I was a grad school dropout. And a teenage werewolf.
So, as some of you may know (as in, one of you, ie my husband and only reader of this blog), I started grad school two weeks ago.
I was super excited about grad school. Grad school! I was going to be a graduate student! One of those intellectual, cool, mysterious people of the upper echelon of acedemia! I could start casually dropping words like ‘echelon’ in everyday conversation and get away with it because I was a GRAD STUDENT! [Also, I had to google ‘echelon’ because I had no idea how to spell it.]
Only, once I actually started, I realized something – I didn’t like graduate school. At least, I didn’t like the subject I had chosen to study. At first, I thought – oh, that’s okay! It’s linguistics! Who likes linguistics, anyways? Well, apparently every other student in my program, that’s who. They loved linguistics. I mean, they really loved linguistics. You could see it in their face when they told me about how they were studying Russian syntax, or something-something morphology. Their actions would become more animated, they’d gesture with their hands and emphasize words like “aphasia” and “diphthong” with a certain enthusiasm. It was like me when I talked about books, or reading. Or literature. Or poetry.
This nagging feeling began to form in the back of my head, this sense that I was in the wrong place, that this grad program was not exactly the right fit for me. And the more time I spent in classes, the stronger that feeling got. It was like I had bought a coat that was two sizes too small. It kind of fit, but the longer I wore it the more uncomfortable it became.
I began to wonder, “What am I doing here? How did I get here?” Hell if I know. “I feel like I should have figured this out way before I got to this point,” I bemoaned to my husband one afternoon on my cell phone, sitting on a curb in the parking lot of my school and clumsily smoking a cigarette (I don’t even smoke cigarettes. I just figured I would do it since that’s what people do when they’re super stressed, right? Whatever). How did I not realize this isn’t what I want to do? How did I get here, buying books and taking classes? I had all summer to realize this wasn’t the right choice.
I felt like an idiot. I was embarrassed. I couldn’t believe I had gotten this far. I mean, I think it would be pretty apparent that “I kind of think maybe I want to do this” is not a good enough reason to be in grad school. But here I was, sitting in the parking lot, hacking up a lung because why the hell am I smoking? and not knowing what to do.
Fortunately, I have a patient husband who’s willing to listen to me rattle off my one thousand and one options, and my one hundred reasons I’m super mad at myself for being an idiot, and then he helps me sort through my options and tells me not to be mad at myself and that I’m not an idiot etc. and makes me feel a whole lot better.
So, after a lot of talking, and thinking, and calming down, I realized something: I got into this program because I figured it was the smart, financial, adult choice to make (I knew I could get a job in teaching once I was done). But I didn’t start grad school because I was excited about linguistics, or excited to teach. I did it because I knew it was a ‘smart’ choice.
But I never even gave myself a chance to pursue the things I love – writing, reading, literature – I never even gave myself a chance to go after the dream of becoming, say, a writer, because what point was there? The chance of succeeding at something like that was extraordinarily slim. And what if I failed? What if I went after the dreams I’d treasured since I was young, and then I failed miserably? What do you have left when you fail at the one thing you’ve always wanted to do? (PS – writing about my fears here make me realize how melodramatic they are, how grandiose your fears can become when they’re stacked up silently in your head. When you spill your thoughts out on paper, a lot of times they seem smaller, insignificant. It just made me feel a lot better. Try it sometime. )
I’d decided to play it safe. Graduate school was safe. Teaching was safe. Moving further and further away from the things I was passionate about, the things that could hurt me the most, that was safe. Tale as old as time, right? But still, it never gets old when it’s happening to you.
After starting grad school, it dawned on me: I didn’t want to run away from my dreams anymore (god, how lame does the word ‘dreams’ sound? It’s like I’m writing a Lifetime movie blog post right now. Oh well. The truest things really are also the most cliche, I guess). I wanted to try and actually work towards the things I loved, instead of running away from them.
It helps, too, having a husband who believes in me and helps me believe in myself. I’m pretty sure he’s going to read this, so I just want to say thanks, hubby, for helping me through this, and being there for me as I try to figure out what the next step is.
I decided to drop my classes. I’m not a graduate student anymore (I’m actually not a teenage werewolf, either, I just haven’t seen that movie in a really long time). And I was surprised to see how people reacted to my choice to drop out. I was afraid to tell my family and friends. I felt a little bit like a failure and I felt embarrassed, getting this far into it only to drop out before I even really began. But you know what? People were completely supportive. In fact, my family even said they were proud of me, friends said they admired my choice. It’s hard sometimes, they said, to quit something when you know it’s not right for you. “Life makes it so easy to settle,” my cousin remarked. “I’m proud of you for going after what you want.” I was so pleasantly surprised at all the support.
So now I’m applying for any sort of publishing or editing internships I can find, trying to find out about freelance writing, trying to figure out what my next move should be. I’m totally freaking out. But I’m also exhilarated. I have no idea what my future holds, but I’m actively working to make it something I want.