I wear my Oklahoma State University class ring every day. It’s on my finger just as often as my wedding ring and I rarely leave the house without either of them. While my wedding ring symbolizes the same thing it did 13 years ago, what my class ring symbolizes has changed as the years have passed.
When I bought my class ring, I was a senior at OSU. I was excited to be graduating soon, looking forward to using my degree to land that dream job in the technical writing field. Or was it in publishing, or editing, or journalism? I wasn’t sure, but I was certain it would be an amazing career. I was ready to prove those people right who voted me “Most Likely to Succeed” in high school. That ring reminded me of the endless possibilities that lay ahead.
(By the way. Yearbook “Most Likelies”? Dumbest.idea.ever. But that’s a rant for another post.)
I graduated in December of 2000, which, unfortunately, also landed me in the job market in the middle of a recession. I remember waiting for a call telling me whether or not I got a job on the same day my husband had to go to work to find out whether or not he still had one. It was a terrible time to be fresh out of college with no experience, as I competing for a small handful of jobs with newly unemployed veterans in the field. I searched for two years with nothing more than a couple legitimate interviews, and no job offers. My ring that symbolized an exciting future before, now became a reminder of my frustration and discouragement.
In 2002, when we were more confident in the Canadian’s job security, we decided to start a family. As I went through two pregnancies, and swelled up to the size of three men, (I’m exaggerating…a little), my ring was stuffed away in a drawer somewhere. When we moved to our new home in 2003, it got buried a little deeper, and I didn’t see it for several years. Fine by me. I didn’t like the way it mocked me every time I looked at it.
Just a few years ago, I was digging through a box and my ring resurfaced. In the back of my mind I had assumed it was lost, so I was really excited to see it again. I took it out of its box and slid it right back on my finger as though it had never been missing. But as I twirled it around my finger, examining each little detail, my excitement was immediately replaced by a knot in the pit of my stomach. It was almost a decade since I had graduated and I still had no career. Sure, I had done plenty of work for people, none of whom deemed it worthy of a paycheck, but I had never even had a real job. That ring had become a symbol of my complete failure.
It took me a very long time to get past the idea that I had failed. I still struggle with it today. I’m not a highly paid writer or editor, I’m not even an established freelancer. Even though I am completely capable of professional level work, people still view me as the kid from a small town who could whip up a nice little poster if they need it, for free of course. There are days when I still feel as though the four and a half years I spent in college were for nothing.
There are other days, however, when I am able to look at that ring and appreciate the part of my life it symbolizes and how those years helped shape the person I am today. College teaches you so much more than a profession, it molds you and stretches you and prepares you to face life in the real world, even if that world may not ever involve your dream “career” by definition.
Today I am a stay-at-home mom. I have been for almost 9 years. I have two amazing boys that I have been able to spend every day with. They are incredible little human beings and I am in charge of making sure they are guided in the right direction and encouraged to pursue their dreams. I could view myself as an unemployed college graduate who just happens to be a mom, I could see that as a failure, and I’m sure many of the people I grew up with do think I’ve failed. But I choose to view myself as a daughter, a wife, a mother and a friend who just happens to have a college degree. Those things may not provide a paycheck, but they are the most important titles in the world, and failure is not in the job description.