A Year Can Change A Lot: Part 1

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Yesterday on Twitter I said, “If you would have told me 1 year ago what my life would be like today I never would have believed you.”

After I said that, some of you asked me to share my experience. Since the story is a bit longer than 140 characters, I decided to write a post (or two or three depending how long it takes) to talk about the life lessons that I have learned over the past two years. I always get a lot of questions about my career change so I thought I would finally do that now that I have some clarity and perspective.

Let me preface this story by telling you a few things about myself:

  • I have generally stayed inside the lines throughout my life (i.e., didn’t take risks)
  • I have always had a lot of anxiety and I never did many things that took me outside of my comfort zone.
  • I have done many things in my life because I thought it would make other people happy.
  • I never had any idea what my passions were (see here for more info)

With this in mind, let’s begin the journey of the past 2 years of my life, shall we?

My Undergraduate Dreams…

Throughout my undergraduate program in psychology all I ever wanted was to get into grad school. This was mainly because once I was enrolled in psychology, I quickly realized that there weren’t many job options for someone with a BAH in psychology. So I worked hard at getting into grad school. I figured it was my only hope.

When I was selected out of 300 applicants to be 1 of 4 students to enter a grad school, I was literally on cloud 9. I couldn’t believe it. All the hard work during my undergrad had paid off. All of the studying, applications , major exams, thesis, and the interviews paid off. I applied to 5 schools and was accepted to 1. Of course, I accepted it.

But, I will tell you what my gut feeling was. It was bad. That little voice in my head was trying to tell me that this school was not a perfect fit for me. But I told myself I would be crazy to pass it up. So many students would kill to be in my shoes. So I accepted it and said I would make the best of it.

I thought to myself that I was now going to be ok. I was going to go to grad school and get my Masters and PhD degrees and become a Professor. I would make lots of money and have a respected career. I would do research that I love. Life was going to work out.

Well, life doesn’t always work out as we plan and things aren’t always what they seem…

I entered grad school, Fall 2007:

The four of us who were selected into the program were immediately called the ‘Fab Four’ by our advisors and professors. There was a lot of pressure put on us right from the beginning. They frequently told us that they saw so much promise in us and couldn’t wait until we cultivated our research talents.

Secretly, we all felt like we didn’t measure up. They quickly told us that we would likely have the Imposter Syndrome which was when new grad students think that they got accepted by mistake and everyone else is smarter than them.

During the first week of grad school, we had a Grad School 101 presentation where we were told just exactly how this grad school thing works. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, you can imagine our shock when we were told that we should have 2-3 published articles by the end of our Master’s program, and 8-10 published articles by the end of our PhD career if we wanted to be competitive in the job market. Oh and not just any publishing’s either.  We should have publishing’s in top tier journals! We were also told that we needed to put about 60-70 hours a week into our studies, readings, research, and thesis. We would not expect a social life by the way. On top of that we should join committees, volunteer, and schmooze with top notch researchers to get our foot in the door. We were told to live and breathe psychology.

I went home the first week of grad school and cried my eyes out.

I didn’t let anyone see me. I told myself to pull it together and deal with it. I wouldn’t even tell Eric that I had doubts my first week.

I hoped that the stress would pass. I thought that my intense anxiety was a result of the adjustment phase and I would soon become accustomed to the culture I was now embedded in.

But I was sadly mistaken.

The demands piled up. The stress got bigger. Weekly brown bags frequently reminded us of the intense competition in the job market. Oh and don’t expect to apply for a job directly after finishing your PhD either. You need to secure a post-doc to be competitive. And not just any post-doc, a post-doc with a top tier institution! To become a Professor of psychology (in Canada anyways), you are looking at 2 years for your Masters + 4-5 years for your Doctorate + 1 for Post-Doc. The average is around 7-8 years. I knew many people that took much longer though.

Luckily throughout all of this stress, I could vent to a fellow Fab Four member who I had become good friends with named Jane. We frequently vented to each other about the stresses placed upon us and we quickly become disenchanted with our experience. Grad school was nothing like we envisioned it to be. I am forever grateful for meeting Jane because she got me through some really low moments. I don’t know what I would have done without her.

Then there was the MA Thesis.

I did proposal, after proposal, after proposal. Nothing was good enough. My thesis drafts and preliminary studies were scraped one after another and I began to lose hope. Once I finally had a study underway, I was in over my head with statistical analyses so complex I had to seek out PhD students for desperate help. I was lost in analyses for months and months.

There is much more to the story than this, but I can’t really talk about it publicly on the blog.

I left campus, walking back to my car, and cried. On numerous occasions. I cried so many drives home, calling Eric and just bawling my eyes out in frustration. I remember one time it was pouring out on my drive home. I called Eric crying and I had to pull over at a gas station because I couldn’t see the road through my tears and the rain.

As the pressure got more intense, eating resurfaced as a battle in my life. All the progress I had made with beating the disordered eating started to slide away. I had no hope. I started restricting my intake to gain control (or so I thought). I started to count calories and weigh myself each morning as a way to obtain some false sense of control over my life.

I was going backwards, yet the days moved forward.

Even though Eric and I were happily engaged since December 2007, the stress in my life started to negatively affect our relationship. Eric felt helpless because nothing he said or did could help my situation. I felt helpless. I frequently snapped at him for no reason. I didn’t know what to do. I contemplated dropping out of the program, but deep down I knew I could never do it.

April 2008:

Then in April 2008 I did something really stupid…

~~~~~

To be continued…

Part 2: My new career as a researcher + finishing my degree + The hardest thing I have ever done.

~~~~~

Today’s Question: Have you ever had a hard time in school? Or in a certain course? Or with a professor?

Angela Signature thumb24   A Year Can Change A Lot: Part 1

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{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

Jess (Fit Chick in the City) September 24, 2009

Thank you for sharing part of your life story with us! Its fantastic that you are able to be so open and honest with us strangers. That alone is a skill.

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Angela (Oh She Glows) September 24, 2009

You’re not strangers- friends :)

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Amy September 24, 2009

Gosh, Angela. I’m on the edge of my seat for more. I’m at a HUGE crossroads in my life right now and all of you blogging ladies are giving me the strength I need to pursue this dream job and my dream life. Needless to say, I’m freaking out!

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Morgan September 24, 2009

As bad as this may sound, I love to read stories like this, I find it refreshing, and it makes me feel like I am not alone. I went to law school, and after my first semester (there are 6), I knew it wasn’t for me. I was determined not to be a quitter, and to see it through. I enjoyed what I learned, but always knew practicing law was not the right fit for me. I think that mindset has a lot to do with why I haven’t been able to pass the bar exam. Anyway, here I am now, more than 2 years out of law school with a ton of debt, and no clue what I want to do with my life.
The moral of the story…go with your gut. No one would have cared if I quit, and I was trying to live up to some unrealistic expectations, that I had basically created in my own head. I should have listened to my heart, and did what my gut said. I know I will find my way eventually, and having a law degree is a versatile, useful degree, but I don’t think I will be able to go to school again for something I would love to do unless I get a full scholarship. Live and learn, right?

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Sarah September 24, 2009

Before reading this post and although I always found your bakery idea awesome, I had always thought that studying so much without working and having a career in that field had kind of been a waste of time and money, but know I respect you even more for having the courage to do what you really love and be happy. There are so many people that stay in a job they really don’t like just because “you have to do it” or they don’t dare questioning their choices.
However, I still hope you would expand internationaly with glo bakery (how would that be for a career?)…

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Jenny September 24, 2009

Thank you Angela! I felt so compelled to comment. It is my last year of my BAH in History, and I had thought that I wanted to head to grad school as well. I have that gut feeling that it is not quite the right step too, and I just want to thank you for being so honest about your experience. So many people just try to brush off how easy things are for them, and that is not always the case. Have a great glowing day!

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Mallory September 24, 2009

all i can say is wow.
i feel like you’re talking about MY life in this post – i’m currently in grad school for my master’s in speech pathology and am feeling & thinking the exact same way that you were – and at many times, that scares me.
am i making the wrong choice? am i doing this because i’m just good at it and not because it’s my passion? what would everyone think if i decide to NOT do this (which bugs the crap out of me because i hate caring about what others think of me!)
if i’m not going to be some hot shot speech therapist… what would i do?
it’s really comforting to know i’m not the only one who’s thought these things – thank you for sharing what you went through, ange, it means a lot to me.
i hope i can find myself like you have!

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Kelly September 24, 2009

Angela, thank you so much for starting this “miniseries.” It’s so easy to lose sight of the fact that even the most successful people have had struggles and difficulties in their past, which makes their success all the more admirable. The four points you listed at the beginning of the post fit me to a T, and I’ve always secretly been a little scared that I’ll never be able to take risks and break out of my comfort zone. So just knowing that you managed to overcome your own mental barriers is extremely inspiring.

I can’t wait for the next installment. :)

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Shannon (The Daily Balance) September 24, 2009

thank you so much for sharing, Angela! Great post! I cannot WAIT to read the next one.

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emily - eatventures September 24, 2009

Thank you thank you for the honesty in this post. I can’t wait to read part 2! That is how I feel NOW. I spent two miserable years as a teacher in one of the worst schools in the state and woke up every morning wishing I could die. So when we moved for my husband’s schooling, I quit. I decided I didn’t have to be a teacher if it was making me unhappy, I could folow my dreams. But now I don’t know what the hell my dreams are!?! I have 5 (FIVE) different programs/career options I am looking at and I’m terrified I’ll make the wrong choice.

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caitlin September 24, 2009

hurry up and post part two! i wanna know what happens! :)

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talesfromtwocities September 24, 2009

Looking forward to part II – I’m looking into some changes myself now so hearing about yours is an inspiration :)

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Whitney @ Lettuce Love September 24, 2009

I LOVED reading your story and I am looking forward to the next chapter (on the edge of my seat!!) I enjoy reading/hearing about other people’s journeys through life. It is so easy to look at somebody and say “Wow, she is perfect. She has her stuff together and knows exactly what she wants.” I am slowly learning that that is not the case at all. We are all trying to figure out what we want to do and where we want to go. It is always reassuring to learn that I am not in the boat alone!

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Shelly September 24, 2009

So I see that you have an M.A., which I’m guessing means you didn’t finish your PhD program. I can totally relate! I was in a PhD Program and the requirements sounded exactly like yours above. I was prepared to deal with all that (the publications, the no life, the schmoozing, the 70 hour work weeks), but what I couldn’t ultimately deal with was my horrible, difficult, temperamental adviser. (I honestly believe that he has untreated bipolar disorder… it was a nightmare. And it’s hard to dedicate yourself to the rigorous lifestyle of a grad student when you live in fear of your boss and hate coming to school every day.) I finally couldn’t deal with him anymore and decided to leave with my Master’s degree. It was the best decision of my life! I love my job and working 40 hours a week still feels like a vacation years later. I get along really well with my boss and coworkers and, best of all, I have time to take care of myself. Anyway, I am definitely looking forward to hearing the rest of your story. Since leaving grad school I have met so many people who have also left a PhD program and are incredibly happy that they did so (but of course, when you’re in the program, they try to scare you into staying- telling you that you’ll fail in life with that doctorate.)

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Mellissa September 24, 2009

I appreciate your honesty and candor! I think as women we all have those feelings of not being good enough, having to stay inside the lines and do what we are “supposed” to. I know I do.

I was always the overachiever and had to do well with everything. I got good grades, did lots of extra curricular activities, and volunteered so I could move away for college. Choosing a college that was 6 1/2 hours away from my family was a great decision. I moved away and never went back, I worked hard in undergrad, got a good job and ended up going back for my MBA while working full time and going to school full time. I felt stressed a lot and had a lot of tears when driving home- but I did it. And now I figure out what the rest of my life holds :)

I am very thankful that I have had a supportive boyfriend, then fiancé and now husband who constantly encouraged me.

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Jessica @ How Sweet It Is September 24, 2009

Wow the things your prefaced your story with sound alot like me. It is strange to see them and read them and then think it’s about yourself!

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Leah @ L4L September 24, 2009

In college, when getting my Bachelors, I really wanted to change my major half way through. But I didn’t because I didn’t want to add the extra year and extra money to doing so. I totally regret it. Completely. Now, I find myself going back and retaking classes I was miserable (and did poorly in) and struggling to get accepted into a grad school. Maybe if I had changed my major into what I love, I would have done better, gotten a better GPA, and I’d be in the Master’s Program that I want.

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Dana (www.eatsleepgetfit.com) September 24, 2009

This post hits home…In May 2007 I started the second degree accelerated Nursing program that I had been dreaming about doing for years. It’s a one year program for people who already have a bachelor’s and are going for their second bachelor’s in Nursing. Very intense, very expensive, and school is your life for 12 months. After the 2nd of 3 semesters I had to wait 9 months to restart the program because I bombed the final exam in one class and it lowered my grade to a 74.4 % and you need a minimum of 75 each class to pass. All the while I was getting 4.0 in every class except this one. I was devastated. Now I had to wait 9 months to take the class over, 9 months to start my career, 9 months to start my life again. I got through it, and graduated this past May and I am so thankful I had a chance to retake the class and now I am living my dream. I think it happened for a reason, even tho I couldn’t see the reason then. I had a lot of great experiences the second time around and met a lot of great people. And you know what, in 5 or 10 years, it won’t even matter, heck, it doesn’t even matter now!

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Emily (A Nutritionist Eats) September 24, 2009

I struggled throughout college. Since I went to school for Nutrition I had basically all Science classes (I pretty much hated Science). Many crying nights, months, etc. But now that I’m done, looking back, I’m glad that I stuck with it. It was hard, it took me longer than most but I did it and I finished proving to myself that I can do anything I set my mind to.
Great post, thanks for sharing!

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Fallon September 24, 2009

Wow that takes a lot to share your story. Mine is nothing like yours but I’m just glad to say I’m finish with school, I got my degree and now I can happily move on and do what will make me happy.

I finished college with a degree in Marketing.. that honestly by my junior year I couldn’t stand going to school. I was just WAY over it and my reason was I couldn’t stand marketing! I had no interest in the topic at all. It was something my father thought would be the best for me and the city I live in. I was always stressed, annoyed, bitter and I was very strict on my eating. I’d work out everyday, be exhausted and stress out more. This wasn’t good and the only way to stop this was to get college out of the way. I didn’t want to give up because I’ve come so far, so I knew I had to finish what I started. I took more summer school classes and graduated a semester earlier. I’ve never been happier, more relaxed and ready to begin something that I will enjoy.

I look forward to hearing the rest of your story!

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Nikki T September 24, 2009

Great Post- can’t wait for Part 2…
I actually started college off in the BSc program intending to continue on the road to Psychology…I’m glad I decided to talked to my first Psych profressor about my intentions- she’s the one who told me, like you said, unless you get a Masters and PhD there aren’t many options. 7-8 years was not what I was looking for, so I changed my path. At first I thought, what a quitter you are, Nikki…but then ended up LOVING my choice- a Diploma in Child and Youth Care! A more hands on program helping at-risk youth…I was still helping kids, which is what I wanted to eventually do with my Psych, but I just took a different (and shorter and much less stressful) path to get there.
It seems that where life has taken you now is a wonderful place!

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Sana September 24, 2009

Thanks for sharing this with us, this topic is hitting close to home. I am currently a Junior biochem major- I wanted to go to med school however I am not sure if that is exactly what I want to do. Also it is hard to get perfect scores on ever exam. It just seems like EVERYONE is so much smarter than I am. But I am planning on attending grad school in two years in public heath. So we will see how that goes. Sorry for all the rambling…

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Sarah September 24, 2009

Absolutely! I can totally relate to your story, except that I majored in Accounting. I can’t wait to hear more – what a cliffhanger. I know this is a hard thing to do, to publicly display your struggles, but your blog is such an inspiration.

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Marcia September 24, 2009

Wow. That sounds sad and stressful. My spouse has a PhD in engineering, and I work with a lot of engineering PhD’s, so I know how stressful that can be.

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Marcia September 24, 2009

Wow. That sounds sad and stressful. My spouse has a PhD in engineering, and I work with a lot of engineering PhD’s, so I know how stressful that can be. Personally, I quit at a master’s, and a non-thesis one at that.

While I haven’t experienced that as far as a degree program goes, I did have a class that I dropped. It was a history class, that required 400 pages of reading a week, plus reading the Wall Street Journal, plus extra reading. I lasted two weeks (remember, I was an engineering major!!)

I have been in “that place” at work though, from time to time, where I go home and cry. Like the day that I got called back to work at 6 pm, on my husband’s birthday, when I SHOULD have been cooking him dinner. Usually though, I regroup, reorder my priorities (husband, son, health, sleep), and learn to say “no”. And it all gets better.

My husband got through grad school on the “7-year plan” vs. the normal “5-year plan” which was less stressful I think. And he eschewed the thought of teaching, getting research money, and tenure. We’re much happier for it.

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Kristin September 24, 2009

Can’t wait for part II!

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Lisa September 24, 2009

I had a very hard time in grad school. For two years I was a full-time student, a graduate assistant and teaching/working 20-30 hours a week! I was sleeping 3-6 hours a night and I was miserable. Thankfully, a year later, things are much better! As you said, a year can change a lot!

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leatitia September 24, 2009

love the story, I can’t wait to read the rest!

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Valerie September 24, 2009

Thanks so much for sharing your story.

I’ve definitely experienced problems with school. When I was doing my undergrad thesis, I was a mess for the roughly 9 months I spent on the project. Initially, things were fine. Then everything seemed to go wrong. One week before my study was to start running participants, my supervisor told me I’d have to get someone else to help me run it because the other grad student (my initial helper) was expected to help another MA student since their studies were more related. I was in tears, completely panicked and ready to quit my thesis. I also didn’t get the number of participants I wanted and I felt completely overwhelmed by lesson plans (I was doing a reading intervention for kids). My participants were also not fully ideal – my supervisor and I wanted mainly ESL kids but we had such a hard time recruiting that we just took whoever we could get. There were a lot of tears over this project from the beginning to the end. I felt lost a lot and it was honestly the most challenging year of my schooling so far. I think it was especially hard to take because I’m used to being a straight A student and suddenly I was struggling, which is uncharacteristic for me. I also didn’t feel like I was fully in control. I was super stressed out and several friends said I just wasn’t myself when I really had to buckle down. I definitely wasn’t as happy as I usually was. In the end at least the hard work did pay off and things worked out, but my experience really made me consider what type of grad school is the best for me. I know now that I do NOT want to be a researcher!

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Yasmin September 24, 2009

I can’t wait to hear the rest of your story. So far it sounds similar to my junior year in college.

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Janna (Just Flourishing) September 24, 2009

Way to leave us hanging! I really can’t wait to read part 2.

Thank you for sharing that Angela. It was so compelling and heartfelt and honest. I never knew that side of your grad school experience before.

And I know what you mean by “If you would have told me 1 year ago what my life would be like today I never would have believed you.” I am totally there right now… in a good way :)

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Katerina September 24, 2009

I can’t wait to hear more about this! As someone who has been contemplating the risky path for awhile I love hearing how other people made positive changes. (Seems fitting too, in light of Caitlin’s post today!)

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Sally September 24, 2009

Thank you for sharing this… although I’m applying to Psych PhD programs now so this is maybe not the best thing for me to be reading! I’m already nervous enough!

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Sarah @ The Foodie Diaries September 24, 2009

I’m currently in the “figure out what I want to do with my life” phase… and I’m debating pursuing a career with the degree I have versus going back to school for something I think I’m more passionate about. I really admire your honesty in this post–and I think it will help a lot of people in similar situations. I can’t wait to read the rest of your story!

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Niki September 24, 2009

The last 6 months of my doctorate program (in physical therapy) were a nightmare. I had a clinical rotation from hell which caused me to lose about 8 pounds in 3 weeks due to the anxiety I felt (and therefore, loss of appetite). I didn’t even know if I would be able to graduate for sure until a week and a half before the graduation date. It’s a terribly long story I may eventually go into on my blog, but it was definitely an awful time full of lots of tears!! Thank God I made it through!

Thanks for sharing your stories, Angela! I look forward to the next post on this topic. You are always so inspirational!!

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Caroline September 24, 2009

Thanks for the post, it makes me feel better about how unsure I am about going back to school. I was going to go for an MA in history but I’d hate the work involved (but love the reading). I’ve mostly decided that I want to get a second bachelors in dietetics, I’d enjoy it once I get there (I think) but I dread taking all the biology and chemistry pre-reqs. I hope it will be worth it!

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Jolene (www.everydayfoodie.ca) September 24, 2009

This story really hits home for me! I got my BEd in 2004, and finished the requirements for my BA (Psychology) in December, and had applied for graduation. Then I found out I could do the honours. I canceled my graduation and started the classes for my honours. I am doing my Thesis now, and will be done in December. My plan was to go into grad school and eventually be a professor, but I have been really debating it over the last little while. I don’t know how people manage that and a life … and I want a life.

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Jenny Eastwood September 24, 2009

Oh my gosh… that is such a terrible experience for you to have to go through :(
I’m sorry you endured that, I look forward to reading the next installment.
This only proves though how much of an amazing woman you are, to have gone through all that and to have come out on top, strong and determined, inspiring thousands. So thank you for that.

I’m almost finished my second to last year of high school, today, actually, is the last day of the third term and then next term we have about 3 weeks, then exams and then we’re done for the year.
But I have found high school extremely stressful and emotionally challenging.
They keep drilling it into our minds that if we fail now, our future is gone, which is a huge dramatization but it still stands to stress me out. The stress of needing to do well, applying to polytechs and universities and the general immaturity of some of the idiots here make it extremely hard to get through.
Also, I’ve never been one to conform to the expectations of society, and so, being a girl who thrives on healthy eating, exercise and just generally living a healthy lifestyle, I get shut out a lot from others around me..
I have one more year left and I can’t wait for it to be over. High school has been a painful, stressful and emotional roller coaster which I can’t wait to get off.

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Angela (Oh She Glows) September 24, 2009

I for one didn’t have a great highschool experience myself, and I know MANY people can relate to those hellish highschool years. The one thing I loved about university was that it was nothing like highschool for me. Sure, there are still cliques, but for the most part you have so much more freedom, tons of cool people to meet, and learning becomes more fun than anything.

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Milca September 24, 2009

Wow, this post really touched me. It almost made me cry, I feel the same way right now. I’m in Law school in California (first year) and I feel like quitting already. I feel like there are so many people counting on me. Sometimes it gets so hard and I feel so much pressure from every angle in my life. I feel like I have worked so hard, put so much time and energy and I have nothing left to give. Thank you for your post. It really hit home today.

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maria September 24, 2009

I totally understand. I would never have believed this would be life if you told me two years ago. But I love it!

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Tamara September 24, 2009

Angela, I cannot tell you how inspirational you are. I first subscribed to this blog because you had cool baking recipes and a sunny attitude, but I have identified with you more and more as the time has gone by, and I admire you in so many ways. Thank you for reminding me to listen to my gut, body, and heart.

-Fellow disenchanted psychology student.

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