Category Archives: Grad school

Preparing to live vs. being alive

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to prepare to live instead of living one’s life. A number of bloggers have touched on this topic recently. It might be that we put off something that we want to do because we think we can do it when we are done with something else. Or it might be that we’re afraid to take a leap or follow a dream or an intuition or a passion. It could be a number of things, really, that keep us from being content and peaceful and alive in the moment.

Some time around my birthday, I realized I was actually living my life again. I thought about the moment when I stopped living my life. It happened some time after college, I think. Maybe that’s what my quarter life crisis was. It wasn’t so much that I had a crisis so much as I just ceased to exist. I was nowhere to be found. My family, my friends, my enemies, my lovers, my exes, my coworkers… my past… sometimes even my present… they were in there, but I wasn’t. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I wasn’t so much alive for myself as I was alive for others. Then I spent probably five years preparing to live my life. I have written about my choice to go back to school and how my first year of grad school changed my life. It did. But it was all leading up to something else. I was waiting for the next thing and just called it preparation. Spending those last few months with my grandmother also changed my life. It changed me in more ways than I could ever express. It’s almost like losing her set a fire in me.

I continued to trudge along, doing what I was supposed to do. School, work, school, work. On and on it went. On and on I went. I knew that all of this was worth it because there was a light at the end of the tunnel. That light was a job I loved, stability, happiness, flexibility, a dog, and no student loan debt. Somewhere in all the preparations I was making for my future, I forgot to be alive. It isn’t that I haven’t been happy or that I wasn’t fulfilled. I am incredibly fortunate and have lived a great life. I love where I am and who I am and I am happy with the path I chose. It isn’t always easy to be in grad school full time, but whose life is always easy?

Things have felt more natural, less stressful, and downright peaceful for a little over a month now. I’m incredibly busy, but it just feels… different. I feel different. (And it isn’t just because of that one thing going on right now, which some of you know about.)

The moment I started taking care of myself again was the moment I started feeling alive. I can’t pinpoint the moment exactly. Maybe it was a series of moments leading up to the day I was accepted in the PhD program or the day I signed the lease on my new apartment. And those moments led to other moments that led to a series of breakdowns in November and December.

Maybe it happened the moment I defended my Master’s thesis. In that moment, I realized I could do just about anything when I work hard enough. I also realized it came with a price and it was time to choose. Either I could keep pushing myself to the brink of exhaustion just so I can prepare for this future life while I lost myself. Or I could slow down, breathe, and find my way again. I think when I finished my thesis, I let go of the need to prepare. I made a conscious decision to no longer put pressure on myself to be everything to everyone. A load was lifted and I started living. I chose to eat healthier, to work out with a trainer, and to start online dating. I started living for myself. Maybe that is why I feel so calm.

~~~

We can smile, breathe, walk, and eat our meals in a way that allows us to be in touch with the abundance of happiness that is available. We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house, and so on. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive. Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment.
~Thich Nhat Hanh~

Grad school is where you go to suck at the only thing you’ve ever been good at (i.e., school)

Tonight I finished my latest Program of Study. I typed out all the classes I’ve taken, the classes I plan (need) to take, and the timeline associated with my Comprehensive exams. As I typed out my short term and long term goals, I couldn’t help but pause and reflect on a few things. What classes excited me despite the challenge? What classes made me feel like this is what I want to do for the rest of my life? What classes will eventually lead to my area of focus for Comps?

Then I thought about why I feel quite different from most of my cohort. Why do I not enjoy writing paper after paper, conducting experiment after experiment, or presenting at conference after conference? Why do I not give a rat’s ass if I ever get my work published? Why do I not go above and beyond what is required of me on an assignment or paper? Why do I feel like I do not belong in this group? I can count on one hand the people to whom I relate most. I still consider the other members of my cohort friends, but we have less in common.

I find more and more these days that my overall goals for grad school do not align with the goals of some other grad students.

Someone in my lab posted this on Facebook (she is also a friend):

Today. On one hand, I did a great job presenting my work in a meeting and it made me feel really good about my intellectual abilities. On the other hand, my thesis is reminding me how much I suck as a person. How very Libra of today.

Someone else in my program replied:

Grad school is where you go to suck at the only thing you’ve ever been good at (i.e., school).

I told my lab mate and friend she is awesome and that in grad school we feel a constant internal tug of war about whether we are good enough. We are expected to be good at ALL of it. When we aren’t, we’re failures.

Then I wrote:

I have to say, school isn’t the one thing I’ve ever been good at and this could explain why I feel like I don’t fit in with everyone. […] I wasn’t great in school. I’d say above average, but not like most of you guys. It’s more like I’m the girl who loved school, but wasn’t super awesome at it.

I sat there looking at what I’d just word vomited onto this person’s Facebook status.

What am I talking about? I WAS great in school. In fact, I was damn great. Sure, I always read slower than the smart kids. I had crippling social anxiety that kept me from excelling in a many ways. I felt like I was always one step behind even though I was always in advanced classes. I don’t have a high IQ. Nope. I score low on standardized tests. On paper, I’m 100% average. AVERAGE. Maybe a little above average, but not by much. I pushed myself because I love learning. I love it so much. Effort. I worked hard. The more I know, the more whole I feel as a human being. Seeking knowledge internally and externally is probably what one would call a passion. It moves me. It fulfills me. It is part of me. Knowledge. I crave it. When I can’t find an answer, I long for it and seek it out to the best of my ability.

When there is no answer? Sometimes, knowing there is no answer is the greatest knowledge of all.

I’m content with the knowledge that I don’t have the answers, but only after I’ve climbed in so deep I can barely find my way out. Then there’s the whole thing where I can’t see black and white. Everything is gray to me. Almost everything. Gray gray gray. I become upset and confused and sometimes angry when people only see one side of a coin. The world is complex. Yes, patterns emerge in the chaos, but ultimately, all this… this Universe… is complex.

Grad school has opened my world and my mind up in so many ways that undergrad and the “real world” never could. There are resources, methods of research, and contacts we just don’t know about until we reach this level of education. (And please remember, I’m talking about Doctoral programs, not any other kind of graduate program when I make these statements.) Without grad school, I wouldn’t even be pursuing a career in Human Factors. I wouldn’t be who I am, where I am today.

So it sounds like I would be the perfect grad student, right?

Not so much.

To come full circle, that quote above?

Grad school is where you go to suck at the only thing you’ve ever been good at (i.e., school).

I don’t feel like this applies to me.

Sometime last semester, I realized this world of academia is not for me.  I feel inadequate more often that not. Even though I am good at presenting my work or teaching other (so I’ve been told), I don’t like it. I’m usually in the bottom of my classes. I don’t enjoy collecting data or sitting in my lab hour after hour running undergraduates through experiments. I don’t eat, breathe, and dream about school. It’s part of my life, part of my day, and it is ultimately a means to an end. I do not identify with most of my fellow grad students. Eventually, I will escape the Ivory Tower. But until I do, I know deep down that I made a commitment to myself and to my goals. I chose to stick with it and I will. It is where I need to be so I can ultimately do the work that will make my heart the happiest. The work that will sustain me.

I have passions beyond school. Some of these passions are related to my studies, but others are not. I can list off the top of my head at least six talents, skills, or abilities I have beyond “being good at school.” I could be using one of those to make a living right now. I will always seek out knowledge. I will always be curious. I will always want to surround myself with other bright, shining, knowledge-seeking individuals. I will always want to make some contribution, something worthwhile and fulfilling.

But I would be willing and able to pay the bills some other way if I had to or chose to. Who I am and what I can contribute to the world goes beyond who I am and what I contribute in grad school or to my field of study. I strongly believe that.

At the end of the day, I want to do the work. I want to take the resources and knowledge I’ve attained in grad school and do the work. Apply it. I’m thankful for those in my program (and in programs around the world) who can ask the tough questions, do research and teach others. I admire those who answer or attempt to answer those wild, imaginative, world changing questions. Without them, I would not be able to ultimately do what I want to do. It’s just not a life I want.

~~~

So, all my grad school friends: Do you feel like you belong? Are you more of an applied person or you do you enjoy the teaching and laboratory research or writing side? Or a combination of these? Do you agree with the quote about grad school being the place where we suck at the one thing we’re good at? Why do you stay? Or why did you go?

Grad school is where you go to suck at the only thing you've ever been good at (i.e., school)

Tonight I finished my latest Program of Study. I typed out all the classes I’ve taken, the classes I plan (need) to take, and the time line associated with my Comprehensive exams. As I typed out my short term and long term goals, I couldn’t help but pause and reflect on a few things. What classes excited me despite the challenge? What classes made me feel like this is what I want to do for the rest of my life? What classes will eventually lead to my area of focus for Comps?

Then I thought about why I feel quite different from most of my cohort. Why do I not enjoy writing paper after paper, conducting experiment after experiment, or presenting at conference after conference? Why do I not give a rat’s ass if I ever get my work published? Why do I not go above and beyond what is required of me on an assignment or paper? Why do I feel like I do not belong in this group? I can count on one hand the people to whom I relate most. I still consider the other members of my cohort friends, but we have less in common.

I find more and more these days that my overall goals for grad school do not align with the goals of some other grad students.

Someone in my lab posted this on Facebook (she is also a friend):

Today. On one hand, I did a great job presenting my work in a meeting and it made me feel really good about my intellectual abilities. On the other hand, my thesis is reminding me how much I suck as a person. How very Libra of today.

Someone else in my program replied:

Grad school is where you go to suck at the only thing you’ve ever been good at (i.e., school).

I told my lab mate and friend she is awesome and that in grad school we feel a constant internal tug of war about whether we are good enough. We are expected to be good at ALL of it. When we aren’t, we’re failures.

Then I wrote:

I have to say, school isn’t the one thing I’ve ever been good at and this could explain why I feel like I don’t fit in with everyone. […] I wasn’t great in school. I’d say above average, but not like most of you guys. It’s more like I’m the girl who loved school, but wasn’t super awesome at it.

I sat there looking at what I’d just word vomited onto this person’s Facebook status.

What am I talking about? I WAS great in school. In fact, I was damn great. Sure, I always read slower than the smart kids. I had crippling social anxiety that kept me from excelling in a many ways. I felt like I was always one step behind even though I was always in advanced classes. I don’t have a high IQ. Nope. I score low on standardized tests. On paper, I’m 100% average. AVERAGE. Maybe a little above average, but not by much. I pushed myself because I love learning. I love it so much. Effort. I worked hard. The more I know, the more whole I feel as a human being. Seeking knowledge internally and externally is probably what one would call a passion. It moves me. It fulfills me. It is part of me. Knowledge. I crave it. When I can’t find an answer, I long for it and seek it out to the best of my ability.

When there is no answer? Sometimes, knowing there is no answer is the greatest knowledge of all.

I’m content with the knowledge that I don’t have the answers, but only after I’ve climbed in so deep I can barely find my way out. Then there’s the whole thing where I can’t see black and white. Everything is gray to me. Almost everything. Gray gray gray. I become upset and confused and sometimes angry when people only see one side of a coin. The world is complex. Yes, patterns emerge in the chaos, but ultimately, all this… this Universe… is complex.

Grad school has opened my world and my mind up in so many ways that undergrad and the “real world” never could. There are resources, methods of research, and contacts we just don’t know about until we reach this level of education. (And please remember, I’m talking about Doctoral programs, not any other kind of graduate program when I make these statements.) Without grad school, I wouldn’t even be pursuing a career in Human Factors. I wouldn’t be who I am, where I am today.

So it sounds like I would be the perfect grad student, right?

Not so much.

To come full circle, that quote above?

Grad school is where you go to suck at the only thing you’ve ever been good at (i.e., school).

I don’t feel like this applies to me.

Sometime last semester, I realized this world of academia is not for me.  I feel inadequate more often that not. Even though I am good at presenting my work or teaching other (so I’ve been told), I don’t like it. I’m usually in the bottom of my classes. I don’t enjoy collecting data or sitting in my lab hour after hour running undergraduates through experiments. I don’t eat, breathe, and dream about school. It’s part of my life, part of my day, and it is ultimately a means to an end. I do not identify with most of my fellow grad students. Eventually, I will escape the Ivory Tower. But until I do, I know deep down that I made a commitment to myself and to my goals. I chose to stick with it and I will. It is where I need to be so I can ultimately do the work that will make my heart the happiest. The work that will sustain me.

I have passions beyond school. Some of these passions are related to my studies, but others are not. I can list off the top of my head at least six talents, skills, or abilities I have beyond “being good at school.” I could be using one of those to make a living right now. I will always seek out knowledge. I will always be curious. I will always want to surround myself with other bright, shining, knowledge-seeking individuals. I will always want to make some contribution, something worthwhile and fulfilling.

But I would be willing and able to pay the bills some other way if I had to or chose to. Who I am and what I can contribute to the world goes beyond who I am and what I contribute in grad school or to my field of study. I strongly believe that.

At the end of the day, I want to do the work. I want to take the resources and knowledge I’ve attained in grad school and do the work. Apply it. I’m thankful for those in my program (and in programs around the world) who can ask the tough questions, do research and teach others. I admire those who answer or attempt to answer those wild, imaginative, world changing questions. Without them, I would not be able to ultimately do what I want to do. It’s just not a life I want.

~~~

So, all my grad school friends: Do you feel like you belong? Are you more of an applied person or you do you enjoy the teaching and laboratory research or writing side? Or a combination of these? Do you agree with the quote about grad school being the place where we suck at the one thing we’re good at? Why do you stay? Or why did you go?