Finishing what I started

I've wanted to talk about this on my weblog for well over two months, but the time wasn't right, until this week.

As I mentioned 11 days ago, our motivation for moving exceeded just being closer to Cyan's new school (instead of being 20 houses away and across the street, we're now next door).

So, why did we sell our beautiful custom-built house and move into a smaller, older house on a busier street? Two reasons.

1. We could get out of debt...

We were naughty spenders between '95 and '01 and have yet to dig ourselves out from that pile of bills. We've never missed a payment, except for when Netstruxr laid me off and I couldn't pay rent for a couple of months, but it was not a fun way to live, and it made us slaves to our creditors.

But now we are very lucky because we just happened to build on a street that ended up being beautiful and very in-demand in a hot real estate market. We did very well on the sale. We might have done better if we'd given it more time but we're happy with the result. We did well enough to buy a smaller house, pay off our debt (except for car payment and mortgage, which I consider acceptable liabilities to have at this stage of my life), renovate the new place, and have a chunk of change left over.

So about that chunk of change... reason number two!

2. I could finally finish my Computer Science degree!

Oh yeah baby! I left UVic in the summer of 1994 when I took a co-op job (internship) at Shell Canada in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. I sloughed off the project/report I was supposed to write because I decided I wasn't going back. They offered me a contract after my co-op work terms were over and I stayed there for nearly 3 years.

When we moved back to Victoria in '97 I hoped to take courses now and then, but our bills and spending habits were so bad I couldn't afford the time off or the tuition. Nor was I very motivated. Then we had children and built a house, and that pretty much eliminated any chance of going back. I've wanted to go back to school since '96, but I didn't talk about it much because it simply wasn't realistic... until now.

In September, I will start working part-time and return to UVic as a full-time student majoring in Computer Science! I have a long road ahead of me, but after so many years of self-destructive behavior, I finally believe I have the right attitude and enough willpower to see it through.

I have around 3 years of courses left.

So, why go back?

Many of my close friends and family already know what's going on. Just about everyone has been immediately supportive of our decision, but on occasion, people ask me why I'm going back... I'm good at what I do, I have a job, and I've preached for years that I couldn't care less about having "that piece of paper" (the degree), that what matters is skill and experience.

I suppose, after I finish my degree, I'll be proud of that piece of paper, because I will have truly earned it and truly respect the education I received, and I might even frame it and put it on a wall somewhere... but at the bottom of the frame will be a plaque that reads " This piece of paper is not why I went back to school."

So why go back now? That's easy.

I want to be better at what I do. I love Computer Science, and it drives me nuts how much of it I have not yet mastered and how many things I cannot do due to lack of knowledge. Like I tell my non-geek friends when explaining my motivation, I can use a database server, a web server, or an operating system, but I can not properly write one from scratch, at least not to my standards or industry standards.

Being limited like that is not acceptable to me. I want to grow in my profession, and to do that I need a lot more fundamental knowledge. I believe University is the best setting for me to learn these fundamentals.

Also, I want to finish what I started. I didn't appreciate education and the university experience when I was a kid, I was immature, took the world for granted and thought I knew enough, and didn't want to put the work in to get through school. It was getting harder and I wasn't used to school being a challenge, and my work ethic wasn't strong enough to get me through it.

I knowingly used my weak money management skills to put myself in a situation where I couldn't go back. I bought a small townhouse in Alberta while I was still doing my co-op term at Shell in Alberta, if you can believe it! I had a mortgage at the age of 19. Insane. That was a great excuse... that and how it was always my plan to move back to Alberta as soon as I could because it was where I wanted to live. Excuses excuses. I was running away from school because I couldn't handle it and didn't want it anymore. Period. That's the real truth. If I've ever told you any other reason, I was lying to you to protect my pride. I'm very sorry. I used to believe those excuses myself; I convinced myself those were the real reasons. Sure, it's true that I was refused a student loan even though my parents couldn't possibly afford to cover my education, but that's a pathetic excuse, one that would never stop me now, one that I would never accept from my children. In fairness to myself, it was an excuse I gave myself when I was very young and stupid, and I'm allowed to make mistakes, but I've perpetuated these lame excuses for a long long time, far longer than I should have.

Hey, these personal failures are hard to admit to, especially in public, but I'm through with giving excuses. I've had a million of them, but they're all bullshit. I feel like a thousand pounds is lifted from my shoulders... I wonder if this is how Catholics feel after confession? ;-)

Now the slate is clean. Excuses washed away. Money situation much improved. More mature and motivated, I am better prepared for this challenge and this important phase of my life.

My keystone, Cheryl

None of this would be possible without the complete support of my wonderful wife, Cheryl. Understandably, it wasn't a piece of cake to talk her into selling our house, which she loved so much and put so much energy into, and leaving the neighbourhood and neighbours that we loved so much, all so that I could go back to school. Hey, it's a selfish request, and I believe me, I know it. I do believe our family will be better off once I get this done, but it's still a lot to ask of someone.

Once I had Cheryl convinced that we could actually afford this, which was not easy (re: terrible money management skills) and that we could still own a home (Cheryl was very against renting, something I would have preferred only while I was going to school), Cheryl was on-board with the idea and we got the ball moving very quickly. Our house was sold less than a month after the decision was made!

I know I am very lucky to have such a supporting wife and family. Without them and my close friends I would have never matured to this point, and for that and a million other reasons I am eternally grateful.

Thank you Cheryl, Cyan, Xavier, Moms, Dads, Chuck, Shane, John, Justin and Steve. Together you form the keystone that holds me up.

Last but not least

I was be remiss if I did not also give Mark F. Murphy, my employer at Tyrell Software credit at this time. If he hadn't agreed to let me work part-time, none of this would have happened, at least not without finding a different job first, and that would have sucked big time. Thank you Mark, you are my liberty.

In Closing

This might be the longest weblog post I've ever made. Regardless, it's one of the most important and one I've spent the most time preparing. I am so pumped about our future.

Before I forget... I've got a lot of Math to re-learn over the spring and summer. I've found a ton of great Internet resources for Mathematics in the last couple of months, and now that our real-estate adventure is finally over I can turn my attention to them. If you know of any books or other resources for learning or re-learning Mathematics to prepare me for University, I would greatly appreciate you sharing those references with me.

I have to take Math 101 and Math 122 soon.

I also need to take CSc 230 as soon as possible. I'm looking forward to that course greatly, especially after following Duncan's weblog for so many years!

Written on April 30, 2004