Janae Armstrong: Rising above the odds

Meeting the requirements to graduate from university is a daunting task within itself. Imagine having to balance working a full-time job and being a single mother of four!

Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it? Make no mistake, it is, says Janae Armstrong, 38, who recently graduated from Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax with a Bachelors of Business Administration majoring in Strategic Human Resource Management.

“I wanted to give up probably every day. There were many nights when I cried myself to sleep but as time went on, that became less and less.”

Janae began attending virtual classes in January 2016, while working full-time at the Department of Education in Bermuda as a Human Resources Administrator.

She smiles at the irony of earning the degree, as initially she was not interested in a career in human resources but she says it grew on her.

“I realised that a Human Resource Department is the heart of any organisation,” she tells SheHub. “And I like people, so the job grew on me.”

Janae says the thirst for higher education began after completing an Associate’s Degree from the Bermuda College. While she says she was proud of the accomplishment, she says she did not feel empowered, so decided to pursue her Bachelor’s.

“I started paying for my classes out of my pocket. It would take me months to save for one class because I would put money aside, but then life would happen. The money would be needed for something else, so it was not easy to save,” she says.

She says receiving a Mature Student Award from the Ministry of Education eased her financial burden significantly, and gave her a reality check: “I think once I knew I was able to take my classes without worrying about finances, it really sunk in that I was going to be pursuing this degree.”

Along with working, Janae found herself taking four classes at a time. Because she was not given any sort of study leave, the single mom of four says she had to ensure that her and her children’s lives were very structured.

“The key is organisation. Lunches were made the night before. I cooked meals that I could freeze and made sure that the children went to bed on time,” she shares.

Janae credits her family sitting around the dining room nightly as a catalyst for change in her household: “Thankfully, I found an afterschool programme that did homework with them so when they got home, all I would have to do is look over it. We would sit down together as I studied. Now, they just sit around the table and do their work on their own. We have all developed great study habits.”

Describing herself as an overachiever, Janae says one of the keys to reaching her goal was forcing herself to let go of her quest for perfection.

“I’ve always been an overachiever but I had to let go of wanting to earn all As. With all that I had to juggle, I just had to focus on passing.”

She continues: “But then I had to make sure that I wasn’t self-sabotaging because I feel that I’ve always done this to myself when it came to my success. Growing up I moved from foster home to foster home and therefore always wanted to be perfect. In my teen years, I couldn’t wait to get out of the system and be normal.

“My mother was an addict and I was living with a foster family that was good to me then a relative took me in because I was blood, but they never gave me stability. I wanted to numb the pain and I eventually ventured into drugs and became an addict. I almost went to jail due to me dealing with drugs. A guy’s girlfriend owed me money. I stole his phone his collateral.”

Janae says she knew she was destined to be successful and eventually entered rehab both locally and overseas. She has been clean now for close to a decade now.

She tells SheHub: “To be an addict wanting to get better, you have to be real with yourself. Each time I’d learned a little more about myself. I had to figure out why I wanted to be numb. During my rehabilitation I had to forget about my children, and I don’t say that to be mean, but I had to. And now that I am clean, they are my drive. I never want to go back to that time in my life again.”

Janae has even rekindled a relationship with own mother who has been clean for 12 years. She describes her as her best friend.

“We laugh, we talk, we crack jokes. I love our relationship!”

Reflecting on her graduation day, Janae says it was imperative that her children were present to see her receive her degree at the Bermuda College campus.

“They sacrificed as much as me. There were so many times that I couldn’t take them places because I had classes or had to study. I tried to make up for it at times, but they missed a lot.”

But Janae says he has no regrets and encourages all women to take a leap of faith and do something that they may not envision themselves doing.

“Take the jump. Seize the opportunity. Love yourself and know you are worthy.”

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