[originally posted 07/31/2011 to now-defunct iWeb blog]
I’ve had a thought floating around my head for a while now. Say, for over a year, give or take. The thought? Graduate school is violent. Rephrase: Graduate school was a violent experience for me. And it was partially my fault.
As in, destructive. Forceful. Maddening. Severe. Harsh. Tumultuous. Distressing. Overwhelming. Disturbing. Struggle. Marked by extreme and sudden intense activity.
As in, not gentle, peaceful, moderate, still, or controlled.
Thanks, Thesaurus.com and Merriam-Webster, for providing articulate inspiration. I know, it’s all those astute research skills I learned in graduate school.
Of course there were amazing experiences. Of course there were amazing people that have since become true friends. Of course there were amazing texts and lectures and ah-ha moments. Of course. But guess what? I don’t want to talk about those today. Nope. I just don’t. Today I want to get this whole violence train of thought out of my head and move on.
To clarify, grad school did not exist in a vacuum. I was appointed Interim Director of my organization on the same day I started classes. After months of interviews and search committee machinations, I was offered the full Director position. Suddenly, at age 28, I went from program manager to The Boss with seven professional staff and a 1/2 million dollar budget. I was still consulting for a national/federal organization in D.C. and traveling all over the country every few weeks. Then I decided to buy a condo and become a first time homeowner. I had nothing else going on, after all.
So when I say “violent” I mean the entire experience writ large, as in, the last two years of my life in general. So when I say “destructive. Forceful. Maddening. Severe. Harsh. Tumultuous. Distressing. Overwhelming. Disturbing. Struggle. Marked by extreme and sudden intense activity...” I mean exactly that.
My health - mental, emotional, physical, social, and spiritual - suffered and declined greatly over the past two years. That’s part of the violence I’m referring to. It was a violent time in my life marked by extreme and sudden intense activity...activity that was unbalanced and unhealthy. The word “violence” also works because I genuinely feel that I have to heal from the experience. I regret the way I handled it, but I also didn’t know how else to do it. With everything that I had going on, I retreated into survival mode and powered through with my blinders on. There were plenty of savvier, more well-balanced people in my cohort who may read this and wonder what I’m rambling on about. They may have had an entirely different experience and wonder why I was so incapable of balancing life. That’s okay. I’m not dwelling on it and making comparisons to anyone else; I’m simply naming it, acknowledging how I handled it, and moving on.
Beyond all my book learnin’ and such, the take-away from this meta-analysis of grad school is one of a refiner’s fire. Grad school sucked everything out of my life except for grad school. I was able to boil down over the past two years the bits I’d really like to take back. Everyone who knows me knows that I’m hyper-engaged in...anything and everything I do. I’m a busy person and I fill my life with stuff I love doing, seeing, tasting, experiencing... What grad school did was refine my list of what really really matters. When I finally got a break, what did I want to do? When I decided to blow off my research on Saturday afternoon, who did I want to spend time with? When I’m done and it’s all behind me now, what made it to the top of the list of things that matter most to me?