Tuesday, March 16, 2021

41. "Don't Listen To That Old Bitch In Diapers"

Truth be told, I was not a great student in high school.  I wasn’t a horrible student either, I carried a solid “B” average.  My initial promise of being an ivy league candidate like my brother was dashed early on as I approached the Advanced Placement conveyor belt with contempt and disdain (based on how I was treated by the teachers, the feeling was quite mutual).

While attending “normal” (i.e, non-A.P.) classes at Culver City High, I developed a passion for the town of Santa Cruz, and made it my goal to go to college there. I obtained brochures, information, and visualized seeing myself belonging there, long before "picture boards" were in vogue. But when I sat down with my guidance counselor and told her my intentions, she proceeded to pull out charts and graphs to explain why I would not be able to get in. Citing my lackluster grades, no A.P. credits, mediocre S.A.T. scores, and all around lethargic attitude toward education, she recommended I not expend time and energy applying.
With tears in my eyes I left her office, and went to see my favorite teacher Nancy Goldberg, aka, "Goldie." You may not recognize her name, yet she stands alone as one of the unsung heroes in public education in California. For over four decades, she counseled and guided thousands of outcasts and misunderstood youth during lunch and snack breaks, giving us the opportunity to be seen, recognized, supported, and understood. 

So when I came to her in 1988 with deflated hopes and broken dreams, I knew that I would get sympathy. "What's goin' on?" she asked. I told her of my experience with the guidance counselor. "What college do you want to go?" she asked. I explained how badly I wanted to attend UC Santa Cruz. "Well don't listen to that old bitch in diapers," she replied, "We'll get you in!"

UC Santa Cruz West Campus
Just like that, I believed again. Having one adult express faith in my dream gave me the courage and conviction to fill out the application, write an essay, and send it in. Months later, when my acceptance letter came, I was overwhelmed with shock, happiness, and vindication. I ran back to school to find Goldie to show her the official document stating that I had made it in. "Yeah, I knew it..." she said, and that was that.  I resolved from that experience to never again allow anyone or anything to diminish my dreams.

I have now been working and/or volunteering in service organizations for nearly thirty years.  And in that time I have consistently seen that people in higher-up positions rarely have an understanding of the day-to-day operations, are usually clueless about the struggles facing their clientele,  and are typically the last folks you'd ever want to take career advice from. I have also seen that the leaders I admire most who break barriers, ie, President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris, Dolly Parton, Cher, just to name a few, have also all had to rise above an oppressive chorus of "you can't" of "you won't" by ignorant and limited "experts."

When I got that invitation to attend the White House ceremony in 2016, I immediately called Goldie.  I thanked her for believing in me, and thanked her for seeing more in me than just the “B” student epithet that had been assigned to me by the system.  There is a special dedication to Goldie in both my books "Absolutely Should-less" and “Rational Relating” which acknowledges her role in teaching me how to see beyond the limitations of what others told me was "true."   

These words encouraging me to challenge oppressive norms are just as salient to me today as they were thirty years ago.  And I hope Goldie's message will persevere when you read this as well. Do not let anyone tell you that you can't achieve what you want. Don't give any person or institution the power to say, "You can't."  Do not allow any so-called expert or professional to hold dominion over your hopes and dreams. And never give anyone the power to limit the expression of what is in your heart. 

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist helping individuals and couples enjoy life with peace, purpose, and pleasure. His books "Absolutely Should-less" and "Rational Relating" help people experience connection with joy, serenity, and meaning. His work has been featured on CNN Health, The New York Times, MSNBC, USA Today and more. He can be reached at Damon@DamonLJacobs.com or 347-227-7707.

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