So You’re Graduating, Now What?

2013-05-05 16.57.50What are your plans after graduation?

I’ve been asked this a few times now. It’s a valid question, yet I’ve felt defensive trying to come up with a good answer. I think the problem stems from the fact that I’m not a typical graduate.

I didn’t return to school eighteen years after earning my bachelor’s degree so that I could get another piece of paper that would lead to a job. Sure, I’d like to make money just as much as the next person, but a paycheck wasn’t the primary motivation for my enrolling in graduate school.

The first time around, I sort of drifted into college from high school because I was an honor student, and that’s what smart kids were supposed to do. I was interested in computers and I did well in math, so I majored in computer science. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I wasn’t into my classes the way some of the other students were. By the time I did my internship, I knew I’d chosen the wrong major, however I decided to stick it out so as not to waste the time or money I’d already put into getting a degree. I graduated at the top of my class, then settled into an IT job for nine years, suffering a near breakdown before I finally called it quits when my son was born.

Looking back at the disaster that was my twenties, I’ve realized I had no idea who I was or what I wanted. I had spent too many years worrying about fitting in, trying to please others as if my survival depended on it. In my mind, it did, because I had been rejected once by my birth mother and likely rejected again by whomever took care of me during the three months before I was adopted, and I wasn’t going to let anyone reject me again if I could help it. These weren’t conscious thoughts, mind you. These were feelings deeply embedded in my psyche.

I never thought I’d go back to school. I was absolutely thrilled to be done with it all when I graduated the first time. When I determined that I really wanted to write as a vocation, I did enough research to know that I didn’t need a degree to do it. What I did need, though, was validation that I was, indeed, on the right track. After nearly destroying my own life via poor decisions in my early adulthood, I didn’t want to waste even more time heading down another wrong path.

This time around, I very quickly realized I was doing exactly the right thing. I loved my creative writing classes and, maybe even more importantly, I “got” them in a way I never got those Comp Sci courses two decades earlier. I was exactly where I needed to be. And, I met other creative, ambitious people just like me, which is something I know I would have struggled doing on my own outside of a formal program because of the lack of self-confidence I initially felt.

I am ecstatic that I’m about to receive a Master of Arts; that word, “arts,” is so very meaningful to me, validation that I’ve finally gotten myself on the track I was meant to follow. I know whatever comes next will be the right thing, so long as I continue to be true to myself.

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5 thoughts on “So You’re Graduating, Now What?

  1. I am glad that you’re where you should be, and more important, where you *want* to be. I am such an arts person that I cannot imagine being sidetracked for 12 years+ on a math track, although I can see where math is far more “practical.” I would not have been a pleasant person to be around.

    I made a choice at eighteen between pursuing a career in academia and pursuing medicine. Medicine wasn’t something that anyone in my adoptive family had done. It seemed scary and intimidating, although of course I could have done it. I chose the academic path because everyone in my family taught. Teaching seemed to make sense; I knew what it looked like. With that in mind, I planned to get my Ph.D. and teach in a four-year college, doing my research in the summers. Not bad. But as I would discover there are parts of me ill-suited to teaching in today’s climate, quite ill-suited indeed.

    I ended up going back to school, as you know. After my son was born, and I spent time in a hospital, I reimagined myself working in a hospital or in a similar realm. I thought about going to medical school, but didn’t want to leave my children for the next seven years. And I went back to nursing school planning to be a family nurse practitioner, but found I didn’t enjoy office hours and managing blood pressure, asthma, and diabetes meds. So now I am a bedside nurse, which 10 years ago I would have found risible: embarrassing, even. I love it, though, and it’s very hard work, requiring a lot more brain (and energy) than most people think. When I found my first family, guess what? My brother is a physician with another doctorate, as well. Go figure.

    I thought briefly again about medical school recently, but put that horse out to pasture rather quickly. I am quite happy not taking call and not slaving away in school for another gazillion years. I am okay with myself now.

    It’s funny how adoption takes our paths one way, when we are perhaps wanting to go another, deep inside ourselves, but don’t have the external support or self-knowledge to get there when we’re eighteen (or twenty, or twenty-five, or thirty…). Such is life, though.

    Congratulations on your degree, and I look forward to reading your work.

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    1. Thank you! It helps to know there are others who have gone through this and understand. I’m so happy that you, also, have found your true path. I think people underestimate how important it is to know others who have similar passions, to have those examples of “how to do it.” Yes, I’m sure my career aspirations would be different had I started at age 20, but it’s still worth it to spend the rest of my days doing what I love, even if it might not ever be what it could have been. I firmly believe we are never too old to begin!

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