So I’m going to grad school. What program, you ask? International Security. Wow! You say. Unless you know me, and then it’s, “But didn’t you get your degree in film?”
Some people have found out through Facebook, some people have gotten an earful firsthand. I naively assumed that the screenshot of my acceptance letter posted on social media would explain it all. But as I’ve met up with friends, family members, and co-workers, I’ve realized that everyone has a different idea of what I am doing. So in case you wanted to know, here it is:
I graduated in film from Brigham Young University. Now I am enrolled as a grad student (International Security masters program) at George Mason University. I am finally leaving Provo, Utah and setting up camp in the heart of D.C.. Sounds like a joke, right?
Nope. I spent two years wrestling with what they call a quarter-life crisis. It was all soul-searching, goal re-evaluating, and reality-facing. When you are a college graduate and single, sometimes things don’t work out the way you planned. Basically it came down to one choice: Do I want to spend the rest of my life bobbing through receptionist positions or is it worth it to me to do whatever it takes to have a life where I feel I am being challenged and contributing value? I don’t like sitting still. I am competitive and need to be challenged. I want to get down and dirty with problems and be the one to come up with solutions. I want to do that for an organization whose mission I can get behind. There really wasn’t any choice–I was going to do whatever it took.
So…what is it going to take? Well, it all depends on where I am going.
My undergrad was a piece of cake as far as decision-making is concerned. In 9th grade I decided exactly what I wanted to do for a career and figured out what to major in from there. My entire time at BYU, I never changed my track once. I prided myself on that. I loved my major and still love the work. I would do it in a heartbeat. So why am I not? Well, I knew getting a job would be rough–everyone loves to tell you that when you announce that you are going to be studying something in the arts–but no one tells you that it’s not just the initial job hunting right after college that is difficult but that you have to do it all over again and again as every project ends. I still feel like a quitter which kills me, but I had to admit to myself that I didn’t think I could handle a life of constant job searching and lack of security. I needed something new.
I didn’t know what career I wanted though. I just knew what I wanted the career to give me: challenge and fulfillment. So what would bring me that? Would I need to go back to school or start a new job search? Could I get another internship now or would I need to start over? Another undergrad degree? Trade school?
I had to ignore everything for a moment and pinpoint my natural talents and real interests. I’m not talking an interest in, say, reading. I’m talking deeper than that. More basic. What exactly do I like to read and why do I like reading it? I thought about one of my favorite jobs: Why did I like those responsibilities? Long self-reflection later, it all came down to problem solving. Problem solving fit in both the “talent” and “interest” columns. After recognizing that, it suddenly it all made sense. I mean, as a kid my parents would get me logic puzzle books for Christmas. This was totally me!
So what jobs could that get me? A lot actually. But more specifically, which of those jobs would do work that I would actually want to promote and fully get behind personally? See, I have worked in enough positions to realize that if you don’t support the mission of the company you are working for, it is hard to want to go to work every day. The way I see it, I can’t guarantee I will get married and have a family of my own. If I am potentially going to be single forever and my career is the only thing I have going on, I want it to be one in which I would gladly devote my time and efforts.
Once I had qualifications to narrow my search, I discovered careers that I never knew existed. I picked the best one for me that seemed to fit everything I need, found people who did that, talked to them to make sure the practical application was what I thought it would be, and I researched programs. (Note: Grad school is not the only option. But after weighing all my options, I felt that going back to school would best fill in where I was lacking and provide me the best advantage for achieving my new dream.) I decided I wanted to work for the Government. After all, where else could you find a greater abundance of problems to be solved? And I’m invested in my country. I can get behind the goal to protect it and make it better.
I’m going to be honest. I felt like I was swimming upstream the entire time. What do I have that qualifies me for international security studies?? I barely speak a second language–not enough to qualify me for any job. I never studied political science or even dived that deep into history. I have never been outside of the continental US. I graduated with my undergrad two years ago in something completely opposite and my GPA wasn’t exactly something to brag about. Why would a school accept me? They probably wouldn’t.
But I applied anyway. What did I have to lose? I kept glancing into my future and the thought of working at a front desk for the rest of my life was enough to scare me into doing ridiculous things–like applying to grad programs polar opposite of my undergrad. I actually made a deal with myself: I would start saving for school with the hopes of one actually accepting me, but if no one did, I would use that money to finally go on that international trip I’ve only ever dreamed about. There. Win-win.
So along with all the other things counting against me, I decided to shoot for the Fall semester of the very same year. I didn’t want to wait. If I didn’t get accepted I could always try again, but if I didn’t try this year then I was sure I would regret it. I took the GRE in January and had to find schools whose application dates I hadn’t missed yet. (To my extreme luck, many graduate programs have later application dates than undergraduate.) Amazingly, miraculously, and with mediocre GRE scores, the first school I applied to–my number one choice–sent me an acceptance letter before I even finished my second application! What the –??
At this time, a lot was going on in my personal life. My grandfather was declining fast and passed away. Our family dog had also been hit by a car a couple of weeks previous and didn’t make it. I waited almost a month to tell my family and then even longer to tell everyone else. There was still the financial aspect. I was reminded by the monthly bill in the mail that I still had student loans from my undergrad. Was this a good idea to go back to school?
As good as a divine message from the heavens, I had multiple people tell me to go for it. Now is the time. There will always be reasons to wait and there will never be enough money. Go to school now. Get it done. Each time this message resonated with me and I knew it was the thing to do. Granted, it isn’t right for everyone. It sounds really stupid here on paper (computer?) but in ways I can’t explain, I felt that this was the plan for me.
So why am I here? Why am I telling you my financial status? Why tell you this long-winded story (that could be much, much longer if I shared all the details)? Aside from keeping my family and friends updated with the goings-on in my metropolitan grad life, I want to share my experience navigating this process with others who might be the first out of their siblings to contemplate a masters degree. Maybe I can offer some tips to a fellow single person who is trying to figure out how to live their life as fully as possible with what they’ve got. My personal motto this entire time has been “Fake it ’til you make it.” I believe that majority of the time it is significantly better to just give it a shot–whatever it is. When you feel inadequate, you fake it. Fake the confidence and just do it. (Nike shoutout.)
Now I bid a bitter-sweet farewell to my mountain-shrouded comfort place and turn to a high-rise skyline. (Well, medium-high-rise.) I truly am sad to leave this place where I have made incredible life-long friends and experienced some of the most spectacular nature in the world. (Okay, maybe I am biased.) But I know that they only way to grow is by moving to a devilishly humid location with over-zealous democrats and a reputable crime rate. Okay, just kidding (sort of) but you catch my drift. For the person who hates to sit still and yearns to learn, this is the experience I need.
Every day I have fallen more in love with my chosen career path, and every day the costs are decidedly more worth it. So, here is to a truck load of new adventures and two years of faking it. It’s gonna be hard but it’s gonna be good.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” –Mark Twain (One of my favorites)