This is a straight line. It is fucking boring.

My life hasn’t been “normal” by any means.

I didn’t have a childhood – had to grow up fast.

My family were refugees of the Persian Gulf War.

I started working at a young age of nine, helping my family run a 24-hour convenience store.

I didn’t have the typical college experience – I worked two jobs to put myself through school.

I started a company a couple of years later that was later acquired in 2011.

All while I had limited opportunities as it took me 22 years of living in the U.S. to become a citizen.

Comparing my path against my friends since the sale has been the most ordinary my life has been. I have a 9 to 5 job with health insurance, a stable paycheck, and co-workers who have become like a second family. Despite running Girl Develop It Philly and everything else I’m involved in, I have more free time than ever – something that had been unattainable to me for decades. I’ve had time to think about going the predictable route – settling down, getting married, having kids, etc. and it’s something I’ve come to think is a possibility. At 31-years-old, things generally seem good.

However, I haven’t been able to become accustomed to the rut I fell into. I go to work, come home, eat dinner, go to sleep, get up and do it all over again. I’ve had this persistant gnawing feeling at the back of my mind that something wasn’t right but I was unable figure it out. A recent vacation to Costa Rica brought it to the forefront.

All I’ve known my whole life is hard work. I’ve struggled to attain everything I’ve achieved. And you know what? I’m damn tired. Burned out. Exhausted.

I used to quote the mantra “work hard now, play hard later” to justify my work ethic in college, at the first consulting company I was involved in, and later at 123LinkIt. My family and friends were in a constant battle for my attention and that chant would pull me through tough times. My perception of it now? Fuck that motto right in la culata. I want to go back in time and slap myself silly every time I contemplated that sentence.  While I was away, I was mesmerized by the climate, mountains, jungles, animals and most of all, the people in Costa Rica. They work to live, coveting relationships with loved ones over the daily grind. I realized that wanderlust and more meaningful relationships are what I want during this stage of my life. To put my career on the back burner for a change and discover who I am without my laptop.

It leads to the reason I’m traveling. I don’t do anything half-way, which is why it’s for a prolonged duration. I will be flying into Quito, Ecuador on May 30th where I’ll stay with a host family while immersing myself in the Spanish language and culture for the first 6 weeks. I move on to Colombia, maybe Venezuela, head down to Brazil, then Argentina and loop back around to Chile and Peru, where I’ll return right before Thanksgiving. I have an idea of where I want to go and what I want to do, but I haven’t made specific plans besides booking a trek on the Inca trail. It’s a solo trip, I don’t know a single person, and I’m hoping family and friends will visit along the way.

My life’s path has been restrictive due to circumstances beyond my control and for the first time in my life, I have the freedom to steer away and do what I CHOOSE rather than the limited scope I have been given. I’m looking forward to traveling towards undefined destinations and letting things happen as they may.

When I come back, I plan to tackle the Middle East and then who knows what else. All I do know is that it won’t be following the status quo.

T-10 days.

P.S. Recommended reading: “Top 5 Regrets of the Dying” – A nurse outlines profound, common themes she witnesses among her ailing patients. The first two ring truest for me.

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Many companies offer tuition reimbursement but employees rarely take advantage of it, either because they don’t know it’s available or they’re not sure of how to approach it. Becoming a valuable asset by strengthening or building new skills is a win-win for employees and employers alike. In this post, I’ll share tips and strategies to start the conversation and close the deal.

I approached my boss about taking a design class at University of the Arts during our site redesign last year. I made it clear aesthetics wasn’t my strong suit and it would help me do a better job with the project and others coming up.  Coupled with the steps I outline below, my request was granted and I was able to take the $545 eight-week class for free.

I’ve brought up the concept to a few Girl Develop It members. Our classes are $10 to $14 an hour and it should be an easy win to ask for compensation. So far, every member that has tried has been successful. For those that are a little apprehensive, the process is similar to a negotiation. It requires pre-planning to prepare and negate any issues that may appear.

Step 1: Have a plan

  • Align it with a project and lead with the interests of the company. Your chance of success will increase if your proposal is framed in terms of benefits to your coworkers or your company.
  • Demonstrate how your new skills will increase productivity and revenue. In my case, I mentioned our project pipeline and how improving my design skills will help us when we create new tools, redo our mailings, revamp other elements and so on.
  • Show studies of how it will impact the company in a positive way. These two links from NBER and eHow explain how tuition reimbursement attracts new talent, increases loyalty, reduces turnover, creates advancement opportunities, and improves productivity.  No one can argue with stats!

Step 2: Anticipate problems that may arise

  • Reassure her or him you will not leave right afterwards. It’s a valid concern and you can offer to sign a contract if necessary (and if you’re comfortable with the idea).
  • Let them know it won’t impact your time at work. The last thing an employer wants to do is sign off on something that will take you away from your responsibilities, regardless of the long-time benefits. Look for options that allow you to attend night or weekend classes.
  • Guarantee a good grade. My company’s policy required I pay for the class upfront and my level of reimbursement directly correlated with my grade. A “B” or higher provided me with the full compensation while a “C” would give me half. A lower grade would mean I would NOT be reimbursed. It’s a fair policy as it ensures employees are taking the course seriously despite not paying out of pocket.
  • Offer to train other employees. As an added side-benefit, you can also suggest teaching other employees your newfound abilities to save money & to help them boost their talent.

When the answer is “No”

  • Offer to split the cost. When it’s clear the answer is no and you really want to attend a class, suggest dividing the bill before you pull out your check or credit card.
  • Don’t give up.  If the answer is still no, try again in a few months when the right opportunity arises. You’ve already won because you’ve showed initiative and your boss will file this away mentally for your next performance.

It doesn’t have to be a long or nerve-wracking conversation. Bring it up during a status meeting or when the right moment presents itself. The more you focus on the benefits and advantages it’ll provide to your employer, the more successful you’ll likely be. What do you really have to lose?