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You Can Be Anything You Want To Be
by Paige Erickson

I’ve always told my children that success really means: are they happy? Are they content?... My definition of success is them being happy in their life. They should be happy in whatever they decide to pursue, whatever career they want that is going to make them happy. That is what they should do, and that’s my definition of success.

Chapters 3 and 7: Early Parenthood and The Program[1]

The chapter in which my children were born is one the most important to me. I have my children, and I hope and believe that I made an impact on their lives in raising them the way that we did. Some people would say that's their proudest achievement, but I don’t know about that. In addition to me raising my children I feel like my children raised me too. That's why it's very important to me. Working for The Program is also important to me because for me it’s about working with children and education. They are very disparate in terms of the times of my life, but for me they are connected.


We had our first child right after we moved back to Chicago from Detroit. I was doing consulting work. Then we had another child, three years later, and a year after that we moved to the suburbs of Chicago. I was a stay at home mom at that point. My husband worked, traveling a lot, and I raised our children. Then, four years after the second one, we had a third child.  So, it was just taking care of the children. I did not work outside the house at that point in time. Then, we moved to London, with the three little kids.  We lived there for almost three years, and that was very exciting, living in a new country. My kids were little at that point. They were 2, 6, and 9 when we got there. We took every opportunity we could to visit as many of the historical sites of England and Scotland; we also visited much of Europe and the Middle East. I did not work while we lived there because my work was making sure that everybody was happy and settled and had activities. We needed to make friends and to get involved in the school.


In terms of the most important personal time is having and raising my children, and I didn’t work at that time for the most part. But, raising them with the values that me and my husband thought were our best values was important, and I feel I raised them well. I have three successful children. Successful meaning they're happy in their lives. They happen to be financially successful, too. But, they are happy with what they do. My oldest who is 35 and lives in Toronto is very happy in his career. He's happy with the fact that he has moved around a lot, which I think he gets because we moved him around a lot when he was little. He does not have a partner, but he is very happy and content with his life. My 32-year-old daughter is married with a child. She has had a good career so far working for a union. She's actually changing jobs in the next couple of months to try something new. But, she is very happy with the way her life has turned out thus far. My 28-year-old is also very happy. He got the education he wanted. He's working for Amazon, he has a girlfriend, and he's very content. I feel like I raised children who became happy, they're stable, they're financially secure, and most importantly they're happy and content. I think their values are such as that they are not typical millennials the way some people would think of millennials. They're not personally driven to financially succeed, they're financially stable, but there are not looking always to make as much money as possible because they want to give back to others. My daughter is a huge supporter of income equality. It really bothers her how much income inequality there is in this country. My youngest started his own non-profit organization, which gives basic income to families in the Chicago area. He also believes in income equality trying to help people with basic income, which is sort of a new thing that has been tried by a couple of non-profits around the country and around the world. I feel like my children are interested in others not just themselves. I feel they have the values that are going to help others in addition to themselves.  


And then, once they left the house, I took my feelings about education and values and brought them to The Program where we now help over 200 students receive a college education, be financially stable, but also instill in them the same sort of values that they should give back to others and be concerned with the world around them.


I always say I wanted my children to be successful, but it wasn’t financially successful, necessarily. They say money doesn’t buy happiness, which is true, but it's certainly a lot easier if you have money because there are other things you don’t have to think about. Financial success means being able to put a roof over your head, being able to get an education, being able to provide for your children, being able to put food on the table, that to me is financial success. I'm not talking about fancy cars, fancy houses, fancy vacations, and that sort of things. That is not what I mean by financial success.


I've always told my children that success really means: are they happy? Are they content? That should be their definition. And I tell the students here, at The Program, that my definition of success is them being happy in their life. They should be happy in whatever they decide to pursue, whatever career they want that is going to make them happy. That is what they should do, and that’s my definition of success. It isn't always everybody's definition of success, and I deal with that often, from our board members, from our donors. They feel, particularly in this community, that successful means financial success. And it doesn’t mean just putting food on the table and a roof over your head, it means having more money, so you can do other things with your life, buying fancy cars, big houses, whatever. And I always say to them: “no, no, no that's not the definition of success.” We just re-did our mission statement and at the end of the mission statement it says: "…achieve success in life." I made it very clear to our board and the people who were helping draft this mission statement that it did not mean financial success necessarily. "Achieve success in life" means: are you happy with the life you are leading? I think being happy and content is your success. That's a value I try to instill in all the students here.  


Being moral, being ethical: it's really important to be ethical in what you do. Giving to others. You don't necessarily need to give money, you need to give of yourself, you need to give of your time, you need to give your talent, help other people, don’t necessary just keep it all to yourself. If you have a talent, you should share it, you should teach others. You can't do it all the time, but if you feel you are living that kind of life, I think it's also going to make you happier to know that you are helping in whatever way that you can.  


Sometimes you go through parts of your life and you can't, you know. There's too much falling on in your life that you have to think about yourself and be a little selfish, that's okay. But, what goes around comes around, so just don't continue to live, lead your life that way. Know that you are taking a little bit now, but you are going to give back a lot later. Sometimes with our students, it can very hard for them to go off to college because they feel that they need to stay close to home or at home so that they can help their family, so they can contribute financially, so they can babysit, so they can cook, so they can do all those other sorts of things. Sometimes, I have to say to them: “You need to be a little selfish for a little while, so you can get your education. It's okay. Your parents can do it without you, you can go to college for four years, and when you graduate college, you are going to be more helpful when you get that degree than you can be in these four years. So, it's okay. Leave for a little while, you are not leaving forever, you are coming back, and you are going to be a lot more helpful in the long run if you go off and get that college education.” It can be hard to teach that. Not everybody can do it.


These are the values I tried to instill in my own children. I feel like I've done a good job. And, hopefully I'm getting somewhere with some of our students. In fact, we just went to The Club[2] yesterday. The Club partnered with The Program this year to give college scholarships and 11 kids from The Program were presented with The Club scholarships because of their good academics, involvement in the community, and giving back. We try to partner with other organizations, but instill in our students, in addition to their academic drive as we want everyone to get a college education, instilling in them other values such as to be kind, considerate, and making sure  they don’t feel entitled. I think that's a big thing. My own children have never felt entitled. Even growing up in the North Shore, a lot of people feel entitled. It's one of the reasons my daughter left this area. She says she would not move back, she just felt a sense of entitlement while she was growing up here, going to high school. She left as soon as she could and never came back, because it just bothered her. And it's hard growing up in this area. If you have any kind of wealth at all, it’s hard not to feel entitled. I think our students who haven’t grown up with wealth, sometimes they can still feel entitled because there are around so many, and they think that they should have everything that everybody else has. But, I think most of our students have the right values instilled in them to give back to others. So, I feel proud of that. 


For the last 9 years, I've been working for The Program, helping first-generation students go to and graduate from college. It's very rewarding. That's very important to me too, because I've made, hopefully, a difference in their lives, and hopefully changed their life trajectory. Although they are not my children per se, I feel like all of them are my children. It's hard to distinguish the two. One is a very personal achievement with my children, the other is the professional achievement, but it feels very personal to me.


It was about 2009 when I went to work for the The Program, and that came about because I worked as a volunteer at Lake High School[3] in the College and Career Center. I was there because after London we moved to New York with my husband's company, and then he changed jobs which brought us back to Illinois. We had moved back to familiar territory, but we hadn't lived there in a long time, so I was once again getting everybody acclimated. I was still a stay-home mom and didn’t work. I was getting involved in the schools because I've always been interested in education. I was a volunteer in their college and career center, and a college counselor there was a founder of The Program. She asked me if I would come to work for The Program. She asked for about two years before I actually did it.


My children have grown out of the house, and I've been able to devote all my time to The Program, which I am happy to do. It does not feel like a job. When some people's work is not necessary personal, it's just a job that they do. For me, it does not feel like a chore. It is a passion, and I enjoy doing it, and spending as much hours as I do. I'm happy that once I raised my three children, I can now give back to many others. 


To me, it's just a continuation of what I did when I was younger. Took a break, like I said, to raise my kids, and then came back into this. I'm very passionate about what I do for The Program. It's been 9 years; it doesn’t feel like 9 years because I really enjoy seeing the growth in our students. I love going to high school graduations just to see our students after 2 years. I love going to college graduations to see the growth after the 6 years that I've known the student. I love to see these kids when they come in as college students. I might not have seen them in 6 months or even a year sometimes and, the growth between sophomore year of college and junior year of college is huge. We see it. The students come in, and we are like “wow, what a change, what a maturity level.” It seems to happen overnight. I really love to see that maturity growth, and see and hear about all the things they are doing in their college community, for their family, or they are doing for the community they grew up in. It just gives me a great sense pride when I see everything our students are accomplishing. I feel like I am making a difference. Somebody asked me last week: “So, where do you see yourself in 5 years? Do you see yourself still with The Program?” I see myself with The Program, but maybe 5 more years only because at that point I will be at an age where maybe it's time to step back and retire and leave it to somebody else. But, it's important that the person who's going to take over continue the footsteps I established. I didn’t start the organization; I came in when it was still very young, but established really who we would be.


I don’t feel dissatisfied with any part of my life. I really don’t. You know, here and there, there might be something that you want to change, but I don’t think I would change a whole chapter. I didn’t have an unhappy childhood. In the college years, I wish I had finished my PhD. I wished that I had the confidence that I do now to go before a PhD board and defend my dissertation, which I did not do. I wrote my dissertation; I just didn’t defend it. And so, I don’t have my PhD, technically. I would change that because I was not confident then the way I am now. I had never been a good public speaker. I'm better now than I used to be. And that held me back from defending my dissertation. I could not bring myself to go before five old men who felt at the time to be a whole lot more distinguished than I was at 24/25. I couldn’t bring myself to do it, and I wish I had. There's not much I would change about my life. I feel like I had a decent life. 


You Can Be Anything You Want To Be: Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The Early Life

In which Paige Erickson describes the first 14 years of her life in Massachusetts.


Chapter 2: The Education Years

In which Paige Erickson spends her high school and college years in Rhode Island, New York, and Chicago and meets her husband. 


Chapter 3: Early Parenthood

In which Paige faces the challenges of having and raising young children while moving between Chicago and Detroit.


Chapter 4: London

In which Paige and her husband move her family to London for three years and Paige manages the household through years of travel and getting children started in school.


Chapter 5: New York

In which the Erickson family returns to the United States and start over in U.S. schools.


Chapter 6: The First 10 Years in Riverwoods

In which the Erickson family moves back to the Chicago area after her husband gets a job with a new company, and Paige begins volunteering in schools and takes a job as an office manager for a real estate office.


Chapter 7: The Program

In which Paige talks about building a new and meaningful phase of her life by working at The Program since 2009.

About Paige Erickson:

Paige Erickson was raised in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. She earned a BA in Psychology from the University of Rochester and was a Doctoral candidate in Psychometrics in the University of Chicago's School of Social Science. She started her professional career as an educational testing consultant, took several years off raising her three children and moving around the world, finally setting in the northern suburbs of Illinois. She has more than 25 years of leadership experience in school, community and nonprofit organizations.


[1] Real name redacted for confidentiality purposes.

[2] Real name redacted for confidentiality purposes.

[3] Lake High School is a pseudonym for the high school that Paige Erickson worked with

You Can Be Anything You Want to Be


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