Thursday, September 3, 2009

Trapped no more

By Ashley-Anne Churchill, Environmental Science

I was stuck in a rut. At 19, I was managing a custom picture-framing store. I loved the work and enjoyed keeping busy, but I just felt like I wasn’t doing what I was meant to do.

On a quiet night during the Christmas holidays, a young man came in to the store and we got to talking. He was in the Criminology Program at Douglas College, which happened to be the program I wanted to go into if I were to do any post secondary education.

As we continued talking, him about college and me about work, I got this horrible feeling in my gut: I suddenly despised my job. I told him of my dreams of going to college, all of the well-thought out plans that I had made, and how I came to manage a custom picture-framing store.

He sensed my melancholy and asked why I wasn’t in college. At the time I was working 12-hour days, six days a week, so I had no time to even consider going to college. I told him that I felt obligated to work so much because I was the only one available.

He got up to leave and said: “Never let anyone make you feel trapped.” As he left, he added, “Maybe I’ll see you at Douglas one day.”

I sat there and contemplated his words. It wasn’t just what he said; it was how he said it. I immediately understood what he meant – people can’t make you do things unless you let them.

I continued working, putting his words into my subconscious, though I sure wasn’t going to forget them. Then on December 21, I was the passenger in a car accident that left me with whiplash, a soft muscle injury to my back, a badly broken finger and an injured wrist. Phoning work after I got out of the hospital, I was told there was no one to cover my shifts. If I didn’t work, they would shut my store down.

Feeling responsible, I went to work the next day, during the busiest time of year, framing pictures and selling art with my arm splinted up to my elbow and barely able to turn my neck. Working twice as hard as I normally did, half the time in a haze from pain medication, I was too busy to even recall the young man’s words.

Two weeks later, as I was putting the key in the lock to open the store, two men in suits came up and asked, “Are you Ashley Churchill?” Gulping, thinking they were from ICBC, I nodded. They told me they were from a bankruptcy company and the store I worked for had gone into receivership.

The first very first thought that went through my mind was, “I can go to college now.” And I was reminded of that young man’s words. It took a car accident and losing my job for me to really hear what he said.

I applied for funding for college. While waiting for the Fall semester, I went through five months of physiotherapy and unemployment. With a splint covering half my arm, no one would even think of hiring me.

I made it and have just finished my first year of my Associate Degree in Environmental Science at, you guessed it, Douglas College. It’s not Criminology, but all that time off while I was unemployed gave me plenty of time to think about what I truly wanted to do.

I never caught that young man’s name, and I don’t remember what he looks like, but I still remember what he told me that day I was in despair: “Never let anyone make you feel trapped.”

I’m still struggling to make it financially, just like any other starving student, but I don’t feel trapped anymore. I’m following my heart and doing what it is that makes me feel alive.