So I’ve done something extreme and a bit more permanent than dyeing my hair — As of this morning, I have dropped out of grad school and I’ve honestly never felt more liberated.
NC State has an incredible history grad program, wonderful faculty, a fantastic graduate student body, and yet, I have been wholly and entirely miserable for the last three months while enrolled here. At first I thought it was because I was in a new environment and processing it poorly (as I do), but soon enough Raleigh became my home. Then I thought it was because I was overwhelmed by the workload. But I recently learned what I had to do to make the grades I wanted. It was totally manageable and still I was unhappy.
Nothing was wrong, and yet, I hated every minute I invested into a field that had once delighted and invigorated me. Somewhere along my journey all the joy had been drained out of academia for me.
After a very thorough examination of my deepest, most intimate aspirations (both personally and vocationally) and a lot of prayer, I realized what two things matter to me the most: my desire to have a family, and my writing. It soon became clear that those two criteria were reshaping my vision for my future.
I very quickly realized this semester that the workload of an MA program is largely incompatible with my relationship with Bryce and with our goals as a couple. From the beginning we wrestled with knowing exactly what our dynamic should look like since he had finished school and I was digging in deeper to the next level of education. I needed to devote every waking moment to school and he just wanted to be able to spend time with me (to be clear, I am in no way blaming Bryce for my decision. He did not pressure me in any way to give up — in fact — he really encouraged me to stick with it and has always tried to facilitate productive study time for me. But as he continues to matter to me more and more, the strain that I felt school putting on our relationship made sticking with the masters matter to me less and less).
You see, he and I have done a TON of fun things together this semester, especially in the last month (festivals and parties and visiting friends) and it 100% put me behind in every conceivable way. I was getting the regular workload done (sometimes barely), but I wasn’t making any headway on end of the year projects — not to mention thesis research — and it was because my darling fiance/adventure buddy wanted to spend time with me.
One night last week he asked if we could go out with a couple of friends for a drink and before I had the chance to answer, he said, “Never mind, I know you have reading to do and I don’t want you to be stressed. Let’s not go.” He clearly wanted to go, but he also was trying so hard to not be a distraction for me. That’s when it really hit home: I don’t want to spend the next seven years of my life putting him off or making excuses for why we can’t do things together while I’m buried deep in some archive doing research that I will likely eventually give up to raise my kids anyway (and I know that abandoning my career to have a family is not the only choice, but I am beginning to realize that this particular career path is fairly incompatible with the way that I want to raise my children).
Which leads to another reason I have decided to give up school — I want to start a family someday (not right away, but sooner rather than later). Watching Ben and Savannah anticipate the arrival of sweet little Edmund Charles over the past few months has awakened in me the realization that I don’t want “someday” to be in my mid 30s after I’ve finished a masters, a PhD, and have situated myself in a career at a university (that may require me to move across the country away from my family). Bryce and I certainly aren’t ready for children yet, but I have been becoming less and less sure that I want to spend our pre-kid years slaving towards a career that I may ultimately choose to give up when we do start a family. It occurred to me that maybe it made more sense to close the door on this chapter of my life before I dedicate the entirety of my 20s to it, and to begin pursuing something that aligns better with my vision of the future. I haven’t always wanted to be a professor — that was a goal that arose my junior year of college — but I have always wanted to be a mom.
Then I started thinking, “Okay, if I drop out, what do I do? What’s next for me?”
It then occurred to me that I have spent every free minute since starting school (and even quite a few minutes that were not technically free) working on my various writing projects. I’ve written FB posts and blog posts, I’ve worked on my novel, my graphic novel, another comic project, the memoir I’m writing for Dusty, heck, I even wrote some fanfiction for a web comic I really like. TO BE CLEAR, I HAVE NEVER WRITTEN FANFIC BEFORE IN MY LIFE but suddenly it was the most important thing to me when I was faced with needing to do research.
As I thought back on it, I became acutely aware of the fact that all of those stolen afternoons when I was working on my own writing projects were the only real pockets of joy I have found in the work that I was doing this semester.
I have always had an interest in history, but what I am passionate about is writing. At some point early on I convinced myself that that writing wasn’t a viable career for me and I gave it up before I ever even started. I think it took a semester of grad school to remind me what I’ve really loved all along.
So I dropped out. I’m going to get a job so I can keep paying my bills and I am going to write like I’ve never written before. For the first time in my life (since becoming literate) I won’t have other homework, tests, or papers vying for my attention. I am going to bury myself in books for inspiration and I am going to write my ever-loving butt off. I’ll keep you all updated on how it goes.
Grad school has been a revelatory period of transition — it has stretched me, challenged me, overwhelmed me, enlightened me, and clarified for me the things that really matter to me.
I know that the choice that I am making is ridiculous. I am walking out on a competitive program and giving up a fellowship that I won’t be able to get back. Heck, I’m not even finishing out the semester to ensure that I keep the credits for what I’ve already done if I ever decide to go back.
When I told one of my professors this morning that I was leaving, he was shocked.
“Are you struggling in your other classes?” He asked.
I said, “Actually, no. I’m not struggling in any of them. I think I’m making all A’s. But I’m done.”
Because while all of the factors I have listed so far are legitimate reasons for me to consider leaving school, the thing that ultimately made up my mind was encountering direction from God through prayer. He very clearly led me to NC State and now He is very clearly leading me away. As crazy as my decision sounds, even to me, I am ready to be blown in whatever direction life’s wild winds (and the holy spirit) take me.
I don’t regret starting grad school because it was an important season for me. But I also don’t regret walking away. It turns out that what I thought was my end goal was just God’s stepping stone to the next thing He has in store for me. So here’s to taking the next step!
Until next time,