The Transformative Nature of Education!

There is so much controversy over education right now.  Prices of a degree can be difficult for many people and the job market makes many question the value of a degree.  There are many articles out there with statistics telling people whether a college degree is worth it.  For the most part, everything I have read seems to show a higher level of income for degree earners in many fields, but this post is going to explore something else.  Education is not just about the income that will be earned later.  Education holds a treasure that goes beyond the paycheck, it is transformative for the learner.

As a college student who has spent six years juggling full-time education and a family to earn two degrees, I can say I have gained much more than I anticipated from my years in college.  Perhaps it is the fact that I am at an all women’s day college right now, but I have become truly empowered.  I have found the professors at Cedar Crest College to be inspiring, always challenging me to become stronger and better.  The small class sizes instill an environment of collaboration, and I have gained much from this.  I have learned to speak about my beliefs and ideas with conviction, and I have grown as a public speaker.  I have gained confidence and determination.  I am an active leader who takes charge and builds professional relationships with people based on trust.  I can collaborate, network, negotiate, and accomplish more that I though possible.  I have changed drastically.

Beyond the skills I have attained and the confidence I have built, I have also learned a great deal about myself.  I have found that I am passionate about more than writing.  I now know that I love leadership roles and teamwork.  I enjoy being challenged, and I have a passion for advocacy roles in various areas.  I have learned that my career goals can be expanded and I can aim for more than I intended.  My education has given me the gift of knowledge about the business world, and the analytical thinking skills needed to solve and analyze problems.  It has also helped to uncover the potential I had hidden deep inside myself.  While there are debates about the value of education all over the web, I find the lessons I have learned to be invaluable.

I will carry my education with me as I move forward into a rewarding life because I am now much richer than when I began college.  Richer, in the sense that the treasure I have is a better understanding of myself and a realization that the possibilities for my future are limitless.  In fact, I now know that the only thing that ever truly limited me from reaching for my dreams before was myself.  I could never put a price tag on the education I have received because its value cannot be measured.  Confidence, empowerment, skills, friendships, connections, and personal growth are worth the student loans I will owe and so much more.  I know not every student will have the same experience, but that is because they choose not to.  We can make our education great by tapping into each resource offered, and becoming involved.  This is how I made the most of my education, and it has truly transformed me.  I hope more young men and women choose to do the same because it can make the difference between a career at the end, or a struggle.

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Why “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg Can Help You!

I have heard fellow business students speak about Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In” over the past semester and knew I had to read it.  I am not sure if it is the fact that the business world is evolving and women are taking more risks, or if it is because I attend an all women’s day college, but the popularity of this book is making its mark.  I have lofty goals and know the glass ceiling still exists in many ways for women.  As soon as my semester was over, I dove into this book.  The main concept that is discussed in this book is the fact that women tend to steer clear of the table, when they should be willing to sit down, even if they are the only woman, and “lean in.”  It is necessary for women to become more involved in the business, the dialog, the negotiations, and to not fear discussing important topics.

Sandberg even goes as far as discussing the need for women to speak about their family choices such as having a baby, and to not turn down opportunities because they think their pregnancy or children will affect it.  Instead, they should determine the choice they make based on their desires.  I have seen how women limit themselves, and I am a shining example of this as I have always put others ahead of myself, until recently.  I think Sandberg makes an important point because women tend to remain silent when they should be speaking up!  It is crucial for women to know where they are going and what they want.

As more equality is found in the workplace, more fathers will need to step up, and I have seen this happening as well.  My husband is incredibly supportive, and while I can nitpick and say he is not taking on enough housework, he takes on a great deal of the work with the kids.  I assume that as I work more outside of the home, he will step up even more and take on housework.  Sandberg shows the unfortunate seclusion men face when they become the primary caregivers for their children, and this dynamic also needs to change if women are to rely on them more.  The important thing is for the dialog to continue so changes can be made.  Women need to “lean in” because their opinions and challenges matter.  Without an equal say, there cannot be an equal society.

Sandberg brings up important topics, some of which are already widely discussed, but her overall message is important to the development of women in the workforce.  There are many things I will take away from this book, but more importantly, when I find myself backing away from a situation because I am one of the only women, or I am nervous, I will “lean in.”

Empowering Women Series: Gratitude

Today is Thanksgiving, and it carries with it the traditional aspect of giving thanks, or showing gratitude for what we have and for the people in our lives.  This is an important tool when it comes to empowering women.  It may seem like common sense that we should be thankful, but sometimes, we do not see the various ways to express gratitude or realize who we should thank.  When women become empowered, it is because they have accepted support when it was available, reached for opportunities when they were in grasp, and they developed the skills necessary to become strong, determined, knowledgeable, and confident.  As women flourish, they should express gratitude for the opportunities and support they have had because it helps them to remember where they began, and to realize there are other women that need the same support.  The expression of gratitude can lead to the act of giving.

I am a woman who was blessed with a group of family and friends who supported me.  They encouraged me, stood beside me when I made difficult decisions, and listened to me.  Without these people, I may not be where I am now.  It takes a lot of strength to rise from abuse to become confident and accomplished.  I worked hard, but it is important for me to recognize the people who guided me along the way.  I have had professors and people in my network who validated me, and pushed me harder.  These people deserve my thanks.  I have been presented with opportunities that have made a huge difference in the direction of my life.  I had to grab the opportunities, apply for them, or work for them, but the fact remains that without them being available, I would not be where I am.  Part of being empowered is the realization that success, accomplishment, etc… is a group effort.  We all gain when we give.

Three types of gratitude can help you to bolster empowerment:

1.  A simple thank you to mentors, teachers, advisors, employers, family, or friends who have helped you become strong can not only strengthen your relationship, and it can inspire them to continue helping others.

2.  When you are grateful you may be more willing to give back and help another woman rise from abuse, lack of self-esteem, or any other situation that limits her.

3.  Any connection made when networking should be recognized, and if it was from a speech, or someone who offered stimulating conversation, a thank you email can encourage a stronger connection and make them more willing to associate with more rising women.

This is only a small list, and there are so many ways to express gratitude and various reasons to do so.  The important thing is to realize we are not born skilled and ready to take on the world.  We all take various paths, but there are people and experiences that help to make us stronger.  Without recognizing this, we miss an opportunity to forge stronger relationships and to give back.

Empowering Women Series: International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Yesterday was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.  I could have posted yesterday about violence and how desperately we need to fight against the abuse that strips women and girls of their human rights.  However, I waited until today to make a point.  Violence, abuse, and inequalities plaguing women and girls lead to them living in poverty, contracting diseases, losing any chance for an education, and suffering indignities beyond comprehension.  Yet, the day recognizing this issue has past, and people who are not in this situation or working with women who have been in this situation can move on with their lives.  They thought about it, but now, they can move on until the next campaign or recognition takes place.  How does this fix the problem?

Awareness is key to finding resolutions, but if there are only certain days that this problem is brought to light, people will forget.  It is easy to forget what is not seen.  It is like the saying, “out of sight out of mind”.  The women and girls that are enduring appalling conditions right now need help.  The woman in the house down the street that hides her bruises with makeup, and looks down in the hopes people will not see her eyes where her story lies in wait, lies in wait for someone to rescue her.  She needs help right now.  The mother, sister, cousin, friend, and aunt who carry their abuse in silence need your help to reassure them their voice can and should be heard.

I was one of these women.  My first marriage was filled with physical, mental, and sexual abuse. I was forced to stay in the shadows of our apartment.  I was controlled, used, and treated as though I was nothing.  I lost every bit of self-esteem I had and I only left after my son was born because I knew he was worth more.  I did not recognize my worth at the time because that is what happens to women who are subjected to violence regularly.  I was lucky to have family who stood by me and helped me when they found out.  There are women who do not have anyone, and they are waiting for someone to find out, to help them.  I am strong now, and this is a topic I am very passionate about.  This is an issue that needs to be addressed daily because countless women are hurt daily.

When we make the world a place that is safe for women to open up about the pain and suffering they endure so they can find peace and protection, the world will become a better place.  When women are free to express themselves, get an education, and lead in their jobs and communities, their families, companies, and communities become stronger.  We need to be willing to speak up, help others, and hold the hands of those weakened by violence.  This is an international issue, but we can start in our own communities.  Support a women’s shelter, speak to abused women and offer them your strength and support, be the one who reports abuse if it is happening, and you can make a difference.

Empowering Women Series: Empowering Women Through Education

This blog post continues the Empowering Women Series by exploring the influence of education and how it can empower women.  As a woman, I have been pushed down many times in my life.  I did not fit into the mold popular girls fill in high school.  I spent most of my pre-teen and teen years trying to understand and help my mentally ill mom, and dealing with my own emotional breakdowns.  I did not value education as much as survival because I was not ready.

After high school, I realized there was a whole world out there.  I had spent so many years in my own narrow perspective and I was not as prepared to deal with life.  I made poor decisions because I had low self-esteem.  I craved love and attention, and I found it with an older man.  I married him at 18 years old.  He turned out to be abusive.  My life was contained within the tiny expanse of our apartment because he controlled me.  I will share more of this element of my life in my post on abuse this Wednesday.  I was defeated, and the only reason I left was because I valued my son’s life, not my own.

It is easy for girls to fall into the stereotypical worlds presented to them with marketing, toys, and television.  The media children are exposed to is exponentially high due to technological advancements.  While there are some improvements, and colleges tend to have more female students, there is still a lack of confidence that pervades women.  Men are more likely to be assertive and to negotiate when it comes to salary and other job perks.  Men are more likely to have mentors to teach and guide them into executive positions.  Women are more likely to be looked over for a job because they are of child-bearing age, or to be discriminated against if they are an expectant parent.  There are laws to protect women, but there are still many cases being brought forth because the playing field has not been leveled.

Education is becoming more and more critical for financial success and personal growth.  It is important for women to recognize that classes and homework are only one aspect of this education.  Achievement requires determination, and women willing to go the extra mile.  The classroom provides the knowledge, but a truly valuable education requires immersion in leadership opportunities, and networking.  I am currently attending Cedar Crest College, an all-women day college, and I have found the potential for growth is immeasurable.  This college, http://www.cedarcrest.edu/ca/index.shtm, is one that is valued for its relationship in the community, the support of donors, the recognition as a best value regional college in the north by US News & World Report, and because it empowers women.  In fact, the Women’s College Coalition website, http://womenscolleges.org/, produces encouraging statistics about the benefit women have when attending a women’s college.  I can say from my experience, Cedar Crest College has proven these statistics to me.  I am more confident, I feel ready to engage others in a career, I feel like I can lead, speak, and perform well.

Whether women choose an all-women college, or co-ed, they need to be ready to become assertive and to work hard.  Networking is crucial.  The career world still has a glass ceiling in some fields, and a gap in pay.  It is time for more women to gain the educational background, leadership experience, and drive to initiate change in the world.  From the cities and towns they live in, to the state, and federal level, women can make change.  Raise your voice, and join the cause for empowering women through education and more!