I’ve come to appreciate those lightbulb moments that make you pause and contemplate your life. Recently, after two weekends of work I decided that I needed to get away for a bit and go on a road trip. It wasn’t really planned but I knew that I wanted a change of scenery and that I didn’t want to drive too far away. I drove to the next state over and found myself at my alma mater. I guess I should give the background story. My college experience was the first time that I had ever lived away from home. Outside of staying with my grandmother for a few nights, I had not been allowed to spend the night anywhere else. I packed way too much stuff and had to send most of it home. I was incredibly studious and was hyper-focused on making sure that the balance of my school bill was paid. I took a lot of classes and worked several jobs so that I would finish my degree as soon as possible. I lived in the library and sang in the choir. I knew a lot of people but was never invited to a party or asked out on a date. It was so nostalgic to walk back on campus eight years later with three additional degrees and years of professional practice. I had the opportunity to speak to students in the same classroom that I was taught in and it felt incredibly weird but full circle to be introduced by the title of “Doctor.” I was reminded of the fact that I’ve learned so much over the years and as a result my worldview has shifted a bit. There’s nothing like being reminded of where you came from and I think that acknowledging the past can be a way to give ourselves permission to create a future that we want.
This morning I was reminded of the fact that today marks a year since I defended my dissertation. It was one of the most nerve wracking experiences of my life and it was one that I didn’t really prepare for. You heard that right. I started practicing what I would say about two hours before it happened. I did horrible on the practice tries and my voice was shaking because I was so nervous. Afterwards, I just sat with a glass of my favorite wine and waited until I saw the email that confirmed I had passed. It was an incredible feeling. I wrote around a year ago that what I wanted to have a more permanent home base and that I wanted to seriously consider settling down. I moved several times and finally settled down and started working in my field. I started three new jobs and had an entire life overhaul. I’m a bit closer to believing that finishing the degree was worth it in the long run. I would still be paying back the loans regardless of whether I finished or not. I’ve traveled to several countries and decided to work a more flexible schedule. It’s been a roller coaster with a lot of changes. I’m still writing a lot but most of it is in response to my students and the traveling bug continues to bite me. I’m curious to know what the next year will bring.
Getting a doctorate was to date one of the most stressful projects that I have done. I balanced school with multiple jobs, moving across the country, and also trying to have somewhat of a social life. My dissertation class was a Pass/Fail format and there were a few times where I didn’t know if I would pass the class for the quarter. I would plan to get a lot of things accomplished every quarter and it would be so difficult to stay focused and write in the fact of competing priorities. It was the end of year four and and I hit a wall. I was tired of looking at a computer screen, reading articles, trying to sound intelligent, and keeping up with discussion posts. I don’t know what the final straw was but I was done. I wanted to quit so badly because it was just too hard. But one thing that I remember was the fact that I had spent so much time, energy and money that not completing would be a complete waste. Not to mention the fact that I would still owe money in student loans. I realized that I was getting in my own way because I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to do next after I finished. I knew that I wanted to teach but I had no idea about what the next steps would be. I was sabotaging my own progress because I had a fear of the unknown. Once I figured it out everything made a lot more sense. I gave myself permission to finish without knowing for sure what I would do afterwards. After this realization the road got a lot smoother. I finally started to get the approvals that I needed and things started coming together. Within a year and some change I successfully defended my dissertation. I say all this to say that a fear of the unknown keeps a lot of people from their potential. It paralyzes them from taking the next step because there are no guarantees. But in life there aren’t any do-overs. We have one shot to get it right and it only makes sense to give our dreams 110%. Go hard or go home.
Lately I’ve had the opportunity to delve a bit more into a new career and I like it so far. While I like direct practice, there’s something cool about talking about it within an educational context. Being in a helping profession can be challenging because people are always looking to you for help. However, they don’t realize that your help and assistance has limits. There are situations where you don’t have an apartment to give them or you can’t take their chronic ailment away or make their estranged relative talk to them again. It’s one of those fields where you learn by doing and as you do it becomes more instinctual. You start out with a whole lot of theories and information about being ethical but when you finally get into the field the rubber hits the road. Six years of practice has taught me to always expect the unexpected and that sometimes it’s ok to take a break. I like working with patients but I really like working with students and I think that it’s time to be a bit more deliberate in switching gears career-wise for a bit. I like the change of pace and I think that it’s needed for right now. It’s a new challenge and I like the idea of tapping into my creative side for a bit without the additional pressure of someone’s emotional health hanging in the balance. There’s more of a chance to stay in the same location for a bit and that would be nice.
I had a memory that popped up in my timeline of a post that I made about four years ago. It was about making your own opportunity. This week I got an unexpected email inviting me to teach an additional graduate class. I was honestly torn because it was a huge time commitment and I have multiple trips planned in that same time frame. I love the opportunity to stretch myself as a teacher but I knew that it just wasn’t a good time for me. I declined the offer. As I typed out my polite “no” I was reminded of the fact that I’ve become more comfortable with leaving things that aren’t healthy for me or will conflict with my self care regimen. It still was hard because I’m not a fan of saying no to money. However I knew that it was the right decision for me. The next day I got the job offer I’ve been waiting on for weeks. It’s the stepping stone to my dream job and it was more in line with what I wanted to do. I’ve worked so hard to be a bit more untethered and it’s great to see a small return on dozens of applications.
I can across an interesting article that coincides with what I’ve been thinking hard about these past few days. It’s about black people and wealth disparities. You can read it here . As the product of two generations of a middle class family (grandparents and parents), I don’t have anything to show for all their hard work. No property, no trust fund, no assets. Just a crippling amount of student loan debt. And I know that I’m not the only one in this predicament. Growing up, my father worked and my mother stayed home to care for us. She decided that she wanted to raise her children and homeschool us so she did. As a result, we lived in a single income household. A phenomenon that I’m experiencing now with my household of one. There are so many things that I want to do now but I won’t be able to because of my financial obligations. Transitioning to teaching or a post-doctoral position would require a pay cut of about 20k to 40k per year and I can’t afford that. This year one of my goals is to become more financially literate and I’m working on it. However, I wish that I didn’t have to start from the bottom and if I ever make enough money to afford kids I want them to have a different experience. It’s like I’m starting off at a disadvantage and don’t have the opportunity to at least start at baseline. Definitely tough.
I admit that I struggle with the general idea that one has to “qualify” in order to get married. There’s this list of things that single women are given and expected to accomplish before they are ready to get married. We tell our girls that boys will always be there and to get their education first. You’re expected to work on yourself, do fun things, finish school, pay off debt, and get a decent job among other things before you qualify for marriage. Now granted, my story is different in that while I’ve always wanted to get married, I had a feeling that I would be on the road less traveled for a long time. I just didn’t anticipate how long it would be. I was hoping for 25 but now I’m pushing 30 without any actual potential mate on the horizon. I find it frustrating when I’m told that there’s something that I’m doing wrong or just haven’t done yet that makes me unqualified to be married. I see people all day, I’m a good listener, I can hold an emotionally safe place and challenge the perspectives of others in a way that is non-threatening and supportive. I’m the sole provider of my household of one and while I’m not rich, bills do get paid and I travel once in a while. I recently completed the highest educational level one can achieve (PhD) and yet the Universe still apparently sees me as unqualified for a mate. I’m all about doing the work but shit, being alone gets old after a while. I’ve learned how to self soothe and what to do to calm myself down but there are times that I’d sell my soul for a hug and the knowledge that someone has my back. Yes, I’m approached by guys but so far they aren’t ready for anything serious or want me to finance their lives and take care of them. Neither is an option I want to live with. It sounds corny but I want to matter to someone. Really matter. I haven’t found that yet and the older I get the less optimistic I am. It’s just exhausting and tiring doing it alone all the time and while I’ll always do what I have to do, I wish things were different.
The past few weeks have gone by extremely fast but at this point I’m at the end of my doctoral journey. It’s been a long six years and I can’t believe that I have been in school consistently since 2008. That’s an entire decade of my life that I can’t get back. I haven’t even decided to real if it’s been worth it. However, I think that so far it has. I’ve had the opportunity to work full time and live in multiple places while working on my education. But now it’s time to make new goals as the ink on the new initials after my name continue to dry. I need to find something meaningful and while traditionally I’ve found that in education, I’m open for a change. If I’m being honest, I’d love to spend some dedicated time addressing my rotted carcass of a love life but that could be problematic and it isn’t a guaranteed win. It’s a hope. Needless to say, I have to fill my time with other things than school at this point. It’s going to be weird not having a paper due or assignments to complete. Right now my focus is on my job search and figuring out where I’ll be living next. I want to enjoy the feeling of completing the highest degree that one can earn but it just feels somewhat hollow at this point. It’s not a letdown but it’s just weird. I want to start writing more on a creative basis and I’ve been doing better so far this year with making in-person connections with people. I’ve had the opportunity to reconnect and have already traveled to Europe once this year. I would love to do more traveling but most of all I think I also want a real “home base” for once. Like an actual home/apartment where I live permanently. I want my life post-PhD to involve getting settled down at some point and moving to a different chapter that could possibly include marriage and kids. However, it’s going to take a huge shift in focus and being deliberate in creating the life that I want. I’m determined but I need to plan so that I know the next thing I’m working towards. I have to fill this empty space of time.
A few days ago I shared an article on social media about the ways the social work is failing. While it was very thought provoking, the author also talked about ways to remedy the problem. As someone who has worked in the field for almost 7 years, the looks on people’s faces when I tell them that I’m a social worker can be quite comical. Unfortunately there’s still a prevalent belief that all social workers do is take kids away from their parents. Social work is one of the only professions I know where you can have a masters degree, two years of supervised experience, a clinical license AND make $17 an hour. That number isn’t arbitrary. It’s actually what I made when I first relocated to my original state of residence. The fact is that we are often overworked and not fairly compensated for our services. Burnout rates are at an all time high because we can’t even afford to take time off and it’s sometimes a struggle to pay bills and make student loan payments out of the pittance we’re given. Don’t get me wrong, you can make a decent living as a social worker but it will probably entail working more than one job, working in an administrative capacity, or being an entrepreneur of sorts. With mental illness continuing to be a growing concern, I wish that the growing demand for mental health providers like social workers translated into an increase in compensation—like it has for nurses. Something definitely needs to change and maybe the change that is needed is that of a union. While I don’t have all the answers, I believe that this topic deserves more discussion and also subsequent advocacy.
I remember sitting in a chair in my therapist’s office in college. As a part of my academic program we were required to go to a mandated number of sessions. I remember telling her that I wanted my future husband to be able to sing and that it would be a deal breaker for me if he couldn’t. Today I think of that day and chuckle to myself. While I absolutely believe that music talent is wonderful, there are so many more important qualities that need to be present. Having all his teeth would be nice for starters. Qualities like faithfulness, respect, ambition, attractiveness, honesty, and compassion. Life has definitely changed in the almost decade since then. I’ll have to admit that my dating experience up to this point hasn’t been successful; But I guess it’s been successful in the regard that I’m not stuck in a relationship with someone who isn’t suited for me. I still love music but it’s harder to find a guy that will call me than a guy that can sing. While there are a lot of fish in the sea, a lot of them are hiding behind the coral reef. Apparently.