My inbox was flooded with your emails yesterday after my grad school posts. I felt so sympathetic for those of you who told me that you are walking in my same shoes right now. I sat there just thinking to myself…that was me. That was me just a year ago.
Nothing is worse that struggling in a place where you feel like you don’t belong or that you have to compromise your morals and beliefs in order to conform. That is how I felt during my two years in my Master’s program. As I walked through those doors in September, I felt like I had to step into some else’s shoes. And the shoes were a size 5 and I am a 7, so you can imagine how that went over.
Gillian left a beautiful quote in the comment section that really hit home with me:
“Humans are ambitious and rational and proud. And we don’t fall in line with people who don’t respect us and who we don’t believe have our best interests at heart. We are willing to follow leaders, but only to the extent that we believe they call on our best, not our worst.” ~Rachel Maddow
A Brief Way Back Play Back
As a teenager, I may have been that person who blindly followed the leader. Actually, I probably was that person more often than not. I had no sense of who I was or what I was capable of doing. So I went with the flow. My anxiety also held me back many times during my life. Anyone who suffers from anxiety knows how debilitating it can be to take a stand and be in the limelight.
However, as I progressed through the years of my undergraduate career, something inside me started to change. I started to feel powerful and confident. The more I learned and the harder I worked, the more I started to appreciate what I was capable of doing. In my first year of studies, I didn’t take it seriously. I skipped classes and didn’t study for exams. As a result, I obtained grades in the 60-70% range for most of my classes. But by the second year I figured that I better make something of this education and I started to use my brain. As an aside, during this time, I was also struggling with the disordered eating. I gained 25-30 pounds in my 1st year of my undergrad. That was also partly the reason for my poor grades. I couldn’t focus and I was depressed.
By third year, I was at the top of most of my classes, with my statistics and research marks in the 90’s. I started to believe in myself. My education didn’t directly open doors for me, but it allowed me to open the doors myself. Education gives you the tools and what you do with it is up to you.
My education gave me the power of choice.
Sure, some might argue that I had that power all along, but I sure didn’t think so. The confidence that my education gave me is truly invaluable. I learned how to write, debate, question, and become passionate about many different topics that I had never known before.
My mind felt free.
I guess the reason why I was so disappointed in my grad program was that my mind no longer felt free. I felt constrained and restricted when I should have felt inspired and liberated.
The Bad Decision of April 2008
In my last year of my Masters program, all I could think about was that I did not want to continue to the PhD program. Actually, I probably knew that within the first week there (the little voice did!!!), but I didn’t actually decide ‘on the record’ until late in my second year.
I was excited to be finished and to get a job as a researcher, or that’s what I convinced myself anyways.
Since I was little I have always wanted to help people. I didn’t know much about my passions and I didn’t have any hobbies, but that I knew.
In the spring of 2008, I applied for a research job that was sent out on the grad Listserve. I got a call and went for the interview. When I went for the interview I had a bad feeling about it, just like I did with my grad school interview. You know when you get that feeling in your gut, that says ‘fly like a bat out of hell’? Well, that is how I felt. You’d think that I would have learned my lesson, but of course I didn’t.
I was offered the job and started in 2 weeks. To this day I have no idea, absolutely no idea, what I was thinking. I thought that I could manage a full-time job, full-time grad student + complete thesis, and I was also a teaching assistant and a research assistant on top of it.
Some people like to learn things the hard way and I was certainly one of them.
I feared that if I rejected this job offer that I may not get another one for a while. What if I declined it and then didn’t get anything for a year or more? What would I do for money? We’ve all heard horror stories about new graduates not getting any job offers and I didn’t want to be a statistic. Plus, the salary was attractive. Very attractive to a broke grad student.
I took the job despite every fibre in my body telling me not to.
Eric and my family said I was crazy for taking it.
My supervisor said I was crazy.
I knew I was crazy (duh, look where I was the past 2 years!), but I figured that I would finish up my MA degree in May so I would only have to stick it out for 2 months of madness.
Do you see a pattern here?
1) I didn’t listen to my gut feeling. Again.
2) I took the first offer that I got. AGAIN.
I know what you’re saying right now…What the hell, girl!!! Trust me, I know. Hindsight is always 20/20, right?
Things did not go according to plan with my thesis. Does it ever?? I was having tons of problems with my study and didn’t have a lot of support. I was in over my head with complex analyses that I had no idea how to do and were not even within the scope of what we were taught in our Masters stats courses. It dragged on and on and on.
Nails on a chalkboard. More struggles with eating.
My new job turned out to be very demanding. Very, very demanding. I often brought work home at night and on the weekends to do, on top of my thesis work. Looking back, I don’t know how I survived. It was a very poor decision to take the job and one that I surely regretted. I wanted to quit after the first week because I knew immediately that I had gotten in way over my head. But of course I didn’t. I was too proud to quit, but looking back, it would have been much better than suffering for that painful year.
Like many women, I was concerned about what people would think if I quit. It is often ingrained into our heads that we are failures if we can’t juggle it all. It is like the Superwoman Syndrome that I talked about before. I was much too stubborn to quit anything, but eventually a straw will break the camels back.
Oh Right The Wedding!
Did I mention that all throughout this time I was planning our wedding?! HAHA!!! I almost forgot about that (don’t worry Eric doesn’t read the blog, *smiles*). We started planning our wedding in January of 2008. I was so busy with my jobs and school that I didn’t even have time to plan many things for the wedding. Eric did a lot of it (Groomzilla!! No, just kidding). I was so busy with my thesis that I had to skip the taste testing and other appointments! I was quite down about it all.
My Thesis Oral Defense was finally set after about 100 drafts & rejections & edits. It was set for the end of July 2008 and I spent every single night until then preparing for my defense. It kept me up at night in fear. I started to have insomnia. I often cried myself to sleep a lot while Eric laid beside me unable to help. Eric was 3 years into his job and he was doing really well for himself.
I felt like that squeaky wheel that wouldn’t shut-up.
Finally the day of my defense came. I was on cloud nine. I heard that defense committees won’t set your thesis date until they pretty much know you are ready, so I was confident that I would pass. It was the hardest 3 hours of my life. My presentation of my research was just 20 minutes long, and the rest of the 2 and 1/2 hours was round after round of questioning. It was like the interview that would never end. After the defense, they excused me and after a couple painfully long minutes they came out and told me congratulations. It was one of the best moments in my life, only surpassed by this moment below which was the ‘official thing’:
I have never been more proud than I was on this day. I couldn’t believe that I made it. I had tears of joy.
It’s funny, we see so many graduates every Spring and Fall, but we don’t really know what it took for them to get to that stage. I always wondered what everyone else’s story was.
I was so excited I flew out my dad for my graduation. He missed my first graduation for my undergrad and I wanted him to be there for this special moment.
I’m sure Eric was thinking THANK GOD THAT IS OVER. I WANT MY ANGE BACK.
After the wedding, the honeymoon, and the graduation, I thought that our life would actually return to normalcy.
Boy was I mistaken.
Little did I know that within just a couple weeks, we would be packing our bags and hitting the road for another huge life change.
Stay tuned for Part 4…
Oh, and Happy Friday! :)