Joyce Woodell always wondered what her life would have been like if she'd gone to college. Here's how she discovered the courage to find out.
Have you ever looked back over your life and thought, “What if?” After I decided not to go to college, these two words became the refrain of my life.
Those who know me today would probably have a hard time believing that I was ever shy, but it’s true. As a young woman, I lacked confidence and rarely spoke up. I found it so difficult to believe in myself that I completely wrote off the idea of going to college. I simply didn’t believe I could do it.
Instead, I took a job at Allied Bond in the payment processing department. Despite my self-doubt, I poured my all into it. The loyalty and dedication to my work that I demonstrated did not go unnoticed, and I was quickly promoted to a lead position. Years later, I moved to NCB Management Services as Supervisor of Financial Operations.
By all outward appearances, I was thriving in the path I’d chosen. But inside, I felt stuck. I was sure I wasn’t living up to my potential. I tried to convince myself at every step of the way that this was what I wanted. But all the while, the regret weighed heavily on me. Those two little words echoed in my mind - “What if?”
Here’s how I finally found the courage to answer "what if"?
1. I let myself feel the regret.
From the time I graduated high school until I found myself at NCB, I was always going. I kept myself busy by overachieving at work so that I didn’t have time to think about how things could have been different. I pushed aside my feelings and kept moving forward until I found myself at a dead end. I couldn’t advance any further in my career without a degree.
When there was finally nowhere to go, I had no choice but to let myself feel the regret, the disappointment, and the sadness that my choices had brought me. And once I did, I asked myself: after all this time, why am I still running from the one thing that I really want—to go to college?
If, thirty years later, the thought was still nagging at me, that had to mean something, right? But who goes to college at 49 years old?
2. I turned the question around.
I was still doubtful. For so long, I’d dismissed the idea of college, countering my desire to go with questions like “What if I fail?”, “What if it’s all for nothing?” and “What if I can’t do it?”
But I could no longer stand to think that way. It was at this point that I finally turned those questions around and asked instead: “What if I succeed? What will that feel like?”
Despite my reservations, I searched online colleges and found a potential fit. I sent a message, and the next thing I knew, I was registered to begin my first semester.
3. I opened myself up to the opportunities around me.
Even when I finally got myself signed up for those classes, I stuck with accounting, nervous about straying from what I’d done for the past thirty years. I stuck with it for two years, not feeling totally right, but not sure where else to go. Then, one day, a classmate asked me if I ever considered HR.
Talk about an “aha moment.” Suddenly, things seemed very clear.
I had always found HR interesting, but had never taken the time to pursue the interest. This simple comment opened my eyes to a whole new set of opportunities. I changed my degree path to HR management with the ambitious goal of creating and heading a new HR department at NCB.
In May 2021, I graduated Magna Cum Laude with my Bachelor’s degree in HR Management with a Minor in psychology. Unfortunately, I did not get to walk due to COVID-19 restrictions, but as I sat in my living room dressed in full cap and gown, with cords draped around my neck for all my achievements, I was beaming. I finally did it: I was a college graduate.
Five months later, I was offered the position of HR manager at NCB, which I gladly accepted, knowing I was the right person for the role. Today, as I confidently take my seat at the table, I'm no longer afraid to speak up and be heard. I have proved to myself how much I am capable of, and instead of asking, “What if?” I’m asking, “What’s next?”
Connect with women like Joyce at Women in Consumer Finance 2024, from November 11-13 in Fort Worth, TX.