When I got accepted to graduate school my mind began to swirl with career fantasies involving a name on the door, starchy khakis and late nights spent in decrepit libraries soaking in knowledge of hundreds of years of research. What I got of course was debt (because I refused to take on a roommate), confusion, panic disorder, lack of confidence and an extra fifteen pounds for good measure (goodbye gym, HELLO NETFLIX). Fast forward a year and a half and my degree is nestled in between Christmas wrapping paper and my yoga mat as well as other junk such as: old speakers, one individual slipper and old textbooks. My daydreams of starchy pants and even starchier conversations with professionals in my field didn’t quite pan out as I note while I write this to you wearing a hello kitty robe with bags under my eyes.
Now…I wouldn’t call this a warning. I think school is important unless you’re into that whole free-thinking, be-your-own-person type of gig. Not me, sign me up to work for the man! But I want to tell you what nobody told me before I decided to get married to academia, break-up with my friends, lose my relationship and forget what mascara was for.
1. You have just graduated and you do not know what to do with your life. That’s all good and well, welcome to the generation-why*-am-I-alive! If you were a lost soul, grad school may not help you find yourself. It is a big job, with lots of responsibilities and stress. If you are prone to nervous breakdowns (lorazepam, anyone?) then I suggest searching for the calm before you run into the storm.
2. You are smart. That is pretty much all anyone knows about you and all you know about yourself. This is me folks. A big ol’ perfectionist just wanting to be good at something. Here is the problem; I went to a big fancy school with plenty of people who weren’t just smart but beautiful, talented, driven and social butterflies. Goddamned butterflies with their pretty wings and whimsical allure. Intelligence can be a driver behind what we do, but just because you are smart does not mean more school is the answer to your problems.
3. You have something to prove to other people. This is also me. I struggled with a lot of health problems most of my life, and missed a lot of school. Ergo, I thought if I could accumulate a mass of degrees I would gain the respect of other people. NOPE. This is true to an extent, who doesn’t want to be called ‘doctor’ (I am not one, by the way)? But at the end of the day, under the covers or in the shower (unless you are creepily attached to someone) you are the only person to impress. Nobody else thinks about your degree when they are asleep at night, I promise!
4. You want a good job. Good is subjective…as we all know. ‘Good’ to you may mean that you will make a lot of money, or have self-fulfillment or work somewhere well-known, or make lots of mo—well you get the idea. This part is tricky. A lot of the time it depends more on your level of preparedness for the career which you intend to pursue and less with the degree you have. Having a degree may give you the edge over another applicant but if their life’s work includes saving baby seals, siphoning oil out of oceans with bendy straws and hand-delivering jars of energy-goo to starving people in the third world then…I don’t know that the degree is the deciding factor.
5. You’ve got a lot to figure out and are buying time. We all avoid facing certain aspects of ourselves throughout moments in our life. Perhaps we are chronic daters trying to erase the ghost of boyfriends long passed, or are perpetually trying to diet and exercise away from our chubby former self. Life can be traumatic, difficult and depressing—but from those times we have to want something better for ourselves. Nobody is doomed to repeat their history as long as you’re cognisant of wanting something more. Grad school will put problems on hold for a while—you will be busy, exhausted, inspired and eventually just want to get out. But unless you have a great job, internship, vacation, house full of adorable kittens or some other wonderful thing lined up post-graduation, you will be left with your demons once more. Remember, for some grad school is an escape, for others its sex, drugs, drinking, their job, etc. This last one applies to everyone trying to figure out their business.
So…let’s do some damage control, mmmmk? This is NOT telling people who genuinely see grad school as their future to opt out. It was an experience that taught me a great deal about who I am and what parts of myself I need to work on (apparently I have OCD and really appreciate Netflix binges). Not only that but I met the most amazing people while I was there! That being said, I went for all the wrong reasons and ended up being in a really dark place when I was finished. Will this happen to you? People are so unique, so sorry pal…I don’t know. But if part of who I am speaks to you, before you pursue anything in life—ask yourself why. Chances are you may not have a clear-cut answer and that should be what you try and figure out before anything else. Ask yourself questions, we are generation WHY* remember!
*Generation ‘why’ is what I call my generation. It refers to Generation ‘Y’ kids who liked Reboot, Animaniacs, Fruit by the Foot, Dunkaroos, Sodalicious and other junky things. We didn’t know what corn syrup or organic was and by God, we didn’t care! I changed the ‘Y’ to ‘why’ because I think I am a clever bastard sometimes.