Motivational Story: From Dog Walking to Ivy League

Remember “Sally” from a few months ago? She was rejected from a job because she asked her lawyer father for legal advice. How dare she! Anyway, she’s back with an amazing story about how hustling can get you pretty damn far. In her own words…

Since my first day of Kindergarten, my parents, teachers, and counselors all emphasized that if I tried hard enough, I could achieve anything. Hard work and determination would land me at the front doorstep of my goals.

My mother always told me to eat a good breakfast, and I would succeed. I listened, ate up, and succeeded my way through graduation. My parents took pictures of me smiling on the front steps of the library, and we all thought I had really done it.

So how did I go from graduating from the Honors program at the University of Maryland with a 4.0 GPA, Phi Beta Kappa to scooping dog poop, waiting tables, and house sitting?

After graduating last year into one of the toughest economies, I was sent with my newly printed resume to pursue hundreds of coveted entry-level positions in disinterested offices. They had bigger fish to fry, and bigger, more experienced fish in the sea swimming by me with their tentacles out. As I pitched my talents to interviewers (if I was lucky enough to get that far) and explained why anthropology was such a great choice in major, I saw in their eyes what every one of them was thinking: “That’s cute.”

After a couple of months of wasting away my funds on an apartment I could not afford and work clothes I certainly did not need, I put the box of tissues aside, squeezed my stacks of cover letters into a large storage unit, and took to the streets. I put on my walking shoes and begged for jobs. You need a waitress? Well, here’s my resume. I’m an anthropology major.

I house-sat, waitress-ed, office managed, and found my not-so-true calling in dog walking. My sixteen hour days included three changes of wardrobe, bad tips, and all the joys that come with dog walking. I never imagined having to clean up after dogs after getting a college degree, but it paid enough to keep my checking account positive. I was still sending out resumes somewhere in between my odd jobs. In a bad economy, people still need to eat, their dogs still need to go to the bathroom, and I needed to keep moving.

Finally, in April, I applied and was accepted to the University of Pennsylvania’s Masters in Social Work program. I don’t see it so much as running from the job market as much as I am using the knowledge I gained while being ostracized from it. I was forced to finally think about where I really wanted to send my resume, instead of just what looked good. I learned that success was measured by more than good grades, and I figured out what personal success really meant to me. Take that recession.

There are 359 hits when I search my Gmail account for sent resumes over the past year. Granted, many of these are What-Am-I-Doing-Wrong-Emails, but they are still a testament to the amount of personal manpower required for this task. I cringe at the thought of how many of these embarrassing emails were actually read.

At the end of it all, I think mostly to another poster in an 8th grade science room of a cartoon frog in a pelican’s mouth. The pelican is nearly swallowing the frog whole, but that little frog keeps its hands wrapped tightly around the pelican’s throat in a death choke, with a quote under it reading, “Never Ever Give Up.” I always related to this more than the Little Engine That Could, although the message is clear from both. Stick to the golden plan even when things look down. And in the meantime, pass the Cheerios.

11 Responses to Motivational Story: From Dog Walking to Ivy League

  1. Love the honesty! Congrats on getting into Penn! A certainly fine school indeed.

    Have you thought about the cost aspect of school and whether there are scholarships and such?

  2. i am just through with college and this story is really eye opening. i have also done jobs like the ones you have mentioned but i am hoping that God blesses my new business so that i can be able to pay bills and be of some use to the people around me. Something that i have come to see that in the real world my academic credentials and past achievements don’t really mean anything. To survive out here, the thing that you need most is God’s grace to shine down on you and Him giving you favor. Like for instance i know of people how do not have college education making so much more than they need. In my books, the only thing that keeps me going is the hope that today God is going to shine down on me. Ask God for help; I believe he has us green new college grads covered. ps; i also put my tissues aside some time back and rolled up my sleeves :)

  3. Congrats on getting into grad school. Seems like everyone is “husslin’” these days. Create resumes and networking is the way to go.

  4. I skipped over this at first because the title made it sound like another inspirational story of someone who worked hard as a dog walker to save up enough money to attend an Ivy League school. Interestingly enough, this story is the exact opposite! Very refreshing.

  5. I couldn’t agree more with the “never give up” attitude. I graduated many years ago with an anthropology degree as well. It’s not the kind of degree that automatically fills a position in corporate. However, many employers find it a novel idea. In ’95 the job market was better than it is today, however not nearly as good as it was in ’99 and 2000. My anthro degree got me in the door at an entry-level corporate position, but I soon realized I hated corporate! I think the fact that you’re expanding your horizons could open up doors you never thought of. Good luck!

  6. Wow, you cerintly have a story to tell. I recently posted an article entitled: “Everything Happens for a Reason”. You may enjoy it as not being able to get a job may have seemed like the pits, even now. However, look where it landed you! You are in an EXCELLENT school going for your masters. We have all been there, well, most of us, ok at least I was, and believe me, I agree with you, it sucked. I was borrowing money from my parents every month just to make my rent. Finally I got a job and was able to quit my job as a waiter…It built my character however, and I made some good contacts while I was there. My point, everything happens for a reason:) You will see, maybe in a year or 10, that this period of your life had a purpose as well:)

  7. I hope grad school helps you find the path you want to be on for a while! I have yet to find a passion for anything but volunteering and blogging, but my husband is 2 1/2 weeks from getting his Masters in Library Sciences and is already enjoying the job as a lowly volunteer intern this summer and has a full time position lined up for this coming school year. I am so thankful he made the choice to pursue this since he’s 100 times happier than he was when teaching…

    Good luck on the rest of your journey!

  8. Not to be contrarian, but I’m not sure how this constitutes success. You’re incurring more debt by going to school, right? Wasn’t it education without the promise of a job in a relevant field that got you walking dogs in the first place? Unless you’re guaranteed a social worker position once you complete your master’s, how is this progress? Where do you see yourself 2 years from now?

    • @Greg McFarlane, Not to speak for her, but I don’t think she got into school and said, “I’m finally where I want to be.” I think it’s more about getting the short end of the stick and instead of complaining about it, working hard to get back into school, and improving her position so she doesn’t have to do dog walking later!