I took my daughter to the eye doctor the other day and was able to get her glasses with my own insurance. When the optician asked me what relationship I had to the Primary Policy Holder, I was able to answer “Self.” Self. Like that subversive manifesto from the eighties disguised as a woman’s fitness magazine, that “Self”, and that insurance card, was a step toward independence.
Just over 1 year ago I had joined Rutgers Coding Bootcamp to learn how to code. What began there was a journey toward financial recovery that would set my daughters and myself on the road to increased security and hope. I was luckier than most—I had a divorce that was both ugly and amicable—because their father has been in their lives ever since, to such an extent as to make the divorce seem like it never happened. Except to me. Behind the scenes of our friendly semi-cohabitation, I spent the years following the divorce feeling like I was being dangled over a pit of live alligators, wondering why I’d ever had kids, why I’d ever depended on a man and why I had made financial choices that brought me to this very dangerous precipice. I’d tumbled down several social strata in an instant, lost many friends to my own depression and was forced to change careers, all while their father increased his wealth and equilibrium and happiness. I had no idea how to recover, or if I ever would.
I am speaking from a place of privilege. Underneath the pain and anxiety, the true story was that, like a small percentage of divorcees, I had some assets. I had assets, but was unhirable—the resulting perks of being a work-from-home mom for years, married to a man who could afford to “let” his wife “stay at home”, or, in my case, work as a freelancer in The Gig Economy. With these assets depreciating over time, and my freelancer’s life amounting to pennies an hour (if you counted hours searching for clients and leads), I began to look at ways to invest money and time to guarantee our survival after alimony, and my ex’s goodwill, runs out.
Again, I cannot help but repeat that statistically, I have more cushion than most divorced, single moms. I want to make it clear that, implicit in my anxiety and complaining, is an overriding sense that things could be much, much worse. My advice to any woman contemplating divorce is to ignore the sexy Real Housewives version, or the Hollywood version, or the novelist’s version…divorce is a medieval grind from which you will not come out the victor no matter how cute your young boyfriend is. Knowing the rampant statistical unfairness, in every class and culture, of divorce’s impact on women, it’s important that I acknowledge all the ways in which I still, compared to some, have an unfair advantage. If I am feeling this terrified and disadvantaged, that feeling increases exponentially for other women without my safety net. I think of these women every day, and it motivates me and humbles me and yet I am in awe of them as personal heroes. We are an inspired bunch, we surviving divorcees, and so I am doing my part to lift us up. I am saying to you now, if you are a divorced woman and you are listening: Get thee to a bootcamp.
In between fruitless full-time job searches, I would often stop and wonder: should I run a business instead? Where could I go, with cash in hand but lacking experience? How am I going to navigate the countless articles on women and poverty after divorce, without being completely paralyzed by fear and indecision? I decided I would invest that money somehow and make it grow.
I tried everything. I invested (practically day-traded) in an Ameritrade account, I put together a business plan to own a School of Rock Franchise (but reconsidered when I saw the P&L), I bought and traded Bitcoin, I ran a relatively successful voice-over business, narrating Audiobooks for Audible and Scholastic, and doing voice-overs for major Tech, Pharma and Medical firms, as well as looping vocal effects for a major TV series. I’d been a TV, Film and Theater actress, a translator, a medical writer, a commercial producer, a sound editor, a business communication consultant, a product description writer, a “standardized patient”, the voice of those mechanized witches you buy on Halloween from seasonal pop-up stores. I began to jokingly say that “Freelance is just a modern term for ‘odd jobs.’” And I was right. Except that it was no joke—despite the variety, the travel and the very occasional glamour involved, my working life felt, for lack of a better word, lowly.
There is no better Return On Investment than an education. For that reason alone, the education business is booming. Not at all shy about the claim, most educational institutions promise—implying by default and without having to say it—that you will have a better chance of increasing your net worth and your job prospects by getting an education. And they are right.
When I began applying for schools, I was practical to a fault. What job would leverage my existing degree, what am I good at, and, most importantly, what would people hire a middle aged woman to do, full time? That was my thinking process.
Flashback to the day after divorce: My very schizoid but deeply emotional response to my divorce was to immediately enroll in a GRE prep course in both Math and English. It was run by Princeton Review in a beautiful but very dusty college classroom at Drew University, outfitted with what looked like desks and chairs from my middle school. The Math instructor was, by my estimation, a frustrated creative like myself, and in this environment I decided to grieve the end of my marriage, happy for the distraction, revisiting means and statistics and a vocabulary I hadn’t heard since the 12th grade.
I finally decided to go for a Masters Degree at USC Rossier and get an MA in Teaching, on the Secondary School English track. The feeling of pride while uttering a University name was a thing I hadn’t felt for decades, but it was a warm and familiar feeling. I remembered myself as a person who loved to learn, and remembered too that there is something comfortable in these hallowed institutions—lambasted daily by the media as cynical money-making machines—something old and familiar and stodgy and classy and important. I liked the feeling of being a college student. I could grow used to this, I thought.
But I didn’t want to be a middle school teacher. That was the rub. Here was this great education but I had no interest in the job. One day of substitute teaching was all it took, and I decided, thanks to some coaching from public school teacher friends, that going back to school was the right path, but the concentration had to change. I called USC and told them I would defer until the following year.
Around week 14 I was starting to feel the pain. There were times I hit a cognitive wall— a physical experience I’d never felt before— the palpable feeling of having come to the end of one’s brain. But even then, the frustration fascinated me. I was burning through the energy given off by those feelings of uncertainty, by an unknown so much safer than those in life and love and the game of survival. To have purely intellectual pursuits is a luxury, no matter how difficult, and I highly recommend this luxuriating and this type of distraction to any woman who is recovering from a failed relationship. To give yourself the gift of getting lost in purely intellectual puzzles is a kind of obsessive-mindedness that you should cultivate, and, at the risk of sounding sexist, I feel like few women give this gift to themselves. Rather than get you into trouble, like an unwisely chosen lover, this kind of obsession helps you grow. And someday, it might just help you get a job.
I got a job. As I neared the end of the bootcamp, having done quite well and having stayed very much obsessed with coding as an art form and a calling, I took a job as TA and tutor, and got to pass on this love to incoming students. I worked Full-time as a TA and for hours every night as a tutor—maintaining a schedule of 10 hour days without feeling overworked or tired. Still more distraction. At some point I might make the decision to not “need” distractions so much, but that time still hasn’t come. My ex has a newfound respect for me, but I'm just glad he is less resentful of helping me with the kids and the house. I wish I’d taken the bootcamp while married, to be honest, but that is in the past.
In the present, at this very moment, I am Student Success Manager of 9 active classes across two campuses at Rutgers Coding Bootcamp. Functioning as a General Manager of the program, I advise students, manage TAs and consult with instructors about how to best deliver the content so that every student can have the life-changing, affirming and enriching experiences that I and so many others have had.
Flashback: Sitting in the offices of a special financial consulting firm for divorcees, just weeks into my divorce proceedings, the financial advisor, a woman, told me point blank that it was highly unlikely that I would ever be making more than $45,000 a year. She said this with great kindness and grave concern, but, despite the realism of such a statement, I felt undermined by it. It was like a kiss of death, and I could not focus any longer on the fancy data visualizations she had charged me $2600 to view, so that I could clearly see what a dwindling set of assets looks like, as one heads toward one's "Golden Years." Even then, before my tech education, I thought I just paid $2600 for fancy spreadsheets.
Divorce and Women and Poverty, the train-like sound of that chant in my head was a train I wanted to ride off the rails. I needed to disrupt my own life, and so I jumped on board with a disruptor in the field of education. "If you can't fix it, radicalize it," the great Richard Foreman once said to me, in my days as an avante-garde actress in New York. There is nothing more avante-garde than the cutting edge of tech and an education in coding is how to ride that razor's edge into the future.
Powered by Trilogy Education, the Bootcamp footprint has grown in just 2 short years, from 4 Universities to 32 Universities, including UPenn, Georgia Tech, Columbia, Rice U, University of Toronto and Universidad Tecnológico del Monterrey in Mexico. It is expanding both nationally and internationally as you read this, and has acquired significant funding to expand even more. Trilogy bills itself as “a workforce accelerator that partners with the world’s leading Universities to help companies bridge the digital skills gap...always putting students first.” It is their commitment to their employees (and their employees' benefits), the student experience and their own nonstop improvement that has made my initial investment worth a lifetime of returns.