Resilience: Michael's Story


"It's your reaction to adversity, not adversity itself, that determines how your life's story will develop."


At some point during my sophomore year in high school, I had given up on any hopes or thoughts of going to college. I did not think it was at all possible for me. I was just ready to live out the crummy life that I was thrown into. Then, someone came along and told me about the college of the Ozarks. This person said, "Hey, there is an amazing college that allows you to work your way through college without student loans." After learning more about the college and the admission requirements, I was able to take the steps needed to apply. I regained my hope, hope for going to college and escaping the poverty I was living in. This mentor and I developed a plan to accomplish the steps necessary to apply. I do not really see this as grit or perseverance. I honestly had given up until learning about this opportunity. It was not until someone was kind enough to step in and say, "You have other options; let me assist you." Once I had hope, I could use the grit and perseverance I had earlier in my life.


There was, literally, a village of people who assisted me in my college plans. A church helped me find a place to live while I finished high school; tutors helped me raise my GPA, and my mentor helped me apply to college. I needed and received reference letters. I was accepted as a full-time student at College of the Ozarks. After my acceptance, I continued to receive help from so many people. They helped me acquire all that is needed for college, from a laptop to business clothes and money for books. Friends even brought a futon over to my dorm room so I would have a place to sit and relax. Hope first, then grit and perseverance were what helped me on my journey for the next few years.


Once I was in college, I felt that I could not allow myself to return to the life I lived before college. I just could not let that happen under any circumstances. If that is the meaning of grit, then I had grit. I was doing great in all of my classes except for a very difficult English course. I was put on academic suspension because of this introductory English course, which was likely the most difficult English class in existence! I was not the only student placed on academic suspension. It was a difficult obstacle to overcome. I chose to transfer to a local community college rather than quit my education. Quitting was never an option for me. Once again, I needed people in my life to help guide me, saying, well, this is what you can do, and I made goals and plans to pursue my degree.


I did not have anyone to help guide me when I was younger. In those formative years, you are supposed to have people in your life to help teach you how to plan things; I did not have that person. I did not do well with future thinking and planning. Even now, I struggle with planning and future goal setting. I have gotten better, but it has been a struggle. I was accepted into community college, and it was a breeze. There were a few classes that were challenging, but it was much easier than the other courses I had taken, particularly the English course. I earned high grades and even excelled in my English classes! I earned my Associate Degree, and I also met my future wife while we were both students there. A life lesson I learned through this is that if you like who you are, do not try to avoid the obstacles and hardships that come your way because they help make you who you are, and look what can happen!


After I graduated from Crowder Community College, I decided to reapply to College of the Ozarks. It was, literally, the fear of returning to what my life was before college that drove me to continue my education. It was awful to grow up and live in poverty; it is a killer; it is death, really. There is no other way to explain it; when you are living it, it feels like there is no way out. There is no escape; you are drowning every day. Countless people live in poverty daily and continue onward, which is insane to me. I don't know how they do it. If I  had failed and did not return to get my bachelor's degree, it would have been going back, and even now, I don't want that to happen. It is a terrifying existence.


I am happy to say that I was readmitted to College of the Ozarks, which was amazing. I remember sitting down with their re-evaluation team for the admission interview. All of the bigwigs were there, and I believe the teacher who failed me was in the room as well. I was nervous as I had to explain why I wanted to return and how I believed I would succeed. I was thrilled to learn of their decision to allow me back in. Classes were challenging, yes, but I persevered and graduated with a bachelor's degree in business with a minor in marketing.


Once Ir received my degree, I moved back to where I had lived, in a small rural town in Missouri. I moved in with friends because I could not find a job right away; in fact, I job-hopped for the first couple of years. Through it all, I must admit that I learned from each and every job that I have worked. I discovered that sales and customer complaint service is not my strong point. I also learned that multi-level marketing jobs should be avoided completely. One temporary job helped me to discover that driving a furniture truck is not a career pather for me. Overall, I learned that living rurally limits career opportunities. My friends and I moved to a bigger city, closer to jobs. We shared a house together until I could afford my own place. It took time, but I did eventually find work that I really love. I am employed as an administrative assistant in a corporate office with a well-known company.m I not only enjoy the work, but they offer a great career pathway for me.m I got married this past September to the amazing woman I met at the community college. We are so happy, we both love our jobs, our lives together, and the new dog we just inherited. Life is just amazing, and I am grateful.


What would I say to someone in high school and similar circumstances I was in years ago? I would say, "if you are shown a way out, you take it, run with it, and just keep running, or otherwise, you risk going back into poverty." This was just not an option for me. It was mostly luck and people who chose to take an interest in me. Everybody needs to find people around them who are willing to help. You can not do it alone. I do not like how the term grit and perseverance are often attributed to people who have achieved some level of success. Everyone living in poverty or disenfranchised by society has more resilience than I do. The homeless person standing on the street corner with a sign asking for help had the determination and courage to get up that day, get a sign and find a corner to ask for help; otherwise, they go hungry.m That is resilience, to keep getting up when life knocks you down. To pull out of a life of poverty and hopelessness, you must find those people who believe in you and will invest in helping you overcome the obstacles and barriers preventing you from achieving your goals.m This makes all the difference, at least it did in my life.