When I was a little girl, I had many plans regarding who I would be and what I would become in life. But, often the plans we make in life simply don’t end up being the life that we lead. Some people have told me that they were exactly where they had planned to be and that their lives had followed the expected path.
I envy them, somewhat, but not completely. Yes, it would be good if life happens the way we dream it will, but, I am thankful for my life meanders, meaning I thank God for the twists, turns, and bends of my life. I did not become who or what I thought I would be for a long time, but who I am now is so much better than whom I would be if I have been left to my own decision-making ideas.
As a child, I wanted to be many things, for I was a voracious reader. Nearly every occupation sounded good, from astronaut to ballet dancer to doctor. I dreamed of being them all; sometimes all at the same time! I thought that my life would be similar to everyone born in my cohort of Baby Boomers: kindergarten, elementary school, junior high, senior high, SAT’s and college, marriage, children, work (not career), and life ever after.
I add work because as a black woman, I never really entertained the thought that I would be a stay-at-home mom. That life trajectory only occurred on television, for the June Cleavers and Harriett Nelsons, but not for the countless black women in my neighborhood who had to work to help provide for their families.
I only knew one person in my neighborhood whose mother did not work outside the home, but she seemed to work just as much as the women who worked outside of the home. For women in each category, they worked from sunup to sundown, and none of the women considered themselves in a career. Women had jobs; men had careers. So, I expected life to follow a straight line from point A to point B.
I was in the fourth grade when I started to dream of who I was going to be and what my work would be. On a field trip to Tennessee State University in Nashville, I saw young people in college. They walked across the quad with their many books, all looking so intelligent and cool, and I thought that I could not wait to go to college!
But what really caught my attention were the professors, dressed in long black robes that billowed out behind them in the wind, making them look like they were flying. For the first time outside of church, I heard black women and men addressed with respect, called Dr. So and So, and I thought that they must be the smartest people in the world. The magnitude of the knowledge they must have, their access to LOTS of books, and the level of respect they received made being a college professor the ideal job, to me. So, right there on the quad, I decided to become a college professor, teaching people everything I knew.
But, in high school, I was not offered the opportunity to take the SATs. The school counselor did not recommend that I take them, mainly, I believe, because we were so poor that she assumed that Mama could not afford them or she thought that I was not going to achieve much above my parents. Whatever the reason, that meant that I was not going to college at Tennessee State University. So, I just figured that I would never be a college professor, but the dream would not die.
Instead of becoming a college professor by age 30, I became a mother at ages 21 and 24. Three years after adopting my four children, I went to work for the telephone company in Atlanta, thanks to the Affirmative Action, and I worked for Ma Bell for 23 years until my job in Internet Technology was outsourced eventually to India.
I am not complaining, believe me, for that job allowed me to give my children a solid middle-class life, something I truly wanted for them. It wasn’t the life I envisioned, but it was a good life, and, praise God, working for the telephone company allowed me to go to college, with the company paying for the tuition and books. Because I was age 36 when I started college and attended a public school that, basically, accepted everyone who applied, I did not need to take the SATs. For nine years, I worked towards a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology, graduating at age 46.
The month after I earned my first degree, we learned that my job was being outsourced, a time of tremendous stress. I panicked for one or two weeks, and then God laid on my heart, “Now is the time to go to college full-time and prepare to fulfill your dream.” When I walked around smiling while everyone else was sad, they thought I was a little crazy, especially because I had the opportunity to go to another job in the company which meant that I would continue to earn a great salary. To give that up to go to college seemed to my colleagues that I had lost my mind. But, I trusted God.
I learned from this meander in my life that truly when one door closes, you need to start looking for another open door, rather than sitting around in a prolonged pity-party. For me, each ending has been the catalyst for a new chapter in my life, not the end of the book. Although the journey has not been straight, it has led me to unexpected pleasures and the opportunity to meet people who have enhanced my life tremendously, folks who have helped me become whom God called me to be that day on the quad.
I applied for graduate school, and was given the opportunity to conduct research with a couple of professors, which meant that my tuition and books would be paid for by the university, and I earned a stipend each month. I went from earning nearly $50,000 a year to earning $18,000 a year, and I never missed a meal, praise God! When I completed my Master’s degree, the chairman of the department told me that if I would like to earn my doctorate, I could stay there as a Graduate Teaching Assistant, and the university would pay my tuition and books and give me a stipend for teaching. He did not have to ask twice! I never paid tuition for any of my three degrees! Ain’t God good!
In the Fall semester of 2000, I walked to the front of the classroom, and said to the students, “I am Regina Davis, and I am your teacher for this semester!” What a moment! After my first lecture, I danced down the hallways, smiling for all that I was worth. That little black girl from a poor neighborhood who many did not think would amount to much more than her parents who were both high school dropouts, finally had her dream come true. I was a college professor, and I LOVED IT!
For the next 17 tears, I taught some of the brightest, most amazing students. I considered it an honor when a student chose to take one of my classes. I never took the fulfillment of my dream for granted. Thankfully, the wearing of robes for college professors ended before I became one, but the joy of inspiring, encouraging, exhorting, and helping students to fulfill their dreams has been one of the greatest gifts that God has given me.
Deciding to retire to travel and discover the next adventure and job that God has deemed for me was so difficult, because teaching is one of the loves of my life, but now, I will do it in other ways, including this blog. I am excited to see who and what I will be when I “grow up.”
So, do not worry if your life seems to get off-track, because the detours, the life meanders that you experience in your journey, just may take you where God had already deemed you needed to be. Don’t give up on your dreams, for if God placed the passion for it in your heart, He will being you to it, for Jeremiah 29:11 states, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”
That same promise is made to you today. I believe that He planted the seed of my dream to be a college professor when I was nine years old, because that was His plan for my life and for how I would touch the lives of people and make a difference in this world. That was my calling from the beginning, and, through the many twists, turns, and bends along the way, God provided the wisdom, knowledge, and understanding that I needed to be the best college professor that I could be.
What I learned as a mother, an employee in corporate America, as a survivor of domestic violence, and in all the other roles I played before I became a professor were the very things I needed to help my students to be their best. So, when it seems as if your life is going in directions that you had not planned, say, “Thank You, Lord!” and put your trust in God to lead you according to His plan, and not by yours. We look at the present situation, but God sees the future.