By Jennifer Marek
Turning 40 was a wake up call and realization that the time was now. My 20’s and 30’s were spent starting a career, getting married, having kids and looking for validation. Validation for what, I am not really sure. Being a full time stay at home mom was the best choice for my family and me and I got really good at juggling life and part time jobs to make this happen. This juggling part really comes in handy later on in my story.
Before I get to my 40’s, I should provide some background on my life. Growing up I went to a small catholic school and had a close-knit family. Dyslexia was something that I had (have) but with help, I learned to adapt and adjust but school was a struggle and never something I enjoyed or an area where I excelled. It wasn’t talked about or explained to me, we were the sweep it under the rug kind of family. This part comes in later too. What I do remember is being told after confusing my numbers (64 for 46) for the umpteenth time that I would never do anything with math or numbers in my life. Turns out, that exact thing made me successful in my banking career. Who knew?
It was a good life for many years and then it wasn’t. This is the sweep under the rug part and where my resiliency really begins. My mom struggled with mental illness and alcoholism and it became a part of my family. For many years, I did not understand and could not even identify what was happening. The struggle was very real and I was forced to become an adult way too young. My teenage years were spent doing anything to numb the pain and control something, anything. Suffering in silence, shame and confusion became the new normal. This rug that we were sweeping things under was getting really big.
Perseverance and grit come into my story now or maybe it is just my awareness of them. My work ethic has served me well and I have been very fortunate to work with some amazing people and have had some great mentors. There have been many people who have believed in and have given me a chance and I am forever grateful.
40 is here and both my kids are on the same school schedule and I am ready to go back to work full time. A lot has changed in 15 years! My new career with Connecting Generations, a non-profit organization just happened but it is a perfect fit for me. My passion has always been helping people, especially kids. I want children to have someone to believe in them and give them a chance. Working for a small, local non-profit is very rewarding but also very demanding. We do so much with so little.
In the midst of adjusting to working full time with a family, I decide to enroll in college full time majoring in organizational management. I have always wanted to complete my degree because I felt it was unfinished on my to do list. During one of my initial meetings with my academic advisor, she mentioned that she worked full time and went to school full time, but it is not for everyone and really difficult. Really!!! Here we go again with the telling me what I won’t be able to do. Not only did I graduate in less time than the advisor, I graduated top in my class.
Sleep was rare but it was important that I was still very present in my every day life including attending my kid’s activities, being a wife, daughter, and sister and continuing to volunteer a lot. Some friendships were lost because they got tired of me saying no all the time but they really didn’t understand my struggle and desire. Was I crazy to take on college debt for myself with two kids to put through college right around the corner? With my husband and kids watching, walking across that stage at graduation was a feeling of accomplishment and pride that I will never forget and so worth it all. However, the debt is very real but it lead me to find something that I really enjoy. On a whim, I decided to try selling prom and wedding dresses for Louis Marie Bridal in Middletown and I love it. Working 7 days a week is no joke but that grit thing really comes in handy.
There were so many times during the 2½ years that I wanted to quit and maybe times where I should have at least taken a break. My mom suffered a massive stroke during my kids birthday dinner at 69 years old that left her unable to care for herself. This lead to the gut wrenching decision that a long-term care facility would be the only option for our family. At 35 years old, my boss was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She was smart, witty, fun, and many other things including a wife and mother. Devastatingly, she passed away and there is just no hiding from the pain of the loss. I tell my friends and coworkers to just breathe and it is all going to be ok. Now, I really needed to take my own advice.
This made me more committed and determined to live life on my terms from now on. I did some serious soul searching and cleaned house in my personal life. My terms!
While my journey has not always been easy, I am grateful, appreciative and ready. Ready for what at 46, I don’t know and that is ok. Go for it, challenge yourself, put yourself out there emotionally, and ask for the raise if you deserve it. Take the chance on yourself and believe in you! Just breathe and keep on going.
This I know to be true – I am stronger than I thought possible and this girl was going to make her dreams happen one at a time. Thanks for reading my story! It’s messy and personal and told by me.
More About Jennifer
Jennifer Marek is the Director of Creative Mentoring at Connecting Generations. She is enthusiastic about working with youth and developing and strengthening the mentor and mentee relationship.
Jen enjoys spending time with her loving family in Delaware.