Dear Kelly,

I have truly enjoyed reading your column each week. If there was just one single piece of advice that you could share, what would it be?

If there was only one piece of advice that I could share, it would be to learn the value of taking a chance. 

Sometimes, as opportunities arise, we can fall victim to our own insecurities and doubts. Have you ever noticed that we allow ourselves to say things inside our heads that we would never allow or expect anyone else to say to us? We demean our own appearances, abilities and even our potential. When faced with a new opportunity, all too often we tell ourselves, “I’m too busy,” or “I can’t do that,” or “Why are they asking me?” Learning to step out on faith and take a chance can truly change your life. 

And I should know. I lived 44 years of my life falling into this pit of unworthiness and self-doubt, thinking my life was just my life, and I was doing all that I was capable of. In 2017, I had been a preschool teacher for 17 years. The preschool I worked at paid very little, and I felt I had no value to my employer. I would try and try to impress her, but all too often, it was to no avail. I felt like I was stuck in a dead-end job with no benefits, no retirement and no hope of ever advancing.

I always had talked about going back to school but been afraid to try, as I had dropped out of not one but two colleges in my 20s. But at the age of 44, through a challenge from my sons who were both college students, I found the courage to enroll in classes at Southern Crescent Technical College to earn a certification in childcare. The certification would only take me one semester, but I was hoping it would increase my value to my employer.

What I learned by taking that chance was that I really enjoyed school and was eager to learn more. My professors praised me and told me I needed to enroll in the associate’s degree program at the school. While I was terrified and even told myself I would probably fail miserably (once again, those destructive things we say to ourselves), I decided to take another chance. Each semester I gave it my all and began to build confidence in my abilities. Even more importantly, I stopped looking for approval from my employer and instead started focusing on what I knew I was capable of. 

Kelly Browning, left, is pictured with her mentor Diane McHughes.

In 2018, came that chance of a lifetime. One of my professors, an amazing woman named Diane McHughes, wrote me an email that said she wanted to nominate me for the school’s highest honor, the Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership (GOAL). To participate in the competition, I would have to write, memorize and deliver a speech to a panel of judges and then go through an interview process.

I remember being so honored that she wanted to nominate me, but I also was intimidated by what would be expected. After telling her my concerns, she did what all great teachers do — she gave me a children’s book to read, titled “What Do You Do with a Chance” by Kobi Yamada. The book was probably the most inspirational piece of literature I had ever read.

Kelly Browning is pictured with her GOAL award.

After reading the book and listening to Mrs. McHughes’ encouraging words, I decided to take the big chance. I was one of 28 students who were nominated, and after three rounds of giving my speech and being interviewed, I won. I was the top student at that technical school, and on graduation day, I walked in behind the president of the school, stood with the administration on stage, and gave the commencement speech. I also earned my associate’s degree and was completely shocked when Myron Randall and Todd Burke from Mercer University surprised me onstage with the Mercer Next Scholarship!  

In the summer of 2019, I walked into Mercer for orientation, and on that day, I was challenged to take another chance. Dr. Penny Elkins, senior vice president for enrollment management, invited me to tell my story in front of the new student body. I, having learned the value of taking a chance, jumped at the opportunity. What I didn’t know was that a reporter was there, and that moment would be featured in the newspaper. 

Kelly Browning, center, receives the Mercer Next Scholarship.

It was also on that day that I was invited to become a student ambassador. Taking the position meant I would be juggling school and two jobs, but once again, I had learned the value of taking a chance. Through being a student ambassador, I have been given multiple opportunities to assist administration, faculty and my fellow students. I have had the honor to contribute to multiple events at Mercer. This past March, I was invited to become a part of The Den. Through taking that chance, I now get to write my very own advice column, Ask Kelly.

I tell this story because I often wonder how many opportunities, how many chances, I talked myself out of when I was younger. What if I had said, “Yes,” sooner? 

I never dreamed I could be where I am now at 47 years old, but here I am. Why? Because I finally learned the value of taking a chance. Instead of seeing what my future will “probably” or “most likely” be, I can see there is a world of possibilities if I simply say, “Yes.”

I want to encourage you to read “What Do You Do with a Chance” by Kobi Yamada. Begin to step out on faith when those chances arise. Don’t allow your internal voice to keep you from the opportunities that can propel your future. Once you begin to take those tiny walks of faith, you too will learn the value of taking chances. You never know, doing so could positively change the trajectory of your life and take you to heights you could’ve never envisioned.

Good luck to you in all of your future endeavors! As always, I wish you health, happiness, and continued success throughout your journey!

Do you have a question about distance learning or coping with school in these challenging times? Each week Kelly Browning, an early childhood education/special education major and student ambassador at the Henry County Regional Academic Center, answers questions from the Mercer community. Email her at kelly.l.browning@live.mercer.edu or fill out our online form to submit your question anonymously.