Why the Heck Did I Go to Grad School?

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Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

I blame my parents. If they hadn’t taken me to the library every week, encouraged me to read and write, and set an example by earning multiple degrees, I never would’ve been in this mess.

Most people, if they go to college, earn a four-year degree. They’re happy with their earning potential and corresponding student loan debt, and they set to work developing a career and starting a family. This is where I thought I’d end up in my 20s and 30s. It didn’t quite turn out that way.

My high school classmates have adorable toddlers. I have cats. My friends plan vacations. I plan internships.

And on evenings and weekends, I do homework.

In one of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books, a character ends up with a bar tab with as many digits as a credit card number. I’m not quite there with my student loan debt, but give me time. I could probably have financed a Tesla instead of a degree.

Granted, if I pull this off, two years from now I will be earning more money. The loan debt will fade.

But it’s really not about the money. I know everyone says, “Oh, sure,” but all I want is a little security. I don’t need nice cars or vacations. I want a job where I can feel like I made a difference in people’s lives. I want a job where I can make important contributions to my field.

Yet I open my syllabus now and get panic attacks about the workload. I know, in theory, that I can do it. People graduate from this program every single year. I have people I can reach out to for help. But I get paralyzed by anxiety.

The anxiety says, You’ll never be good enough. Don’t even try. I left my bachelor’s degree once due to anxiety. I was a wreck. I had finished a presentation but when it was my turn to stand up and present, I couldn’t do it. I ran out of the room and cried in a stairwell.

A year later, I went back. One time, I came home crying and said I wanted to quit. My husband (then fiance) sighed and said, “You have two classes left. Just go in and you’ll graduate.”

I did, and I did.

My anxiety didn’t let me speak up and say, “Pardon, but I get a terrible fear when I have to go to class. Can you help me with this?” It didn’t matter if it was the first semester or the last. I get in an anxiety spiral.

I try to cope with jokes. I try to cope with a prescribed dose of antidepressants. But mostly, I try to cope by looking at the finish line.

I won’t be a graduate student forever. Someday, hopefully, I’ll look back and be proud of what I accomplished. I’ll have a kid and encourage them to succeed. Maybe I’ll write a book that students will be assigned to read in school--and actually not mind reading.

Why the heck did I go to grad school? Well, why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side.

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