Life Happens: How to Cope

By Jon Bottari, M.Ed., Adjunct Faculty

CTU Student Success - Life HappensIn February 2000, I had just begun the second semester of my junior year at Elmhurst College. Things were pretty easy at the time. I had a solid GPA, a great supportive family and a fully guaranteed job to look forward to. I was poised to eventually take over the family business that my dad worked so hard to establish. There was plenty of ramp-up time and I thought I knew the business well enough to take over at the time.

Later that month we were in for a life-changing shock. Seemingly out of nowhere, my dad was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. For those familiar with the disease you can relate to the suddenness of death that occurs with this diagnosis. At the time I couldn’t bring myself to research what my dad was up against. I was cognizant enough to recognize the severity when the doctor would virtually read him his last rites each visit when he went in for treatment. As so many have before him, my dad – my rock – died in October of that same year from complications directly related to the cancer.

He passed away just before finals of my senior year. Although we had some time to prepare for when he was gone, I never fully expected the inevitable. I counted on him for just about everything I did, from talking sports to getting his advice and depending on him financially. I had to gather my thoughts and try to figure out how I was going to run a business at 21 years old, and also finish the degree my dad wanted me to earn. I continued to ask myself….why?

Unfortunately, asking for an answer to “why” doesn’t get you very far. Instead, I began to ask myself, “What?” For example, what would my dad want me to do? Or what am I going to do today to make my dad and family proud? What happens if I stop working hard and give up? I used these motivators to keep me inspired when I wanted to quit.

What’s Your Motivation?

I’m sure I’m not the only one to have had such a traumatic experience while trying to earn my degree. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that 58% of students who started a four-year degree finished within 6 years – which means that 42% of students who enrolled didn’t finish. While I recognize there are many variables to this equation, it is still a rather alarming number in contrast to those who graduated. Which list will you end up on?

It’s difficult to say how many of these students either lost a family member or ran into other issues that caused them to falter. Can you think of any 2-4 year stretch in your life when everything went to plan? Reflect on these numbers and begin to ask yourself: What can I do today to make tomorrow better?

There’s no doubt you will hit different challenges in life that will make you want to quit your pursuits. When this happens, it’s critical to think back to all of the reasons you wanted to accomplish the goal in the first place. You want to think about those counting on you and about who will be disappointed if you give up. Try to take a positive approach and use these life experiences to put things into perspective. I’ll leave you with one simple question to answer: What inspires you to maintain your motivation?


CTU Faculty - Jon BottariAs an adjunct professor of general education at Colorado Technical University, Jon Bottari, M.Ed., helps prepare new students for academic and career success. He earned his Master of Education degree with a specialization in Leadership of Educational Organizations from American Intercontinental University and serves as CTU’s Director of University Operations. See why he’s in.


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Image Credit: Flickr/eliot


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