Life has taught me when it is time to give up and a few other lessons along the way.

For me, the idea of giving up on my court reporting dream began before I even got started. On a leap of faith, I had moved to Alabama with a roommate to start school. I was 22, and it was my first time really adulting all on my own. I took the first job I could -- it was the third shift at a local hotel in our small town -- when, less than two weeks into my employment, I was robbed and kidnapped at gunpoint. It was, by far, the worst night of my life.

I wondered then, “Is it time to give up?” I could just move back home with Mom and Dad. Maybe this was a sign that I had made a mistake, that I shouldn’t have moved, that I shouldn’t start school. Though it did not derail my reporting dream, it did delay it by a year.

Lesson learned: Sometimes you need bad things to happen to inspire you to change and grow.

I had some hurdles to overcome to enter court reporting school, and when I finally did, a year had passed since the armed robbery and kidnapping. I was filled with hope and excitement as I entered my first theory class, with just a bit of trepidation as I wondered when the looming trial would eventually begin. It was difficult at times to focus on my studies, but I was determined that I did not want to spend the rest of my life working at a low-wage job.

It wasn’t long before I learned that the defendants would be going to trial. I was still in theory. “What a relief,” I thought, “I can get this behind me and move on.” I would gather my strength, appear to testify, and their case would be reset for a later date … again and again, all while I was still in theory. I began to think that maybe the timing wasn’t right, and I asked myself, “Is it time to give up?” Maybe this was the elusive sign I had been waiting for.

The trial finally went forward. Shortly after the trial concluded, I gave my victim impact statement, and the defendants were sentenced. One defendant got 80 years, one got 40 years, one got 6 months in boot camp, and the other got youthful offender.

Lesson learned: Things will happen in their own time.

I was thrilled that I could again focus on speedbuilding and complete the program when, about six months after that, I was called out of class to take an emergency phone call from my mom. As I walked down the hall, I wondered how in the world my mom even knew the phone number to the school.

When I picked up the phone, I heard my mom’s shaky voice on the other end, “Dad’s been sent to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. He has a 98 percent blockage in the ‘widow-maker,’ and he’s going to undergo emergency triple bypass as soon as they can get him back. You need to be here, Melissa.”

My heart sank, and I grabbed the first flight I could to St. Louis. I asked myself many times, “Is it time to give up now?” This must be the sign, right?

Thankfully my father came through. And while I had planned to take the rest of the semester off to help my mom, she insisted that I return to school, that I needed to focus on my goals, and would not hear otherwise.

Lesson learned: Always surround yourself with people who want your success as much as you do.

I was determined more than ever now that I was not going to give up because I was not going to work the rest of my life at a low-wage job AND – after a year and a half, I had new motivation! -- I would not let myself be strapped with student loan debt on a low-wage income.

My student career continued but it was no cakewalk. I was still working full-time at the hotel (not on third shift anymore), living alone, and struggling to make ends meet at $7.25 an hour. I had all the highs and lows of any student: I struggled, especially with my English classes, and I had to repeat a speedbuilding class.   At times, 225 seemed so far off that the light at the end of my tunnel looked more like a BIC cigarette lighter.

I continued working a day at a time and progressed to my upper speeds. I had shoved my negative Nancy thoughts about giving up to the back of my mind. I was too busy now to entertain anything more than my full-time job, school, and a wedding to be planned. I almost forgot to mention my soon-to-be husband, my rock. It wasn’t until my internship that those thoughts would once again rear their ugly head.

Because I had passed one of my 225s, I was allowed to walk in graduation that June rather than wait until the next year. My parents made the 11-hour drive down to Alabama to be there to support me, and I had my new husband at my side. I was so excited and so close to reaching my dream. No giving up now! My light was finally shining brightly.

The director of the school, who was a precious lady and knew the challenges I had overcome during school, told my mom, “I wish I knew you were coming. I would have allowed Melissa to ring the bell while you were here. She just passed her last test but doesn’t know. Please don’t tell her.”

Well, after graduation, I don’t think the car door had even shut all the way when my mom blurted out the good news. I was thrilled and had been ready to quit my job for far too long. I proudly walked into the hotel that weekend and gave my two-week notice. Not only did I tell them that I quit, I told them what I really thought about my direct supervisor.

Note to self: Some things are better left unsaid.

Long story short, when I arrived at school on Monday, relieved that I only had my internship transcript to submit in order to “officially” be told I had passed my last 225, I learned that the “she passed her last 225 test” was a misunderstanding. I was in the Merit Program and required to pass all my tests at 97 percent or higher, and this one was just below 97 percent. I had not passed! I was devastated, and I KNEW it was now finally time to quit. After all, I reasoned to myself, I already had a job and Alabama had not yet passed mandatory certification. So I walked into the dean’s office and I told her, “I quit. I’m done. I withdraw.”

Thankfully, she was the calm voice of reason talking a jumper off the roof. She told me that I couldn’t quit, that she would refuse to process my paperwork, and that she was not giving up on me. I’ll never forget her. She believed in me at one of the lowest points in my life.

I knew now that I was not going to work the rest of my life at a low-wage job, I would not let myself be strapped with student loan debt while working a low-wage job, AND – the best motivation of all -- I was worth investing in and would finish my dream.

Lesson learned: Surround yourself with people who believe in you when you can’t or don’t believe in yourself.

Meanwhile, until I passed that last 225, bills still had to be paid. Not knowing when I would pass my last test, I knew I had to go back to the hotel, head tucked, and politely request to withdraw my notice. Thank goodness my manager was more than forgiving.

Lesson learned: Never burn a bridge, and humble pie does not taste near as good as peach pie.

A week later, I passed my last 225 and finally (very loudly) rang that big, beautiful, revered brass bell on the wall, only ever touched by the graduates who had come before me!

I learned several very valuable life lessons while in court reporting school that I carry with me today, but by far, the most important lesson I learned is that there is never a good day to give up on you or your dreams.

Court reporting school is not easy, but nothing in life worth having is. So on those days when you ask yourself – and you will at some point -- “Is it time to give up?” the answer is always, “Not today,” my friend. If you are willing to put in the time, it will happen!

“Strength doesn’t come from what you can do it. It comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn’t.” ~ Rikki Rogers


Melissa Lee, A.A., CCR, CRI