10:35 p.m. It’s quiet. Everyone is asleep. The only sound is from the turning of a page and of my pen as I write notes. The room is dim, only the light from a small lamp with the shade turned toward me is glowing so I don’t have to turn on the much brighter, overhead light. I settle into my “study zone”, which is the seat on the couch next to the table with the lamp; a blanket, and a pillow on my lap to support my notebook and whatever text I’m studying. This is my ritual, night after night. It’s an early start each morning following only a few hours of sleep. Always up before six, I have a full day ahead of me! Any doubt of my exhaustion can be exonerated by the dark circles under my eyes and obvious sleep deprivation written all over my face. I’m frustrated and in tears. I scream to myself, “I can’t do this! What was I thinking? I’m too old, I don’t have time, and I’m definitely not smart enough”! All these thoughts bounce around in my head like the ball in a pinball machine but I’m the one about to go “tilt”. At 39 years old, I decided to go back to school with the intention of obtaining a degree.
Why? Why am I pushing, forcing myself to read the chapter again, find more algebra problem examples, or practice writing HTML code that isn’t even assigned? Why do I fight fatigue daily when I could just as easily take a nap instead of torturing myself with trying to write the perfect paper for a psychology class that has nothing to do with my degree? What contributed to this decision to not only go back to school after almost 20 years, but to attack it with the intensity of a speeding 18-wheeler going down a steep mountainside? Insanity? Probably.
I never had an “A-ha!” moment when I said to myself that I was going to go back to school. There wasn’t a specific event that triggered motivation or desire, just a collection of “I need something better” revelations. Like the pinball, the idea had been rolling around my head for several years, probably even before I began working at FPI, or what I like to call, “The beginning of the end, and then the beginning”.
Franklin Precision Industries, FPI, is a Japanese automotive factory where I worked for five years. Without overtime, my shift started at 6:00 a.m. I make my way to the metrology lab down a gloomy hallway, through the empty offices of staff that doesn’t come in that early. I go that way instead of through the plant so I can avoid being seen as long as possible. Most of the production lines start at 6:00 or earlier and more often than not, someone is at the lab door waiting for me to unlock it. As a CMM programmer and operator, I can inspect parts or components by using an automated program.
Before turning on the lights to the lab, I always put my things down on my desk and then, standing alone in the dark, I will inhale a deep breath and hold it as long as I can secretly wishing, just for a split second, that it will be my last. Then, I let it out with a...