April 14, 2013

My Erratically Systematic Life

Alright, I admit it. In high school, I had absolutely no life plan, except to graduate high school, impress the girls, and sing & act my heart out. I had my sights on one girl in particular, who was kind enough to write in my senior year book, "You're going to make a girl really happy someday." Ouch. I caught her hidden message. "Just not me."

It wasn't until halfway through my senior year that I finally decided to serve an LDS mission, which then became my entire focus for the next year of my life. I did it. For 2 years, I served, strived, and suffered in the wooded realm of Pennsylvania, hopefully leaving a positive lasting influence. I returned home just 13 days after the 9-11 attacks (I could write an entire novel about the impact 9-11 had on the people in Pennsylvania and New York). It was a life-altering, perspective-forcing experience for me, but that was just the beginning. Little did I suspect what life had in store for me when I got home.

I had become so focused on serving an LDS mission in high school, that I never made a plan for what I would do when I got home. All I knew was that I had a girl waiting for me... sort of. She had stopped writing me the last 6 months of my mission, which I later found out was because another dude had stepped in. I admire his ambition, but it was fruitless. I stole Jaime right back when I got home. *breathes on fingernails and rubs on shirt* I took her ring shopping, made my decision, and had it hidden in my pocket. I went to go see her right after the 2002 New Year. Everything seemed great. She gave me a kiss goodnight. That was the last time I ever talked to her. Jaime stopped returning my calls and was never home when I swung by. She had ripped out my heart, smashed it on the pavement, stomped on it, ground it under her heal, and backed over it with her car. To this day, I still don't know what happened.

I had SOOO much fun during the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, but it was also the most heart-wrenching experience of my life. I couldn't stand to see all the couples cozying up to each other. It was so pathetically romantic. I took a different route. My friends and I ballroom danced in the Gateway fountains, while a thick ring of Olympic-bound foreigners flashed pictures of us with their cameras. Very cold, but VERY worth it. I still smile when I think back to that night.

During this time, I was working a steady, low paying job as a bank teller. I handled hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash every day. Unfortunately, none of it was mine. In the fall of 2002, I started up classes at Salt Lake Community College, taking only what I could afford on my limited budget. It was during that semester that I met the true love of my life. Crystal and I shared a very abstract class called Bridging the Arts. Every day was a new experience, from talking to oranges and playing follow-the-leader to Native American chants, to dancing with exercise balls and carving soap bars into "action." I enjoyed the class a lot, but probably because I was eyeing the hottie dressed in workout clothes (Crystal had an exercise class before our class). I'll bypass the intricate details of our courtship, since that's not the focus of this post, but in April 2003, the two of us were married in the Salt Lake LDS Temple.

Now to the main points of this post (keep reading; I promise to tie it all together at the end). I started college with the intent to follow in the footsteps of my father, becoming a school psychologist. I think that's part of the reason why Jaime dumped me. A life bound to a school psychologist's income would be a very humble life. She wanted more. Little had either of us realized, I only stuck to my school psychology degree (Degree #1) for two years (at half-time). Do I regret the wasted school time? Absolutely not. I never would have met Crystal, which means I never would have ended up where I am today, which is exactly where I want to be.

My next degree choice was business (Degree #2). I had changed jobs to a call center. At that point, I wasn't sure where my life was going. I had taken one of those career evaluation tests, and you know what my results were? "Terron James, you qualify perfectly for the position of a homemaker." Wow. I mean... well... yeah, wow just about sums it up. I obviously wasn't satisfied with the results, so while I tried to figure out my career plan, I thought a business degree would be the safest bet. Every employer would be impressed by a business degree, right?

Another 1.5 years later, I thought I had finally figured it out. I changed my degree again. Bring in mechanical engineering (Degree #3). I was pumped, and as such, began sending ambitious letters to all mechanical engineering firms in Salt Lake City pleading for a position as an apprentice draftsman. Someone took the bait, and for the next 10 months, I sat at a desk drafting up HVAC and plumbing plans for Associated Food grocery stores. This was a terribly busy time of my life. I was working 30 hours, taking 15 credits of engineering courses, and playing young men's president for three LDS congregations. I failed two college courses that semester, mostly because I burned myself out. I just didn't have it in me to do the work.

Surprise, surprise... I outgrew the job, and with it my degree. I was desperate and hopeless. I had been going to college for 5 years and had nothing to show for it. Not even an Associate degree. Out of desperation, I switched my degree to General Studies (Degree #4) and got a job as a land surveyor at Ward Engineering Group in Salt Lake City. I was barely keeping my head above water. My wife and I hit a really rocky patch. I was being a terrible father, and an even worse student. Don't even get my started about my video gaming addiction.

It was then, at the lowest point of my life, that I finally found myself.

My wife and I still argue over who had the original idea, but that doesn't really matter. The important part was that the idea came, and it changed my life. In August of 2008, I decided to write a book. It would be a high fantasy book, meant to fill two personal literature voids:

ONE: A structured system of magic, with well defined strengths and weaknesses, and never, ever making the reader begin a question with, "Why didn't they just...?"

TWO: A novel that would inspire youth to want to read. I hesitate to say this, especially if any of my students are reading, but sometimes I feel like schools spend so much time focusing on literature that is embedded with overwhelming complexities that our children forget how fun it is to just read (that being said, I hope I've given my students a completely different experience this year). I wanted to create a book that had no strings attached, written in a way that the reader could immerse themselves at their own preferred level and still enjoy it.

So I got to work. My dad, while making fun of one of my magic ideas, came up with the concept of True Sight--my magic system in BEHOLDERS. From there, everything else in the story fell into place. It was phenomenal! I often give kudos to my "magic fingers" because, many times, I found myself gawking at the computer screen while my hands went to work on the story. Some of my favorite parts of INSIGHT (the first book in BEHOLDERS) popped up this way, completely unplanned, like the story was being fed to me.

While my career with Ward Engineering evolved from land surveying to UDOT right of way design, I finally graduated from Salt Lake Community College with my Associate Degree in General Studies and transferred to the University of Utah for my Bachelor Degree in English, with an emphasis in creative writing (DEGREE #5). I loved both worlds (the engineering at my job, and the degree program at the U of U), and they both benefited each other. My work office was right next to a UTA Trax station, and my job hours were flexible enough to allow me to attend the daytime college classes. All I had to do was run across the parking lot and take the train up to the U of U. As my 6-year-old would say, "Easy peesy!" On the flip side, the writing and research classes helped my job dramatically, as I was constantly creating property acquisition deeds for UDOT, and spending days in county recorder offices hunting through property records. Also, my tuition paid for a UTA pass, which enabled me to ride the bus for free from Tooele to SLC, both saving me hundreds of dollars every month and giving me an extra 1.5 hours to do homework and write during the bus rides every day.

Now to tie it all together!
(See? I promised I would!)

No disrespect to Jaime, but I don't think she would've been able to change my life the way Crystal did. Crystal absolutely refused to let me throw my life away with wasted time (specifically video gaming). It almost ended my marriage because both of us were so stubborn. Even now, I can't believe how ridiculous that sounds... ending a marriage over video games. What in the world was I thinking?? Once I figured out that I cared more about my wife's happiness than I did about my character level on Diablo 2 (again, that sounds SOOOO stupid), everything changed. Our marriage became happier, and I found hours of extra time every day to accomplish other things, like write a book.

Now regarding the jobs and degrees...

psychology degree
Goodbye Jaime (again, no disrespect, but I needed Crystal and love her a lot more)

business degree & banking job
I spent a lot of time studying financing, investments, budgeting, etc. During this time, Crystal and I made a very wise choice to buy a condo, with a mortgage lower than our rent payment, and acquiring equity that could be turned around to help with our home purchase in Tooele. I also learned crucial skills that have helped us through very difficult financial times.

call center job
This job opened my eyes to the effectiveness of utilizing every second of every day. I still can't believe how much we can accomplish with seconds. Seriously.

mechanical engineering degree and draftsman job
led me to Ward Engineering Group

Associates in General Studies
A tremendous sense of accomplishment. Finally, I had something to show for my efforts.

Ward Engineering Group and English degree
I've already explained these two a little, but let me continue, because it was here that I started utilizing all of my acquired skills. I'd wake up at 4:45 in the morning, ride my bike to the bus stop in Tooele, write in my book for 45 minutes on the way into work, then another hour before work started at 7 AM, work until 4, go to school until 6, do homework on the bus ride home, do more homework and book-writing until midnight, then go to bed and do it all again the next day. Time management at it's very best! I also had a couple friends at Ward Engineering who helped me refine the technical aspects of my book (particularly the portable bridge and the aqueduct system--thanks again, Todd and AJ!). Lastly, one of my best buds, Travis, sat next to me for years. We'd spend countless hours talking about BEHOLDERS while we worked. He was definitely my main muse, and my biggest cheerleader. I owe a ton to him.

Because of the failing economy, I was eventually laid off from Ward Engineering in June of 2011. It was frustrating, but by then, I had learned to roll with life's punches, and it totally paid off. I spent the next year writing full-time and giving writing workshops at schools all over Utah. It was during this time that I realized my passion for teaching. When I graduated with my English BA in 2012, I immediately applied for a position as a junior high English teacher, and got it! I was overwhelmed, but super excited, and this school year has surpassed my expectations. I LOVE MY STUDENTS, ALL 130 OF THEM! (I want to shout that again, but this post is long enough as it is.)

So where am I going with all of this? I'm a religious man, and I believe God has played a very personal role in my life. Even though I was unable to figure out my own life, He did it for me. All I had to do was let Him. For everyone who feels like a water skeeter floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, learn from my experiences. Prayer, faith, and long-suffering are your best friends. "Never give up! Never Surrender!" (Galaxy Quest). I can't tell you how many times I floundered. I remember one specific facebook post where I questioned the necessity of finishing school, and my stomach still churns when I think back to that time of my life. Ten years for a Bachelor degree? By the time I had graduated, one of my high school buddies was already doing his residency as an anesthesiologist. Ridiculous... yet I don't begrudge the journey. I don't wish I could do it again *shudder*, but I'm glad I endured it. It took ten years for everything to come together, but it did. Well, at least I think it did. Either way, I can't wait to see what the next ten years bring (hopefully without the career changes)!


Kevin Hiatt said...

Thanks for sharing your struggles and triumphs.. and for your honesty in not sugar coating the difficulties. Whether you realize it or not, your an inspiration to those around you, and to some you don't even know. Congratulations on what you've achieved.. I look forward to following your journey forward.

Terron James said...

Kevin... I don't know what else to say besides thank you. I never stop trying, that's for sure.

Grandmama and Gramps said...

Thanks for using my favorite quote!

Anonymous said...

This is inspiring! You are awesome, and I am glad that you have ended up here.