I want to be better, faster, smarter and stronger, but I'm behind the eight ball. Help?
For the past year or so, I've been anxious and ambitious, in an aimless sort of way. This
knocked me back on my heels and reminded me too much of how I did in college, and for the first time, helped me figure out why
I might not have done well. (I always just assumed I was a colossal failure.) It forced me to do quite a bit of self-evaluation.
I will try to be as brief as possible about the background : Very young mother, alcoholic father with severe psychosis. Living well below the poverty line. Every flavor of abuse, mostly physical. Easy access to guns. A role-reversal between my mother and myself, wherein I protected her against my father. Social services involvement, foster homes, halfway houses and finally, residential psychiatric care for myself. Barely managed to graduate high school, got involved in drugs, became the long-term caretaker of my then-boyfriend through many dangerous situations. Worked up to three minimum-wage jobs to financially support us and our habits. He killed himself after we had an argument. I got pregnant. I was working full-time and attending community college. When a family situation escalated, I had my first nervous breakdown and dropped out of college (after four disastrous semesters) to work another job so I could afford to leave quickly for our safety. I effectively divorced my family by moving very far away. I lucked into a very solid, loving relationship. I slowly paid off my student loans and worked a string of office/clerical jobs. When I felt "safe" in that situation, I began to unravel on another level: Two horrible years and a second nervous breakdown followed, almost leading to divorce. I was eventually diagnosed with PTSD and those symptoms are, more or less, stabilized for the moment. We're stronger for having weathered it, but I know the work isn't "done."
As a result of all this catching-up and breaking-down, I am now in my mid-30s with little to show for it professionally. It was only through a mixture of hard work, luck, and networking that I have the job (the first to qualify as a "career") I have now. For the first year of my adulthood, I feel like things are looking up, rather than just about to shake apart. Personally, I feel like I'm doing well "considering", but I know that's not enough. On paper, I'm a high school graduate without honors, academic clubs or respectable extracurricular activities, "some college", with a series of lackluster or middling positions in vaguely-related fields, with a couple of glowing recommendations from instrumental people whose attention I caught at the right time.
My colleagues, by contrast, are all from privileged backgrounds. They went to good schools and have distinguished themselves with graduate degrees with honors and PhD programs, as well as through important internships and past projects. They have deep social and family connections to this same network. They learned all their professional and social skills at the "correct" time, and they are more confident than me without even trying. They speak of cultural experiences and opportunities that make any of my hard work pale in comparison. As such, I feel it's only a matter of time before someone takes a hard look at me and my background and realizes they've made a mistake by letting me in. I'd like to get out in front of that if I can. I am more than willing to work, and to work hard, and to even get the college education at some point after I have taken care of my son and any of his needs for college. I feel right now that it is his time for college and not mine. (I had my chance, after all. I have the privilege of maybe getting him through, but certainly not both of us at once.)
At the same time, I also feel like this is a tenuous position that is relying too much on the goodwill of two or three others holding the strings. If something were to happen within this network or their respective business enterprises, I am not a good prospect on paper by any stretch of the imagination. They know I don't have a degree or professional certification; most of my coworkers do not. I'm told not to sweat it, but I don't know how much of that advice is driven by my potential salary expectations in the future. (Could I even argue to make a higher salary with a straight face, given my background?)
I guess I'm looking for things I could put into play quickly: I'm in a computer/software-related field in California. I have the day-to-day skills for the job in hand and do not feel overwhelmed by my current job requirements, but I also feel like there are situations or potential opportunities where I go limp or panicky because I feel stupid, thinking a smarter person would have the answer.
I have been reading most of the books on reading lists for a "classical" college education. I am currently learning a second language that would be prudent to speak in this region. I attend free or low-cost classes whenever possible that are encouraged to brush up one's skills, but many of those classes assume one already has a sturdy college foundation.
TL;DR: I feel like I've been given a tremendous opportunity for someone with my background, but I need to work on closing this class gap quickly while the expectations are controllable, before those above me wise up or start promoting others in positions I could reasonably obtain. What can MeFi suggest in the way of certifications and professional memberships? Vertical certifications that would bolster my position (say in business or management)? Non-fiction technical books on theory or strategy or business that most college graduates would have read long ago? Cosmetic as well as substantial improvements?
Thank you for reading this far, and for any advice you can offer.