If I Can Make It There…
February 29, 2016
By Paige Hinson
When I began my first semester of grad school last August, I thought I had it all figured out: I would earn my Master’s Degree in English, go on to a doctoral program, and ultimately become a literature professor at a school like UNC-Asheville. What’s that they say about the best laid plans?
By the second week of school, I was in the middle of a full-blown existential crisis. I thought all my professors were completely out of touch with reality. I struggled with the thought that I was being selfish by devoting all my time to school instead of my friends and family, and I had decided unequivocally that I would never get a Ph.D. This was very upsetting for me because my entire life plan to this point had revolved around becoming an English professor. Suddenly, all of my reasons for choosing to come back to school were irrelevant; if I was not going to go any further in my academic career, why was I even here? I had lost my purpose.
Through the encouragement of my close friends and my family, I decided to stick with school, at least until the end of the semester. Although I am a hardcore perfectionist, I told myself that if I made a B in one class, I would be okay with that as long as I had done my best. My anxiety started to ease up a little. I began to understand the value of what I was learning. I saw that my professors genuinely cared about what they were teaching and about their students, or at least me and my classmates. By fall break, I finally felt like I was gaining my footing and settling into the routine of grad school. Then, everything changed.
On the last day of the break, I got a call from the owner of the restaurant where I work. She told me that my dear friend and co-worker had suddenly passed away earlier that morning. He was 28. My world went into a tailspin. I couldn’t work, go to class, or even eat. Nothing mattered. For almost a week, I either stayed in bed and slept—trying to forget what was happening—or I sat with my friends who were experiencing the same grief, crying with them. I didn’t see how I would be able to get back to a place where I could focus on my school work.*
Then, I remembered my friend’s love of life and perseverance through some very hard times, and I thought about how proud he was of me for going to grad school. I realized that letting my grief get the best of me would not honor his memory. So I made up my mind to get on with my life and do the best I could in my classes. I toughed out the rest of the semester. I nearly lost my mind during finals week, but I made it. Finally, Winter Break arrived.
I was so exhausted during my first few days of freedom that I could not fathom having to go back to school in only four more weeks. However, I was soon distracted from thoughts of school by a trip to New York City with my mother. This trip had been the light at the end of my grad school tunnel for the past six weeks, but because of the pressure of school, I hadn’t been able to get really excited about it. As soon as I stepped out of the cab that taken us from LaGuardia Airport to our AirBnB apartment in Midtown Manhattan, I felt such a rush of emotions that I was almost giddy. I have been dying to live in New York City since the first time I visited when I was 14. I feel at home there, like the city is an extension of my personality. However, I thought that since it had been a few years since my last trip up there, I may not feel the urge to move there anymore. In fact, the opposite was true.
Over the five days I spent in the city, I fell even more in love with it than I had been before. The most remarkable thing was that as I walked down a quiet street in Brooklyn one sunny afternoon, I realized that I could live there if I wanted to! But even in that moment of revelation, I knew that I would have to wait until I finished grad school to move to New York City. Of course, I could have simply decided not to return to ASU and move to the city right away, but I knew deep down that I would not be happy with myself if I didn’t finish what I had started and worked so hard at all semester. Also, I recognized the value a master’s degree held in the job market and that it could help me find a job that paid enough to live in New York. As the wheels in my head started to turn, I saw how I might be able to take my budding passion for helping to fight sex trafficking and turn it into a career working for New York-based non-profit groups. Different aspects of my interests and desires began to fit together, like a puzzle, and suddenly, I had a new outlook on my life and academic career.
Though I cried all the way from the city back to LaGuardia on the day we left, I knew that all I had to do now was buckle down, and work as hard as I could to finish grad school. Then, I’d be back. As I entered 2016, I determined that my New Year’s resolution would be to stop telling myself that I might be able to move to New York. Instead, I will move to New York; this goal, my purpose, will help power me through school.
I now have a clear picture of the future I want for myself, and every time I feel stressed out or lonely or frustrated with living in a small town, I bring that image back up and focus on my goal. This has completely changed my academic experience this semester. I am less anxious, less negative, and less worried about my future and more positive and hopeful for what is still to come in my life. Instead of focusing on the things I don’t like about my life, I focus on the things I want for it and how I can make those things happen.
I wanted to write about this experience because I want to encourage anyone who is going through a hard time**—whether it is school-related or not— to find something that inspires them to keep moving forward. Sometimes inspiration comes from a song, a book, a line from a movie, or something a friend or mentor once told you; wherever it comes from, and whatever it is, make it your mantra. Write an inspiring quote on your mirror and meditate on it every day. Hell, meditate every day. Do yoga. Make a decision to eat healthy food. Embrace your spirituality. Start journaling. Cut negative people out of your life. Just do something. You never know what small change you decide to make might have the greatest positive impact on your mindset.0c.
*To be clear, I no longer feel this way about my professors.
**If something like this happens to you, speaking with someone in the Dean of Students office is extremely helpful. They will talk to you about what’s going on and then send your teachers an email explaining your situation. The Counseling Center is also an amazing resource. You can contact them by calling (828) 262-3180 or visiting https://counseling.appstate.edu.