Lessons Learned



I just poured a cup of tea and I’m ready to talk about things that I’ve learned in life.  Are you ready?

As I struggle to put my life back together after the recent separation, surgery, and job loss, I think back to my life as a girl reaching womanhood in the 60’s and realize how unprepared for anything that I was.

I grew up in a small town in north Jersey and had two loving parents and a good life.  We were financially comfortable and I never lacked for anything, though if you are my age you know that our needs were much simpler and less expensive back then.  I had a typical childhood with plenty of outdoor play, minimal television, and a set of rules that I followed without too much question.  I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher and being one of the oldest girls in our neighborhood play, took the role of teacher, mother, leader, etc. in our games.  I was also the first-born in our family and the “responsible” one.  I knew I would go to college and become a teacher and time spent in high school was geared towards achieving that and getting accepted by my choice school, which I did, in NJ and Texas.  I was not a risk-taking child plus NJ was cheaper so Texas was out and Glassboro (Rowan) State College was my choice, far enough from home to be “on my own” but close enough to visit monthly.  College life was very different then, with dorm curfew, single-sex dorms, no males allowed in rooms upstairs, and no cars for freshmen.

Are you starting to see a pattern here>  Sheltered upbringing to sheltered college life.  Still, I tried to explore and learn new things and managed to do much more in college then my parents were aware of.  But much of it was done on foot and with little money.  During the summers, I worked and deposited the money for the school year spending-money, receiving $5 a week for my pocket and $5 a week for food.  All my expenses were paid by my parents and I got new clothes at the start of the school year, so what did I need money for?  Right?  And for us, spring break simply meant that you went home for  a week.

During those years, my goal was to become a teacher but my “REAL” goal was to be married.  And if I keep it real, I’m not sure the goal was even to be a wife, just to be married. 

So here is where I can tell you about my lessons learned.  In looking back, I remember that I started having boyfriends at a young age, before 7th grade, and of course, back then that was all very innocent.  But I was always “attached” to a boy, receiving friendship rings, high school rings, or some token of belonging.  I never explored who was Shelley Williams, just Shelley, not Shelley and _______!  I went to college expecting to meet my future husband, marry,  teach for a few years, and then stay home with the kids.  And that was the extent of my plan.  Wow!.   Incidentally, I dated my high school sweet heart for 4 years and thought he would be the husband, whatever that meant at that time!

So, first lesson learned was that I put all of my eggs in that “married” basket and didn’t ‘t explore life.  I should have fought for the chance to go to college in Texas and explored more of life rather than the likely husband candidates in NJ.  I should have used my college years to find out more about me and what I wanted instead of just going along with the “plan”.  And because no one ever said to me “what will you do if you don’t get a teaching job?”, I had no fall-back plan.

Now, to be fair to myself, I was able to switch gears and form a plan and actually have successfully reinvented myself quite a few times, but I think I just settled.  I followed a man to south Jersey, to the poorest county in the state, and stayed here because of another man, the one I married 30 years ago and am now  recently separated from.  We actually escaped to Baltimore County for a year and a half but came back because he wasn’t happy in that north Jersey-like environment.  I was!  And, I dropped out of  nursing school to go with him and gave up an offer of a full time Parochial School teaching job to come back.  And did it willingly.  Do you see where I’m going with all of this?

Again, to be fair to myself, I have learned in my jobs that I have strong leadership qualities, rising to positions of authority in just about every one but how much more could I have achieved elsewhere?  Where there is more opportunity for growth and culture, less fast food and retail jobs, room to spread wings! (By the way, I’m not knocking South Jersey, but Cumberland County IS the poorest county in the state.)

So, now I’m about to turn 65, am starting over, have little money, and have a messed up body.  What have I learned?  Follow a dream for yourself.  Don’t always put someone else first.  Believe in yourself.  Think towards your own future and be in control of it.  Don’t depend on someone else for your happiness or to take care of your life but rather work alongside of them while taking care of your own.  Have a dream and make it happen.  So many things I’ve learned.  Too late?  Nope!!  I’ve also learned that I am a strong woman and I’m not about to give up now. 

4 responses »

  1. Wonderful! I related to a lot of your experiences. Shelley, do you think we were programed to put others before our own needs and wants? Remember, the 60’s were just the beginning of we, women, finding ourselves and thinking independently. We had no knowledge of how to attain our own identity because our mother’s took on the role of wife and mother as was expected of them. Our generation was truly the first to “break the mold” and do things out of the ordinary! We’ve come along way, Baby, and I believe we have a lot more ground to cover. Stay Strong and keep up the great writing!


  2. Thanks Andrea. You are so right! And I often felt caught in the middle of two schools of thought. I wanted to do everything at home myself but would also want my husband to take part in it all. He was defintely “old-school” and thought it was my responsibility so it definitely caused conflict. And when you start out on one path, it’s really hard to change course mid-stream!


  3. Wow. Talk bout introspection. Look forward. It will get better. Lots of changes will have lots of rewards. Look where you are now. Only way to go is up. Then again you could be in a dorm with all that angst going on. Yuck. I would never want to go through that again


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