College Degree at 53: How My Boss Was My Biggest Motivator

I almost didn’t write this post. Because even though I realize that I’m an anomaly by earning my BA degree last month at 53 years old, and I could talk excitedly for hours about self-actualization and human potential, I was going to keep this milestone to myself. Like a spiritual journey, it feels sacred to me.

But inside every story is a halo effect, the gradual and cumulative shiny moments that help to shape and paint the journey. Forever forward, when I think back to this experience in my life, I will never forget the solid, untiring, and unshakeable motivation and encouragement of my dear friend, Paul Macari, who also happens to be my work boss during the day. His unwavering, positive influence made up for those who questioned why I was going to college when I “already” have a job, why I spend my life at a computer, or what I hope to get out of this “at my age.” You can’t explain these things to people who don’t already understand. Paul wholly does – because he spent 13 years of his own journey earning several degrees back in the 80s the old-fashioned way: driving long distances several nights a week for over a decade to attend class in person, all while working full-time and raising a family. Our challenges were different because of altered time and space, but the quest and passion for personal potential are quite the same.

Paul isn’t on social media, but if you know him in real life, I know that you too adore him (everyone does). Michelle Obama famously said, “Choose people who will lift you up. Find people who will make you better.” This is Paul. He makes you better just by knowing him. He texted me almost every weekend over many years to see how my assignments were coming along and gave advice that I will never forget. 

For example, on days when I felt overwhelmed, he reminded me to “fight for your education because it’s something that no one can ever take away from you.” He texted random motivational notes like “Keep the pencil moving” (advice his father gave to him over a half-century ago). He told me to watch the movie A League of Their Own because there’s a scene where Geena Davis wants to give up playing baseball because it’s too hard, and Tom Hanks tells her, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.” When the needle of my graduation trajectory seemed to stand still, he’d be quick to point out things like, “you have more of this class in the rear-view mirror than in front of you,” and “the days may seem long, but the weeks are going by fast” and “the hardest part of any marathon is the last mile.” When I got too hard on myself striving for perfection, he taught me that “perfect is the enemy of the good” and not to “boil the ocean by overthinking it.” And when my vision jumped too far ahead, and I spent too much time over there thinking about my next degree vs. over here finishing this one, he advised me, “Play the game you’re in. Don’t think about the next game yet.”

It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great. – A League of Their Own

We both work for an exceptional, high-integrity, and all-around amazing company (it deserves another story post of its own) – thank you, dearest Pitney Bowes, for investing in me and paying for my education (and his, too). Each time Paul got an email requesting his approval for tuition reimbursement for a course, he didn’t just hit the confirm button and be done with it – no. He’d forward it to me with a note that said, “My pleasure to approve this” or “One more course down” or “Keep going!” or “I’m so happy for you.”

When I submitted my final capstone paper, he hooted with such honest and pure joy and seemed more excited than me. He talked about it for days, long after I was even thinking about it anymore. When I won an academic excellence award, there was a virtual ceremony. He suspected that I’d earn something that night, and I found out later that he’d spent hours over days calling and emailing Post University to be able to view the online event (he wasn’t able to). Earning my first college degree has meant a lot to me, but Paul’s friendship is immeasurable to me and one of the things I treasure most in my life. I did the hard work, and I steered the ship, but he was by far the world’s greatest co-captain, always relentlessly by my side cheering me on. He believed in me in the biggest way.

A couple of years ago, when I got married, it was a simple, tiny event at a small chapel with only a couple of dozen or so family members on a chilly Friday morning in November. A few minutes before walking down the aisle, I looked through the glass windows from the back of the church and recognized the back of Paul’s head. He was sitting on the bride’s side of the pews introducing himself to family members. Ignoring any wedding day decorum, I kicked off my shoes and ran happily down the aisle to lean in and hug Paul. He had left work to crash my wedding, and this inexpressibly meant everything to me. This is a photo from that day. He has been my biggest fan, and I will forever be his, too. I feel incredibly blessed.

One thought on “College Degree at 53: How My Boss Was My Biggest Motivator”

  1. You have gone through so many phases in your life – all of them successful. Starting in New Haven service and then on to Newtown. You were always the smartest person in the room
    What is Little Richie doing now ?
    Just decided to look you up
    Dom Vaiuso 11/13/21

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