On Graduate Destiny & Academic Disenchantment
was five years old when I decided I wanted to go to grad school. I remember walking through a tiny little park near our flat in the center of Chicago with my mom, holding her hand and happily telling her about how much I loved school. It was one of our rare Sunday afternoons together, and while she was happy to listen to me, she was quick to encourage. "What's the furthest you can go in school?" I asked, and I learned about masters and doctorates.
It was then that I resolved that if that was the furthest you could go, that's where I would direct myself.
I made my mind up then, and in the years that followed, whenever I imagined my future, I saw myself surrounded by books. I didn't know what I wanted to do, didn't come to terms with the fact that the only thing for me was academia until my third year of university, but all I could ever see myself doing was studying. It's what I pictured when I looked ahead, dreaming of books and accomplishments, jobs and marriage and babies rarely entering my head.
So when I finished my degree in Comp Lit and English in 2014, that I would go straight into grad school was never in question. In fact, I started following MA classes before I even validated the last of my BA credits. I was eager to go on, to progress to the next level. To be one step closer to being a doctoral student, and – not to be too dramatic – to fulfilling my destiny.
It was the only thing I could imagine doing, and the only thing I couldn't get enough of.
The one thing, though, that I never predicted was burning out. I read and I read and I read and then suddenly I didn't want to read anymore. I went through over five years of higher education, and then I panicked. I started writing a research paper that I hated, delved into a topic that made me sick, and after pushing through for three dark months, I hit a wall. I underperformed with some projects, excelled at others, and I realized I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, what I wanted to specialize in, what I needed to drop, and I felt the need to pause.
And I did. An opportunity I'd counted on seemed to disappear, and I decided to take advantage of it to slow down and recalibrate. I scrapped my thesis project, dropped classes I didn't like, and I even stopped reading for a couple of weeks.
I paused my academic life, and I started to breathe again. I spent time with my family, my friends, my boyfriend. I slept. I ate whatever I wanted to eat. And then slowly, I started to pick up books again... I resolved to only pick those I wanted to read. I picked what I wanted to pick, and suddenly my appetite came back. I started reading faster, started enjoying my books. I found myself gravitating towards the era I'd always gravitated towards before detouring last year, and suddenly I was going through books with an ease that I thought I'd lost for good.
I still don't know for sure what comes next, but I have learned to balance. To put my mental health and my happiness first. To spend time with loved ones and not to place the entirety of my self worth in my academic performances. But I've also learned that burning out didn't mean that I wasn't doing what I was meant to be doing. I love studying, and I love literature, and I love sharing my knowledge with others. I want to keep reading and writing, and I want to teach. I just want to learn to do all of those things without losing myself along the way.