Well, I’ve made it through my first year of grad school. There have been a lot of ups and downs, let me tell you. And let me tell you this, too: there really isn’t anything that prepares you for grad school like doing it. I think this is true of a lot of things. You expect when you graduate college that you’ve learned and been given the appropriate life skills to go out and get a job, or continue your education, and that everything will be fine and work out.
I think if I’ve learned anything in the past two years, it’s that graduating college and moving on with your life is really, incredibly tough. And unfortunately, no one really tells you that. There are a number of reasons for that: as someone who graduated only two years ago (and how the world has changed since then, even!) it’s easy for me to look back and say that we, as twenty-somethings in particular, are living in a really interesting and challenging time. There are some really awesome things about living right now, and I wouldn’t want to ignore those, but let me also tell you: a lot of the advice you get, even from someone only separated by half a generation from you, no longer applies. And that’s tough – you start out into this brave new world, and you think you know a lot, and you do, but we also live pretty sheltered lives in college. If you’re anything like me, you had an amazing group of friends, and for me, those people are my family. They’re the people I would choose as my family (and that’s a pretty awesome choice to have); but then you have to leave them. There’s almost no way for all of you to stay together; everyone has new things to do, new things to try, and when you end up half a world away from them, it can be really challenging. Half a country away can be challenging, and frankly, so can half a city. It’s just different when you aren’t living with each other, invading each other’s lives and personal space and closets. It’s harder to stay in contact, it’s harder to remember to reach out, to do more than post a Facebook note on a birthday. If you were to ask my parents’ generation about this, they’d laugh (certainly at me). They’d say that it just takes effort, and at least we have Facebook (because they had to walk uphill both ways in the snow to mail a letter that would only maybe get delivered).
I think it’s the constant reminder that you had something, and now it’s far away that’s the hardest. And all the technology in the world keeps us connected – I believe pretty firmly in that, but it’s not the same thing as getting to curl around each other, watch bad movies together, and get no work done because you’re too busy laughing. That’s a convenience that isn’t easily forgotten, and isn’t easily replaced, either.
I’ve watched a couple of people graduate college since me, and the good news (or validating news, I suppose), is that it wasn’t just me. This is a feeling that a lot of people have – that it’s hard to strike out into the world, when we’ve all majored in what we wanted to, rather than what was practical. Our parents, and our grandparents even more so, lived in a world where the men maybe went to college, but certainly worked jobs that brought home money to support families. We go to college and major in what’s interesting, and pray that we get a job that brings home money. We hope that our internships are funded, that if they aren’t, that we learn relevant skills along the way and THEN get a job, or that we are lucky enough, driven enough, clever enough to create our own jobs, work at some snazzy hipster joint, and are happy.
I think it’s what we all want from life, but it’s certainly what I want from life: to be happy. It’s a lot of work, though, I’ve decided. It seems like happiness should be as simple as going outside and breathing in fresh air and sunshine, and sometimes, it is. Sometimes it’s not that easy. Sometimes it’s hard to be happy, and maybe that sounds sad, but it’s work! It’s going out, and making the effort, every day, hoping that you make new connections. It’s leaving behind your cute, sleeping, snuggly puppy and going out to try and do things. That, for me, is an effort. But I promised myself that this semester I would do it, and here I am; I made it to the end of my first year of grad school. I’m not quitting now, and I don’t see a future where I quit at the end of my Master’s. I’d like to, some days; I’d like to open a combination ballet studio/bakery with my best friend from home, or move to France and farm lavender, or move back to Colorado or Washington and open a goat farm. I think that these are good alternatives, however unrealistic they might be, but for now, I’m sticking with what I’m doing here. I hope it’s important, and I hope it’s relevant. I’m putting my trust in that for now, because I feel like I can.
And as for trying to be happy, I tried things this semester, like I told myself I would. I ate at Green with my family, I went to the Desert Botanical Gardens, I went hiking at least once every month, I finished knitting a pair of socks (that only required motivation because knitting socks is SO TEDIOUS), I went to Phoenix twice and felt very hipster (which was too much fun for words), and I soaked up a lot of sunshine. I think I managed my anxiety well. I think I worked hard, and also did things because I genuinely wanted to. Sometimes that included taking naps with my fan on midday, and sometimes that meant getting outside for a run with Sirius at impromptu hours.
I’m going home in three days, and I already can’t wait. Phoenix is not my place, and I’ve known that since before I got here. I hope I’m making the best of it while I’m here, and taking advantage of the opportunity to go home whenever I can, back to the place where my heart lives.