This is part 2 (here’s part 1) of my incredibly long-winded answer to this series of questions:
Dear Sarah Von,
I’m currently in my third year of undergrad and I feel completely unnerved. I’m studying Communication Studies and am second guessing myself. My passions and interests are so varied (education, public advocacy, public health) that I’m feeling pulled in so many directions. Will my degree be enough to land me a job after graduation? Can I survive working at a non-profit that pays approx. $2? How do I find the resources to network and find jobs? Do I have the courage to move? How long should I wait for grad school? What do I want to study in grad school? How do I get the good paying job that fulfills my pay-it-forward needs? Will I ever have the time/money/opportunity/courage to travel/move abroad? How do I get where I really want to go? What do I really want?
Many of us (myself very much included here) go to graduate school when it takes us more than a few years to find a job that we really like. Or maybe the professional world isn’t quite shaping up how we imagined and we were always good at school, so why not go back? Or everybody we know is doing it and, dammit, I’m totally as smart as they are! I want a Master’s!Dude. Here is my incredibly mercenary advice. Do not go to graduate school unless:
a) the school is paying you to go
b) you are really, really, really passionate about the topic you’ll be studying
c) a Master’s is required for the field you work in and you are 100% sure that you want to work in this field for a long, long time
I decided that I wanted to go to graduate school because I love doing ‘programs’ that have a beginning and an end and give me a piece of paper when I’m finished. Also, I thought I’d spend all that time engaging in witty banter in coffee shops with people who wore wool sweaters and scarves. Really? Grad school is really, really hard work, it can be quite expensive and it will completely consume those years of your life.
Now, I’m glad I got my Master’s; it’s made me a better teacher, opened doors for me and I had a great time in New Zealand. That being said, I know approximately a million people with MAs in English Literature who are working at Barnes and Noble and substitute teaching. Or people who could have gotten to the same place in their career simply by spending those two years climbing the ladder and gaining experience rather than spending all that money on an MBA.
I would never discourage someone from expanding their education, just make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.
You don’t need super human amounts of courage. You only need enough courage to take one step
Traveling the world alone, moving to a new city where you don’t know anyone, starting graduate school – these are all scary, scary things. And, sure, they require courage! But luckily for all of us, you don’t need super human amounts of courage. You only need enough courage to take one little step at a time.
If you would have told me in 1998 that I would find the courage to move to New Zealand on my own, where I knew no one, and complete a Master’s degree there, I would have turned around to check if you were talking to the superhero behind me. Because that business sounds terrifying, y’all!
But here’s the thing: you don’t need all of that courage at once.
You need enough courage to check out a copy of The Lonely Planet at your library. Maybe a week later, you can work up the bravery to google “tourist visas + Thailand.” Then you need to find the wherewithal to email your cousin who spent a year teaching in China. See? Totally doable! Don’t think in terms of “I am going to travel the world, alone, for one year.” Think in terms of “I might go look at backpacks at REI.”
You should also know that you are so, so much braver than you think you are.
I have been in ridiculous situations that I now look back on and wonder why I didn’t have a nervous breakdown (what’s up, getting from Santori, Greece to San Remo, Italy on my own, using six different types of transportation!) But you know what? While you’re in the midst of doing said scary thing, you will simply put one foot in front of the other and make it happen because you have no other choice. Weeping on the steps of the San Remo train station at 1 a.m. because there was no one there to meet me wouldn’t have accomplished anything, so I found a cab, found a hotel and then found my group the next morning.
You’ll figure out what you want slowly, one step at a time, after taking several detours
I have worked at a million different jobs – resort social director, receptionist, home health care, PR girl, event planner, newspaper writer. I have had multiple long-term relationships – with a golden boy, a charming punk rocker, a hipster nerd, an outdoorsy adventurer. I’ve lived heaps of places – rural Minnesota, urban Minnesota, uber-urban Asia, out of a backpack, semi-urban New Zealand.
Now, I could easily look at all these jobs and relationships and places as failures – jobs that didn’t fit, men who weren’t right for me, cities that didn’t work. But instead, I try to leave each of these situations thinking that now? I’m one step closer to knowing exactly what I want. Now I know that I need to live somewhere that has a Target. I need a job that doesn’t require sitting in front of the computer for eight hours a day. I need a gentleman friend who can entertain himself and take initiative.
Life is a game of trial and error, right? You probably won’t luck into your dream job/relationship/life on your first try. Try heaps of things! You’d be surprised how far the process of elimination can get you!
You’ll get where you want to go slowly, one step at a time, after taking several detours
Knowing what you want is a huge part of the battle. And now you’ve sussed out that you want to live in a large coastal city, date a successful, outgoing person and work in marketing for non-profit. Congrats! You are officially half way there.
But getting what you want, in any avenue in life, is a slow process. Maybe you’ll find work at a non-profit but it won’t be in marketing. Or maybe you’ll find a marketing job at a giant corporation. Or you’ll find the job you love in a tiny town that does little for you. No situation is perfect, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn something from it and keep working towards something that’s a better fit for you.
It’s difficult when we see people who seem to have it all. But it’s worth remembering that
a) they probably don’t, in fact, have it all
b) if, by some miracle, they do have it all – it’s probably taken them a lot of hard work and time to get it
Any other advice you have for our friend?
photo by Susen // cc