and I admit, I had a pity party for about 5 minutes. After the tears, I quickly decided that I would do anything it took to remain at my institution, but I would prepare for my transfer if it came down to it. I immediately began researching the local community college, meeting with my advisor, researching scholarships, reaching out to my mentors and applying for on-campus positions. With persistence and help from a great network, I was able to stay and pay for school on my own.
The number one key to getting this done was starting with a plan, because let's be honest, mental notes aren't always the best way to track progress. Mapping out the key points to my goal provided the framework I needed to work through each step. My planner was my best friend, and I was constantly researching and reviewing each step. I made my goals specific, measurable and realistic, which proved to be the best way to hold myself accountable. Two years later, we all know how that story ended (hint: see the picture above).
2. KEEP IT QUIET
One of my favorite J. Cole quotes is (he's my favorite rapper if you haven't got it by now), "If they don't know your dreams, then they can't shoot 'em down."
I remember how it felt when I was told I wouldn't last a year in college. I was angry, but I didn't let that stop me. I joined clubs, I made friends, I won awards, I started Resumes By Neesha, and I proved that I could and would be more than what any naysayer could ever expect from me. In that moment I knew that it was no use sharing my goals with those who didn't truly believe in me. Instead, I chose to surround myself with positive people who would build me up, not try to break me down. It's a sad, but true reality that not everyone wants to see you succeed. Take the energy you could put into resenting them into building yourself up. They'll come around. Or they won't; it won't matter because you'll be too busy succeeding to care.
3. DON'T TAKE "NO" FOR AN ANSWER
Sometimes it seems like all the cards are against you. You don't know the right people, you don't have enough support, you can't afford it, etc. This is where having an optimistic mindset is huge. If you don't believe you can do something, you won't do it. It is only when you truly believe there is a way, that you see the light.
"WHEN YOU REALIZE THE ROAD TO SUCCESS IS FULL OF TWISTS AND TURNS, THEN YOU'RE READY TO DO WHATEVER IT TAKES TO GET THERE."
In the 6 months I spent searching for my first "big girl" job, I thought things would never look up. I must have submitted my resume and application a thousand times to a thousand different companies. I was tired. Since the hiring managers weren't providing the opportunities I wanted, I decided to make my own. I freelanced my butt off and put more energy into building MY brand. I knew it'd pay off and make me a stronger candidate in the end.
If there's something you want, always keep in mind that the road you think leads to that opportunity may not be the road you end up taking. When you realize the journey to success is full of twists and turns, then you're ready to do whatever it takes to get there.
4. OPEN YOUR MIND
Where I come from, it's not uncommon to hear people rag on the city. "There's nothing here," "there's nothing to do," [insert negative comment], and the list goes on. I couldn't disagree more! I knew I'd be moving home to spend time with my family for a few years after college, so I had no choice but to embrace the city I'd known for 22 years. I researched companies within my industry, attended events and immersed myself into the city. My pride shot through the roof and I fell in love with my hometown all over again.
If I had chose to listen to the comments I saw on social media, I'd be miserable. Instead, I opened my mind to make the best out of the situation.
If you make up your mind that something won't work, that something just isn't for you, or that you're too good to do X to get to Y, then you are doing yourself a disservice. You'll be amazed at the opportunities that fall into your lap when you let go, open your mind and let the universe do its job. And let's be honest, sometimes the greatness doesn't always fall into your lap - at least you tried.
5. GIVE BACK TO THOSE WHO GAVE TO YOU
Since being back at home, I've had time to explore my community. I've reconnected with my former daycare, a popular non-profit in the area. I decided that volunteering and helping out the kiddos who are in a position I once was in is a must. When I'm not following the beat of the neighborhood, I'm checking in on my friends around the world. When I see my friends flourishing, I give praise and encourage them to keep going. These are the same people that rooted for me and gave me compliments even when I was too shy and didn't know how to accept them.
"DO ANYTHING YOU CAN TO HELP THAT PERSON WHO ONCE THOUGHT SUCCESS WASN'T IN THE CARDS FOR THEM REALIZE THAT THEY CAN SUCCEED, DESPITE THEIR CIRCUMSTANCES."
It is so important to cheer on your cheerleaders. When you realize your influence and how your success motivates others to achieve, it becomes second nature to do your part to keep the wheel turning. Volunteer in your community, share your connections, offer advice. Do anything you can to help that person who once thought success wasn't in the cards for them realize that they CAN succeed, despite their circumstances.