I feel guilty writing about this with so many people I know in grad school or having just completed programs. Obviously I extend a heart-felt congratulations to all of you who have accepted positions in programs or have just completed your program. I wish I could be more like you, but I am not.
One of the (many) things that used to get my blood boiling was when I was in school and people would make comments about how I wasn’t “in the real world.” This still annoys me. Ignoring the insulting and erroneous implicit assumption that there is one True experiential reality and all students are excluded from it, this statement denies so much about what life as a student is like today. The lack of funding within a system that rewards some majors while devaluing others combined with campus politics/climate that often serves to further disenfranchise minority students doesn’t seem that distant from the “real world” to me.
Truthfully, now that I’m out of academia I am much more insulated than I was before. I am no longer put in situations where the outcome of my work depends upon how well I can work and communicate with people who have totally different interests. I don’t have people in my life who are paid to introduce me to new, challenging concepts. I don’t regularly skip sleep, food, and connecting with the people I care about because I need to report my findings to an overworked professor or a hostile department head who will rip apart weeks of hard work in under five minutes because she doesn’t think scholarship about my research interests is worthwhile.
Yeah, I still have to talk to lots of people I’d rather not. Yeah, work is sometimes really stressful–especially when miscommunications compound and I have to deal with co-workers who seem to have completely missed the boat on the most basic empathy. Yeah, I’m still outside of my comfort zone pretty regularly. But it’s because I’m choosing to be there. And even more importantly, I’m not paying money for any of this to happen. I am getting paid to gain experience.
Now when I have an awful day I get to go home. I get to work out, take a hot shower, read a book, watch a nature documentary…I get the opportunity to let the unpleasantness of the day loosen and dissipate before I have to start thinking about the thing that comes next. I didn’t have the space to do that when I was in college.
The knowledge of everything I gained by dropping out is like a dark secret I know I should be ashamed of. Instead it buoys me on those increasingly exceedingly rare days that doubt begins to creep in.
And deep inside I feel lucky, brave, and alive.