11 years ago, I graduated from a private four-year liberal arts institution with my bachelor’s degree in English. At barely 21 years old, I was NOT a portrait of patience, responsibility, or professionalism. However, like most new college graduates, I managed to wriggle my way into the adult world of work without any total catastrophes. I worked in a variety of fields, ranging from the non-profit social services sector to the specialized industry of Autodesk software sales. I worked for all kinds of bosses, including one of the most supportive and encouraging individuals I know to one of the most territorial and manipulative people I know. I’ve worked in jobs which required a heavy reliance on my English background (technical writing and teaching English) as well as jobs which required me to step entirely out of my comfort zone to learn a whole new repertoire of skills (non-profit fundraising).
Through it all, I learned countless lessons about myself, others, and the world of work. I also discovered a true love for higher education and student services. One of my favorite positions was as Director of Career Development at my alma mater. I loved helping students, connecting them to employers, and finding ways to convince them that they needed help preparing for life after college. It was probably in this position when I determined that higher education would always be part of my life and probably always part of my career in some way.
I didn’t know then where I’d wind up now—back in school myself. I’m working at a community college which is no surprise to me or anyone who knows me, but the return to student status came about somewhat haphazardly, at least from my limited perspective on the grand scheme of things. I’ve always loved learning and have wanted to pursue a graduate degree for years, but I’m also a pretty practical person. Each time I’d look into a graduate program, I’d eventually come back to the question, “Does this make sense financially? Will I earn enough to compensate for the cost of going to school?” And each time, the answer was “probably not.” The fact is that in some fields, having a master’s degree doesn’t mean much more than having a bachelor’s degree. Some of the most successful people I know, many of whom own their own businesses, have no degree at all. If finances were going to be the determining factor in my pursuit of a master’s degree, it didn’t seem likely that I’d ever pursue one.
This fall, after returning to higher education, I mentioned in passing to James that I’d love to go back to school someday. He said, “Why don’t you just do it?” So, after doing some research and praying daily for God to open the right doors and close the wrong ones, I walked through the open door in front of me.
Coming back to school after an 11-year hiatus has been amusing, interesting, and sometimes frustrating. I’ve learned some valuable lessons so far. Here are a few:
1) Having a 4.0 matters much less to me now than it did then. I still care about my grades, and currently I’m on an all-A streak, but I’m not concerned with continuing that streak for the next year and a half. I want to do my best, but I also want to have a life. I work part-time, and I am in love with the most wonderful man in the world. Life is short. I want to spend time on things that matter, and when multiple things matter, I can’t devote all my time and energy to just one thing. If I wind up with a 3.0, that’s fine. If I wind up with a 4.0, that’s fine, too.
2) All the things I learned in undergraduate school have paid for themselves now. I used to detest learning about “cultural literacy” in one of my favorite professor’s courses. I’m pretty sure this frustrated him. I didn’t see why it mattered. I do now. I also understand how much that little workbook of woe in Advanced Composition has benefited me. Since undergraduate school, I haven’t had the opportunity to compare my writing abilities and talents to those of other people. I do now, and I’m happy with where I’m at and grateful for how I got here.
3) Never say never. After teaching English in a private high school setting for one year, I vowed to never teach again. A few years later, I taught summer courses to high school students. Now, as a graduate student in English, I’m toying with the option of teaching college someday. While I still cringe at the idea of ever having to teach high school again, and would seriously rather work at the Waffle House, the idea of teaching in a different setting with adult students appeals to me now. Go figure.
4) My procrastinating days are over. When I was in undergraduate school, if I had a paper due at 8 a.m., I’d wait until 9 or 10 p.m. the night before to work up a topic. I’d hammer it out on my word processor—yes, word processor—and print it, slide it under the door of my professor at 3 a.m., and crash. A few times this bit me in the behind. My disk malfunctioned, or the building was locked, or something went wrong, and I hadn’t left myself time or room for error. Fortunately, over the years, I’ve developed quite a bit of self-discipline and now prefer to complete my tasks early rather than barely on time. There’s something to be said for the feeling of accomplishment I get when I hit “submit” two days before an assignment is due.
While I still have days when I don’t feel like studying, or assignments I just don’t enjoy, I’ve learned to truly appreciate the opportunity to learn and to immerse myself in the moment. I’ve managed to let go of my need to be perfect, and that’s enabled me to enjoy the process. And most importantly, I’ve struck a harmonious chord of balance between doing my best and leaving well enough alone.
And those lessons will live on even after I eagerly accept my diploma next summer.