I had several “rough” days during my time in graduate school. I had so much going on in my personal, professional, and student life. There were a number of times when I felt like I just couldn’t catch a break. One day, I called a friend to tell her about it (probably at two in the morning) and in the midst of the conversation I found myself saying… "I think I'm just about quit school and come home." I don’t know what I was expecting her to say, but I can’t tell you that I imagined laughter would come from the other end of the line. During a time that I was already frustrated, it was easy to be disappointed and even more frustrated. Instead, I found myself laughing too because she wouldn’t stop laughing at me. In between the chuckles I asked, “Why in the h**l do you think this is so funny?” She quickly replied, “I understand. I have a lot going on in my life, and sometimes I have to laugh it off. I tell you, life is hard, homie. I can’t tell you what to do, but do you think coming home is really going to make all of this better? Only you know the answer to that question, but do whatever it is that you need to do.” I paused for a moment to think about her question, and although rhetorical, I couldn’t answer it.
To date, I think that was one of the most profound moments of my graduate school career. The moment had nothing to do with reading a book chapter, writing a paper, or waiting on a response from a professor—the moment was one that challenged me to think about my total being as a graduate student. I really had to spend some time with myself and get back to the heart of why I’d started this journey in the first place. On the one hand, I knew how much I really loved the field and thought I could spend the rest of my life making a difference in it. On the other hand, I had so many thoughts in the back of my mind about the people I’d be failing if I quit. Wait, wait, wait… The people I’d be failing? Pause. Seriously? I was too old for that mess, right? Well… Not really. As a first-generation college student, I had made it to a place that no one else had gone. Quitting was not an option for me because I was carrying the weight of my family and community on my back. But, at the end of the day, no matter what decision I made it was because it was best for me.
As it is evident today, I did not leave school to return home (although I did make it back home before I finished my PhD). I stayed. I stayed because there were enough reasons for me (and me alone) to finish the journey I’d started. While some days I secretly wanted someone to tell me to throw in the towel, move back and figure everything out later, I am glad they never did. I still had personal problems. I continued to try and make sense of what I was doing professionally. To top it all off, graduate school didn’t get any easier. The thing that made the difference is that I became more resilient and patient with myself and the process.
Moral of the story?
Graduate school can give you a run for your money. You may be challenged intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Why so? When you decide to go to school, especially at the graduate level, it’s not just your brain that’s going—it’s all of you. Just because you decide to go to school doesn’t mean life will stop happening. Simply because you made a choice to be a student doesn’t result in things changing at work. The fact that you have assignments due won't excuse you from falling out with your significant other. Meeting with your mentor, fifteen minutes late because something came up, will not stop that loved one from calling 1,000 times. While choosing to step away from a program may seem like the best thing to do, be sure to make the decision is based solely of what it is that you need. Choosing to slow down your pace and going part-time doesn’t make you a failure. Changing programs doesn’t mean you weren’t good enough for the other. Taking a break doesn’t mean you won’t finish. Stopping all together doesn’t make you a quitter. Everyone has a path in life, and our job is to figure out what that is and pursue it fearlessly. Your story is your story. No one knows you better than you, so always do what’s best for you.
Love. Peace. Resilience.