So, What Now?

Thanksgiving is a lovely time. It’s nice to get away from campus before the last mad dash of final performances, studying, exams. There’s actually time to sleep. And catch up on the homework I seem to be perpetually behind in. I spent five hours in the airport translating passages of the Prose Edda from Old Norse to English. It was pretty fabulous.

I’ve also had lots of conversations about what my life will be shaping into after I graduate this spring. Necessary conversations, but a lot less fun than translating Old Norse. Decision-making has always been hard for me, especially when the decision is important. Recently, it’s become a sometimes-agonizing process. I’ve had mornings of stress-induced decision-making-paralysis, where my indecision has become debilitating to the point of standing in the closet for forty-five minutes trying to figure out what to wear, and getting so panicked in the process that I later insult my roommate by charging off to class without her after Chapel. Not a good start to anyone’s day.

As I have written before, I have decided not to pursue graduate school–at least, not yet. I may (and I hope I do) return to that possibility somewhere along the line, but I am not submitting applications now. I’ll take at least a year off upon completing undergrad before I continue my education, if I do decide then to pursue a master’s degree at all.

This was a very difficult decision to make, and I’m still not certain it was the right one. I feel as though I’m cheating, or taking the easy way out. I feel like I’m giving up. I know I could do it, would enjoy it. I know I want to do it. I also know I’m scared as heck of the application process, and the prospect of another two years of even harder school and even more pressure to produce quality work that matters.

I am standing by as close friends begin the graduate school application process, meet with advisors to talk about personal statements, and make campus visits to universities. Not being a part of this is hard. After following my roommate around pretty much everywhere for the past two years, and after taking so long to finally make the decision to consider graduate school myself, and after all I have done over the past year to prepare for that path, it feels pretty awful to be giving it up.

I love the things I study. I’m excited by the idea that I could keep studying them. So why am I not pursuing that? Am I letting myself down by not doing what I thought I was setting out to do? Am I letting the people who believe in me down by deciding to ignore their advice, trust, and confidence in me? Am I letting God down by not continuing to build up and steward the passions and skills He has given me? I’m not sure.

Given all this, my decision to put off graduate school is shaky at best. I need to talk about the decisions I am trying to make in order to get to a place where I feel comfortable making them, but I don’t have anyone with whom I can talk. I’ve already annoyed all the people who could give me advice by asking for it too many times. I feel trapped between a wrong decision and another wrong decision, with no clear path marked “I’m right. Pick me.”

I don’t actually expect road signs. But I’d really like advice, and I’d really like to not feel like I’m giving up, and I’d really like to not fear being left behind.

You may well be asking by this point, well, if you feel so rotten about all this, why are you not just sucking it up and going to graduate school? And you’re right to ask.

It doesn’t seem like the right thing to do, to invest so much time and energy into something I’m not completely sold on, and as this last year of college has progressed I’ve felt more and more strongly a desire to graduate and get out into what some call the real world. I want a job, I want a normal life which isn’t ruled by homework and due dates and tests and no free time to do what I want. I crave roots. I’d like to be able to come home from a long day of work and have no homework hanging over my head. I want an apartment that’s not college-owned, that allows me to light candles and get a kitten. I really, really want a kitten.

And after getting a masters, I would be in exactly the same position as I am now. Wondering what comes next, and struggling to figure out a way to go. I’m ready to take a break from being a professional student. I’m ready to try and figure out what my life will look like once I’m no longer being fed and housed by someone else. I’m excited to figure that out.

But I still feel like I’m giving up. I still feel like I’m being left behind, like I’m failing, yet again, to be the best I can, or to live up to my potential, or to be good enough for myself and others. It’s not making the decision any easier.

I’ll probably change my mind at the last minute, as soon as it’s too late.

Maybe I should just get the kitten and call it good.



4 Comments Add yours

  1. Thanks for this. It is – encouraging isn’t quite the right word – but maybe helpful, hearing some more of your story. I can certainly sympathize with the frustration of applications. I am applying (or should be if worry didn’t keep me from it most of the time) for various jobs and grants, and the paralysis is palpable – it makes me sometimes wonder about a system where we spend more time explaining how good we are and writing to specific projects rather than doing messier and more creative things that are worthwhile in the long run but can’t be made into a nice shiny proposal at the beginning. It also reminds me a little of my story – I had a crisis about whether or not to go to university in the first place, and another when I went in assuming I was going into medicine to become a medical missionary and had to choose between that and English.

    Knowing such situations, I suspect one of the things you need to remember is that God is quite a bit more gracious and merciful than He probably feels to you at the moment – following God’s will isn’t a one shot deal that we either get or miss and then forever lose our chance, and He is not out there just waiting for you to pick the wrong thing so he can show you how wrong you are and smite you (which may sound like a strange and exaggerated thing to think when one puts it in words like that, but it is surprising the things we implicitly believe when we don’t put them into words). In many ways, I don’t think you really can make a wrong decision here when it comes to God’s will – he’ll work with what you give Him in either case. A book I’d recommend particularly in regard to this is Phillip Cary’s Good News for Anxious Christians – it does a good job of discussing the ways we have transformed our understanding of God’s will for us from good news into a site of anxiety that it was never meant to be.

    I wish I had more actual advice, but I am myself a paradox, one who has become reasonably certain that his vocation is scholarship and teaching, but one who still has no idea how that will work out in the long term, in the meantime living on temporary positions and what not. No, it is not exactly stable. But I worked a year at a day job copywriting for a year before I had the job at Signum, and it did bad things to my soul – the instability, bad though it is, is preferable – and I guess that’s part of how I know it’s my vocation. Fortunately, the decision is not something irreversible, so after a couple of years either way, I suspect you will know better which you are meant for. Which I know doesn’t help now as you watch your friends prepping and getting placements while you remain confused (I am similarly watching friends get jobs and post-docs they really do deserve and working on not being envious). But at the end of the day it is the long scope of things rather than something immediate that is significant in God’s work with you – it’s not a zero sum game in which this is the wager on which everything hangs.

    I’ll keep you in my prayers. And if you should ever need a fairly removed third party to talk to about these things, you can feel free to look me up on Facebook – I am under the name Karl Persson, and my picture is a crucifix with Þingvellir in the background (I am not the really awful and creepy artist who unfortunately shares my name).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. mariertps says:

    “I feel as though I’m cheating, or taking the easy way out. I feel like I’m giving up.” GIMLI’s FLAKY BEARD NO. Don’t feel bad. *shakes head violently* I’m trying really hard to convince myself I don’t need grad school to be “complete” and it’d be nice to know you don’t feel bad about taking time off either (or not doing it at all.) xD Jussayin.


  3. From someone who was in your place last year and made the same decision you did, I want to encourage you! It’s been lovely to take a year to decompress from the stress of college classes and take more time to seriously consider my next move—and be sure it’s *my* move, not the one all my friends are making.

    If you ever want to talk to someone, I’m only a Skype call, Facebook message, or letter away!
    (though obviously I’m not very prompt with letters…)

    Love you!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t know if it is any consolation, but I have met quite a few grad students here at Miami U that took one or more years off from school after their undergrad, and I have met other undergrad students with the same goal in mind. The grad students who took a year off may be a bit older than the other grad students, but they are excelling, sure of themselves and their goals, and on a great path. Sometimes people just need a year (or a few) to figure out the direction they want to go, or pay off some student loans, or get some experience, etc. From what I have seen, taking a year does not in any way hinder people from getting into grad school.
    I think the one problem people run into when taking a year or more off, is that once you enter the “real world” and establish a place for yourself, it can be difficult to leave that for academia again. But if you decide you really want to go back for your masters, I am sure you will be just fine.



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