Yesterday, I turned in my Master’s thesis. Woo! Now, only a measly two-page paper stands between me and being done with school forever. Whoa. Done with school forever.
For the first time since I ran screaming from the classroom on my first day of kindergarten, I am no longer a “student.” Even though I waited a few years after college to go to grad school, I always knew for sure I’d go back.
All my life, school is where I’ve found much of my identity. I never really had a “thing,” you know? School was my thing. I like it, I’m good at it, it’s comfortable for me.
And now, school is over. And I…couldn’t be happier.
I definitely anticipated a slight existential crisis to coincide with the end of my studenthood, but it just hasn’t happened. Maybe it’s just because I’m burned out, but I think I’ve had my fill. I want to see what else I can be, what else I identify with.
I learned a lot in grad school, and I think it was valuable academically and professionally. But in retrospect, it was more than that. It was a much-needed chance to hit the reset button on my life. See, immediately before going back to school, I was in a job that made me miserable.
The job was a dead-end for me, opportunity-wise. The work was mind-numbing, the social environment toxic. Honestly, it was the most unhappy I have ever been. I don’t mean to be overly dramatic here; I realize I was fortunate to have had a salary, benefits, security. I know that’s no small thing.
But the reason I was so unhappy then – and, now that I think about it, the reason for most periods of unhappiness in my life – is that I just knew, down to my core, that I was being completely untrue to myself.
I accepted the job in a period of desperation and perceived lack of options, even though it was counter to everything I had hoped for myself, everything I wanted out of life. I had convinced myself (at age 24) that it was “too late” to go after my dreams. I was essentially throwing in the towel.
I often characterize that job as the one decision I truly regret. But looking back, I can’t say that’s true. Because I see now that it was kind of a “this is your life” experience. I got a glimpse into the future I was headed towards – and ran screaming in the other direction.
Grad school gave me an opportunity to step back and reevaluate, in so many ways, what I want out of life. I don’t “have it all figured out” now, by any means. But what I have figured out is that I’m not going to give up on myself – my happiness, my chance for fulfillment – again.
Somehow, between paper-writing and article-reading, going back to school taught me that. I’m grateful for that – and now I’m ready to move on.