As I sit here in the history department of my university, an hour and a half before class starts, I have to think about how odd this is — not that I’m here an hour and a half before class (though that is odd) but that just a month ago I was a full-time working stiff like everybody else.
Now, my full-time job is student. At 42.
There are a lot of weird things about this.
1. Most of the people I pass by on campus are at least 20 years younger than me.
2. Many of those people have never had a job.
3. Most of them have never had a full-time job and therefore have no idea how lucky they are right now. Even if they’re working part time while going to school full time, they are still extremely lucky. Most people sitting in cubicles are hoping that if someone in their office goes Postal, that they will be the first one killed. Trust me: Been there.
4. This is the college where I started when I was 18. I didn’t finish my bachelor’s degree here, but I did drink a lot.
5. Students don’t approach me about their organizations anymore because they think I’m a professor. (Stifled sob)
6. Was I ever really that young? These kids are babies!
As I was trying desperately to finish all the required reading (a near-impossible task) last night, it occurred to me that I had run away from home. I gave up the soft, warm bosom of a nearly 20-year career!
Holy Lord, what have I done?
While I really wasn’t happy with what I was doing, I could go to work every day with the comfortable belief that whatever I did that day was something I could do correctly and with confidence. I may not be the best, but I was adequate enough to get decent annual reviews. My boss was reasonably happy with my performance, and there was nothing scary about my job.
Now, I’m sitting in a classroom surrounded by youngsters (not all, but most) and they know what to expect (I don’t!). I feel like I did early in my career, when I had that constant thought in the back of my mind, “One day, they’re going to find out I have no idea what I’m doing and I’ll be laughed out of this field!” Yep. That’s where I am now. Why would I do that to myself?
But after 10 years of a job that left me with constant fear of unemployment, I decided that if I were going to be unemployed, it was going to be for a good reason, dammit. Now I struggle with guilt. I’m living with my boyfriend, so I don’t have to pay for living expenses, but I constantly feel like I should be looking for a job. I can’t, though. I’m doing freelance work, but it’s not enough. But if I do more, I’ll have to cut back on classes. So instead, I try to keep the house clean, the lawn mowed and cook him supper when I can so I don’t feel like a total drain on his resources. (Guilt!)
But the payoff will be a master’s degree and hopefully Ph.D. and the esteem that comes with that. (But not necessarily a job.)
For those of you who have thought about going to grad school, but were unsure, I’ll paint you a little picture. Understand that I’m in a history department, so all I know is what my field is like.
Class is the best! Basically, it’s like a non-fiction book club that meets once a week. We spend nearly three hours talking about what we read. I can’t stress enough how much I enjoy going to class. Even when I don’t understand the readings and I’m sure they’re going to call me out for it, I still love it. But …
There’s an insane amount of reading. I have three classes, so I’m reading the equivalent of three books a week. Most of the reading is really interesting, at least. But finding themes about which to write in that reading, is tough. Which brings me to …
Writing and writing and writing. This semester, I have a 20-page paper, two 10-page papers and six five-page papers to write, on top of weekly discussion threads. Luckily, I’m a writer. But academic writing is very different from news or feature writing. And there’s research involved. I have no idea where to start.
No matter how scary it is, it’s still better than being back in that cubicle, cussing at my computer. You might want to remind me of this in a month or two.