Find Your Why

I grew up in a small town in rural North Carolina. My father, who was a self employed truck driver for his own father’s trucking company, passed away unexpectedly when I was 12. Until that point, my mom had been a stay-at-home mother to my two younger sisters and me and hadn’t been formally employed since before I was born. The year my youngest sister started kindergarten; however, my mother had begun working as a substitute at our elementary school. After my father passed, she managed to support the four of us through her work as a substitute until I was old enough to drive, at which point she committed to obtaining the education she needed to become an assistant teacher. She worked hard to earn her degree, raise three girls, and maintain our household, and when she graduated, she was offered a job in the pre-k special needs classroom at the elementary school where she had worked as a substitute for years. I have never met a person who is more suited for their job than my mom is for hers. She is patient, truly kind, and wants nothing but the best for everyone around her. The students that come into her classroom every year benefit from the education she received to qualify her for the job she had been doing for years as a sub. She is able to provide stability and consistency that she wasn’t able to as a substitute, and her students love her for it. She is going to be retiring in just a few weeks to babysit my niece (and nephew on the way). She is excited, but it is a bittersweet kind of excitement that comes with leaving behind a career that provided so much satisfaction for her. This is a job that she wouldn’t have had access to without an education.

My mother always taught my sisters and me the importance of education, even before she had pursued it for herself. She would say, “Once you get an education, no one can take that away from you.” She enrolled us in the new early college when we started high school so we were able to get some classes free-of-charge, but she didn’t have the resources to send us to four-year colleges. Honestly, though, I was not really focused on education at the time. I was bored at school, and it didn’t feel important to me at the time. To say I wasn’t the best student is putting it lightly. This was partially due to the culture that comes with living in a small town: People often have equally small outlooks on the pursuit of knowledge, and, while I had some friends who were going to four-year schools, it was not the norm, and I felt like it was out of my reach. 

After graduation, I had a few jobs around my hometown in restaurants and retail, but these did not provide me with the satisfaction I desired in exchange for my time spent at work. Money is of course important, but it was never as much of a motivation for me as my desire to help others. I felt stuck and became depressed when I thought about the options that were available to me with only my high school diploma. I wanted to spend my time at a job that I loved like I had seen my mother do. I knew that something needed to change, and that change was set in motion during a trip to Asheville, NC, when I walked by a school for Massage Therapy. I sought out information from the school and enrolled as quickly as I could making the move to Asheville barely six months later. The admissions team there worked hard to get me through the financial aid process. I qualified for the Pell Grant and took out loans to cover the remainder of my tuition while working in the service industry to support myself. I finally felt like my time was being spent doing something that was meaningful, and it changed my life for the better.

I enjoyed my career as a massage therapist and am thankful for the time I was able to spend helping people navigate their pain, but I wouldn’t be where I am today if I had stayed in that career. In March 2020 when the COVID- 19 pandemic shut down all non-essential businesses, massage therapists were among those who were out of work. My husband and I were very fortunate, though, and he was able to continue working from home and support us. I was even more fortunate that he encouraged me to enroll in classes and finish the psychology degree I started in high school. I knew it would be a long journey to completing my masters degree, and I jumped right into my classes, both nervous and excited to make steps in this direction. I felt passion for my classes, and my brain was stimulated in a way that until then, I hadn’t realized I was missing. 

After completing a semester to build my confidence (and finish my associates degree), I transferred to UNC Asheville where I spent the next two years diving into psychological research and studying the ways that access to resources impact human development. I developed a more precise idea of how I wanted to spend my life: working to help make sure people have access to resources that will improve their quality of life. As graduation grew closer, I felt myself questioning how I would be able to provide access to this kind of service in a career as a Professional Counselor. For the population I most wanted to serve, this kind of treatment would often be out of budget and inaccessible. 

As I began to question my educational path, a wonderful professor directed me to the NC College Advising Corps. Although my mom loved working in a school, I never saw myself working in one. I was resistant, but it felt like the best option for me at the time. The mission of CAC was intriguing, and after serving at Madison High School for less than 3 months, I can’t believe I ever hesitated. The experience of working directly with students in a community that mirrors the one I grew up in has provided such an experience for personal growth. I have connected with students and have a job that I wake up excited to come to everyday despite the early hours and long commute. I can now see why my mother was so passionate about her job, and I feel so lucky to have stumbled upon this opportunity.

All of this is to say that education looks different for everyone. There is no one path to get where you are going, and just because you are doing things differently than someone else, doesn’t make either of you wrong. I try to take in life from as many perspectives as I can comprehend, and this work has allowed me to expand that practice. After my time in the Corps, I plan to pursue my MSW so that I can work to help connect members of my community with the things they need to live more mentally and physically healthier lives.

It was a long, winding road to get where I am, and I am still on that road now working toward…. I am still not sure what? I don’t know that I ever will be, but I do know that I have found the happiness in my work that I always wanted, and I encourage my students to strive for the same happiness. I want them to feel empowered to explore their options. I want them to follow the path that is best able to help them meet their goals. I want them to know that whatever they choose is okay. But what I never, ever want is for them to feel like they can’t. 

Written by Taylor Kromer, adviser at Madison High School

Taylor and her mother

Taylor Kromer, adviser at Madison High School
Published: Nov 29, 2023 10:19am