By Sandra —

“…and you can pretty much guarantee another baby.” I’m eavesdropping as I sit next to a girl talking to her friend on how to game the government benefits we are all here to collect. It’s a monthly check under a program called WIC (Women Infant and Children program) for moms that don’t make enough money to take care of themselves and their baby, or babies if you follow the advice of the girl next to me. It pays for things like formula and peanut butter. I just turned 20, have an infant son and a job that doesn’t pay enough.

I realized in that moment people saw a statistic – not my name, nothing about how I was an honor student with 7 extra-curricular activities in high school while working a part-time job or how I just finished 1.5 years of engineering at a top ten university. Nothing in the social worker’s computer showed ME. They didn’t even try to hide the ‘oh honey, you should have known better’ face when I signed for my monthly check.

I made a decision that day. I was NOT going to be the scheming girl sitting next to me. I was NOT going to stay in WIC or any other government program for a second longer than I absolutely had to. I was NOT going to let people’s judgement set a low bar for me. NO! I WAS going to be the example my son needed when facing his own battles. I WAS going to set my own bar in life. I WAS not going to let others’ judgement hold me down.

The word ‘difficult’ developed new meaning. I lost the WIC benefits when my job paid just $100 more per year above the cut-off to qualify. I worked 3 jobs, mostly to pay for rent and day/night care. With no car, I took buses and walked…a lot. My guardian angel worked OT, watching me walk home at 2am from the bus stop after night school. I had to restart my bachelor’s degree, switching to Business Administration since that was what was offered at night. But the funny thing is life happened along the way too. I got my degree 9 years later, got married, had two more kids, bought a car and a house. My degree had a specialization in Human Resources. Turns out, all those really crappy reality checks I dealt with along the way made me really good at HR. I really saw people and listened to them because I remembered when no one did that for me. I acknowledged when things really sucked, because there are times in life that do, in fact, suck. I didn’t offer corporate lines; just real facts with kindness because that’s what the younger me needed. And I cried when I got my first offer to be an HR Director. I proved everyone, especially my own mother, wrong. And I’m not done proving the statistic wrong.

You can’t rewrite the past chapters of your book, but you are still the author of your own story, which means you get to change the story at any point in time. More importantly, you get to decide how it ends.