I had a friend in graduate school who one day left class, went to the registrar’s office, and dropped all of her courses, never to return to school. A revelation had overwhelmed her during the lecture, she later told me. She did not want to pursue this graduate degree. This was not what she wanted to do with her life. I knew that something had gone horribly awry when I began to think of her. Every single day, after less than a month in library school, I had the same epiphany as my friend. Some days, I physically held myself in my chair to prevent myself from following in my friend’s footsteps.
Several neuroses gave me the strength to do this. First, I felt an obsessive need to finish what I had started if for no other reason than to prove that I had not made a mistake. Second, I felt that I had no other course of action. Living in the dorms on student loans and a patchwork of part-time employment, school became my only means of legitimizing my current lifestyle. I felt I had failed as a professor. I felt I had burned too many bridges as an editor. I felt that I had nowhere else to go, and nothing else that I could do. Third, I felt that I should just “suck it up,” “soldier on,” endure because life is difficult and full of such challenges. Finally, I clung to the belief that, if I only finished this degree, my goal of full-time and steady employment would be realized. That I enjoyed my internships and my summer job allowed me to console myself that such work and better awaited me upon graduation. Professional schools, after all, have very little to do with the actual work of the profession.
Most of these feelings were legitimate on their own. Returning to school as an adult is difficult. This was more so for me because I had taught college for so long, and to return to the position of student was a humbling learning experience (and a topic for another essay). Similarly, serving an internship and taking low-paying entry-level jobs after having held well-paying jobs with status makes a person believe that their life has taken a turn for the worse. Working as a subordinate among a group of people after having had a tremendous amount of independence causes some adjustment, as well. Yet, these were all personal problems that time would presumably alleviate. Furthermore, the expectation of dependable and improved employment continues to be the main reason that people get an education, no matter how mythical such an expectation has become.
Time and employment did not cure my ills. In the end, I found that I had other, bigger problems relating to my expectations about my education as an archivist, about my identity as an historian, and about my own naivety, immaturity, and coping strategies.
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Posted by Clio Bluestocking at 5:41 PM