Deciding to go back to school was one of the most difficult, yet liberating decisions I’ve made in my 24 years of life.
Here’s a brief history. For those who don’t know, I graduated from the University of Florida with not one, but two Bachelor’s degree as well as a minor in TESL. However, while I was in college, I had a ridiculous idealistic view of my future. I was going to be the ear for all the troubled children of the world while learning Elvish and translating Old Norse in my free time, hence my degrees in Psychology and Linguistics….. I graduated after 4 years and zero debt. I was ready for the world!! The day after I graduated, real life smacked me in the face. In a few months I figured I would be homeless and I had no full time job lined up. I moved back home and somehow started a post-bac specialty in Child and Family Development while working as a graduate research assistant with a focus on bullying in schools and also working a part-time weekend job at a homeless shelter with co-morbid adult patients. The first week was thrilling. After that, I became terribly miserable. This was not my reality. I loved research but in order for us to get a grant we had to change our entire approach. None of my co-morbid patients wanted to talk to me, they just wanted a cigarette or me to get out of their way. By God’s grace, I was somehow given the opportunity to move to Asheville, NC and work full time in a pediatric psychiatric residential treatment facility. FINALLY! MY LIFE CALLING! All those long hours in the library, all the research I had done, all those late nights I spent writing papers instead of partying will all pay off! I get to help all these poor unfortunate children and live in the coolest place ever.
That euphoria lasted 6 months.
My reality was forever shattered. Trust me when I say it’s not like the movies. The child climbing on the walls seeing monsters is not going to get over it and thank you for holding their hand. It’s not like your textbooks. Sure you may think your therapy sessions are successful until you overhear one of your patients telling their roommate they’re just telling you everything you want to hear so they can get the hell out of there and get back with Bobby (true story, by the way.) Reality is far different than what is portrayed in the confines of a university. There will be children who you are unable to help and no matter what you do, no matter how tired you are, no matter how many hours you spend teaching them origami to distract them from their hallucinations, no matter how many tears you’ve shed, no matter how many bites you get on your arms because of a restraint or the bloody knees from restraining a child who was on the run… you can’t help all the children. What’s even worse is when you realize often times those who run these facilities care about the money more than the treatment, but I’m not about to go off down that road. It was heart breaking to say the least.
I realized that I was also a huge issue to my shattered reality. I was too emotional to say the least. I brought my work home with me. I took everything to heart and cried myself to sleep so many nights. I was destroying myself in this field and everyone knew it including my parents. I’d never fought with my boyfriend (now my fiance) more than while I was working there. Anyone who is currently in the field of psychology/therapy deserves a million hugs (like my fiance’s brother who is getting his Masters degree in behavioral analysis helping autistic children… I’m so proud of you!). You deserve a million hugs because it is one of the hardest fields to be in. The burn out rate is incredible and I am prime example of those who can’t cut it.
Rather than jump off a mountain (not joking), I decided I was going to move home forever and camp out in my parent’s non-existent basement. The thoughts that began to drown my mind were overwhelming to say the least. I have 2 degrees from one of the best public universities in the United States and I don’t know what to do with it. They’re worthless. Those 4 years were pointless. All the money my parents invested in my education gone to waste. How can I apply to another Master’s program since none of my undergraduate research was relevant to Linguistics? I never did a thesis. OH WHY DIDN’T I DO A THESIS? My parents will disown me now. Maybe I’ll go back to school. I CAN’T GO BACK TO SCHOOL BECAUSE I HAVE NO MONEY! I’m going to die…..
On a whim, I decided to apply to nursing school because I still wanted to help children. I’ve always had a special spot in my heart for medicine and for some reason, a little voice in my head was telling me to go down this path. I argued, saying that there will be cases where a child may die under my care. How would that be ANY BETTER than what I was enduring at the PRTF? It wouldn’t and I know this, but I still applied because of that little voice nudging me. By God’s grace again I somehow got accepted. I began nursing school at age 23 & I’ve never felt more happy, even when I’m cleaning up adult poop (much worse than baby poop, by the way).
The point of this post is to say it is okay to change your mind. It’s okay to say, “Hey, so this is definitely not working. I need a do-over.” Life after college sucks. You’re basically a lost lamb in a field of wolves. It’s hard, but it is less hard if you’re doing something you love because then it’s worth it. Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who found their calling in college & are super successful at my age, but that’s not everyone. There are those of you like me who went to college to learn Old Norse or the history of Shamanism or how our interpretation of descriptive words actually influences what we see, not to get a career. What was translating Beowulf going to do for me? Nothing, but I loved every second of it and how many people can say they did that? Be honest with yourself when it comes to the next step in your life because you don’t want to be 50 years old, miserable, & buying a red Corvette. Sure, it sucks not being able to plan my wedding because I have to study everything there is to know about Herpes Simplex virus and it sucks having to go to class then come home and write papers on fecal transplants rather than grab a drink after work with my coworkers. Sure, it sucks not have a steady paycheck to put towards my first home. Sure, I set my life back a couple years in terms of the world’s standards, but what is a couple years compared to my sanity, my happiness, my end goal of serving others in need because God has provided me more than I deserve? Besides, this journey is fun. I’ve delayed true adulthood for a few years which means my parents still pay for my health insurance. Ha! (just kidding, but no really they still do…. Thanks mom & dad!)
If you are thinking about going back to school to pursue something that will make you happier, seriously consider it. Make that pros & cons list. Go set up that appointment with the recruiter. Talk to your family or a loved one because they are your #1 supporters. It’s surprising what family will do so you can pursue your passion. This is your life and you only get one so go have fun & don’t settle for 60 hours in a cubicle if what you really want to do is dig up dinosaurs. If you do decide to go back, just know it will be tough, but if it’s right then it will feel effortless.