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The Checklist That Allowed Me to Reclaim My Story

In this story, originally shared at WCF 2023, Dorothia Allen Taylor shares the tool that has empowered her to become the woman she is today, despite countless obstacles.


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To say I had a difficult childhood would be an understatement. In fact, I had little experience with being a child at all. By the age of 8, my days included paying bills, preparing meals, and doing everything in my power to stay safe. I learned early on that no one was going to take care of those things for me. 


But there is one aspect of childhood that I’m glad to have carried with me. It has accompanied me since elementary school, when I realized that the only thing that I could control was myself.  By focusing on doing that, I knew I could manage to survive everything else. So I began writing things down that I could and would accomplish. I began my “life list.”


It started with small, immediate things. Don’t get hit today. Get a good night’s sleep. Have a good meal. Play with friends. Despite what I was forced to see or experience, I refused to be broken. Even when I didn’t know where my next meal was coming from or fell asleep to the sounds of screaming, I kept my attention on my list. 


As a child, “Get to school,” was always at the top of the list. School was my escape, and the only place I could truly be a child. I got myself there every day, even when I was sick, battered, or tired. It did not matter. I would not miss a day. I poured myself into school, taking accelerated classes, joining clubs, doing extra credit, all while hiding my home life. I hid in plain sight like this until high school.  


It was in high school that I got my first mentor, through a UCLA Young Scholars program. She taught me that it was okay to be seen for who I was and where I was from. I shared my story in that program and learned that there were many girls hiding in plain sight just like me.  


This was when my “life list” transitioned to life proclamations and included things like graduate with honors, get accepted into an Ivy League school, attend a Historically Black College or University, and get my parents clean.  


The order of items on the list changed, but never wavered. After all I’d been through, I owed it to myself to keep checking things off and adding things that society said were a no for someone from my troubled background. 


I checked off item after item. Survive past high school—check. Know what parental love feels like—check. Have drug-free parents—check. Find true love—check. Be a mom—check. Know my worth—check. Sit in a leadership role in my organization as a brown skinned woman with no “real” college background—check.


It's clear to me now that my life list has been more than just a set of goals; it has been a way for me to create my own story. With each check mark on my list, I reclaim a piece of my identity, making it once again my own. 


Today, as I look back at the multitude of “nos” that I turned into triumphant “yeses," I stand proud of the person I've become – a testament to the power of resilience, determination, and the unwavering pursuit of one's dreams.


Hear stories like Dorothia's live at Women in Consumer Finance 2024. This year, we'll be in Fort Worth, Texas from November 11 to 13. Get your ticket or sign up for updates here.