changing lanes

I’m a bit of a nervous driver.  I spook easily.  When people honk at me, I tend to freak out and let them bully me–even though I’m usually obeying the law…going the speed limit, watching for cars/pedestrians…doing the right thing.  I react with lightning speed, and I’m always looking way down the road.  Always anticipating the BS actions of my fellow drivers.  Which all makes me one terrible backseat driver.  (I drive my roommate crazy).

I get quite anxious when someone else is driving, which is odd because I was never like that when I was younger–before I drove regularly.  And also odd since I probably do more crazy shit when I’m driving than my friends ever will.  I’ve never caused an accident, though I’ve been in a few–and have narrowly escaped some crazy shit (caused by others).

So, I tend to be a bit overly cautious.  Once I get in a lane, I tend to stay there.  I get irritated when people start playing pol position.  Which is funny because I’m guilty of driving too fast…and if you get me on a mostly empty highway, suddenly, I’m speed racer.  (And nope…never gotten a ticket).

###

The desire to learn and to be taught is in my blood.  It started when I was a baby, with my father teaching me my colors and numbers.  He taught me a lot of things…things all fathers do and a lot very few of them can.  Mama, too.  Despite my parents’ collective lack of education, ours was a highly literate household with books as the foundation.  I think I cleaned out our neighborhood library in the summer of ’87.

I’ve always loved it.  I’ve always wanted to understand things–to know more–to be more.  And I knew, from a very young age, that education was my way out.  That, if I could fit as much stuff in my head as humanly possible, I wouldn’t have to stay stuck forever.

My Papa was illiterate.  And while he did well for himself, I lived in a different world.  I couldn’t just go find some land and farm it.  Or get a job building railroads.  Any job I could get, that paid the bills, required a college degree.  And so, I made it my mission in life to find a way to pay for it.  Mama and Daddy couldn’t.  It was up to me.  And I knew that from the beginning. So, everything I did was in service to that.  I got straight As.  I took college courses in high school.  I was involved in 23 different clubs, worked part-time, and volunteered on weekends.  I even played tennis for a short (albeit painful) semester.

At 15, I knew more about college than most people I know now.  I had a notebook full of scholarship information, and I applied to everything I could when the time came.  And I was one of the lucky ones who got money for school.  In some cases, full ride scholarships.

But, instead of taking those full-rides, I chose the school that was the most expensive and gave me the least amount of money.    Which meant I worked three jobs all through undergrad and had to take out student loans.  And even that wasn’t enough.  My freshman year, I couldn’t afford to live on-campus anymore–so I moved home.  It was tough on me, but ultimately the best decision.

I learned to be an expert at navigating these systems–at making less than ideal things work.  And funnily enough, that’s how I got into recruiting.  My senior year, I got tired of working three jobs for peanuts.  And so, I decided to get a job off-campus that paid me what those three jobs would pay me.  And someone took a chance on me.  The rest is history.  So, that last semester, I quit the most demanding of my three jobs and replaced it with the off-campus one.

I don’t regret working those three jobs for all that time.  It afforded me some great opportunities and built the discipline I needed to finish my degree.  And it built my confidence.  By the time it was over, I felt like superwoman.  And I desperately needed that in the “real” world.

After graduating, I took some time off from school.  I was in a tailspin…had no idea what to do.  And so, I worked.  I learned my profession.  And I got good.  But something was always missing.  I didn’t quite know what.  So, like I always do, I turned to books–and decided to return to school.  I thought, surely, I’d figure it out.  I just needed to expose myself to more learning.  And so, I got my third Bachelor’s.  And I learned some stuff.  But it was mostly a shitty experience.  The opposite of my old school.  By the end of that program, I freaked out.  I was no closer to knowing anything about the whole what to do with my life question.  So, the week before I graduated, I sat down and made a list of every job I’d ever had (and there were many…I’ve been working since my early teens).  I listed all my loves and hates.  All the things about all the subjects at school that I studied.  And I came up with some trends.  Some characteristics for my perfect job.  And all of them pointed to teaching.

Teaching had always felt like failure to me–something I was supposed to do–and so, I’d always railed against the idea.  But there it was: I should be a teacher.  And it felt right.

And so began a very long, kinda awful journey that had some detours into the land of TFA and the bureaucracy of modern education.  And by the end of it, I gave it up.  Because keeping it would kill me.  And I didn’t want to be jaded and angry.  So, I left to stay–in a way.  I figured I didn’t have to be a teacher, but I could teach.  I could be something similar.  I could still work with children.  And then I started searching.

I started working for an online college, which was at once one of the most eye-opening and painful experiences of my life.  But it was pivotal because, in that environment, I figured out what I’m really good at.  And I could see it even in my TFA experience.  And it became clear to me that I should be a counselor.

Only I was enrolled in a Master’s for Corporate Training by the time that became apparent.

I stayed in the program because I knew it would be helpful to me.  And, if nothing else, it would be something I could do while earning my counseling degree.  As time went on, I started thinking about starting my own nonprofit.  So, I decided to get my Master’s in Nonprofit Management from my alma mater.  I wanted to learn how to do that, even though many people in leader positions never pursue it.  I figured I could consult while I was doing the PsyD thing.

So, here I am: in the MNM program, just a few courses from graduating.  I haven’t done much with that corporate training degree (though it bought me some almost offers).  I consult with nonprofits once in a while (though usually for free).  Still doing what I did right out of college, at a higher level and more on my own terms.  About to start my Master’s in Counseling.  If I get in.  And I have before, so I should again.

But there’s a problem.  Yesterday, I was told I hit my lifetime limit for loans.  Which I didn’t realize because I was told the wrong information.  Which kinda derails all kinds of plans.

And now, I’m kicking myself big time.  Because I should have figured out my life purpose long before I did.  Because I shouldn’t have used very expensive educational programs to stall.  Because I made choices that weren’t wise–like getting a degree in a field that pays NOTHING before getting the degree in the field I want to be in–that would pay my bills and would partially forgive my loans should I serve my community.

In short, I miscalculated.  And because I listened to the wrong people and didn’t pay more attention to things, I’m going to be paying for it.  Literally.  If I had pursued my counseling degree first, I’d be doing what I love now.  And I probably wouldn’t have gotten the MNM.  Because, now, I’m not so sure I want to start a nonprofit.  And I’m not going to work for $10/hr.

There are many lessons here.  And I’m angry and frustrated.  At financial aid systems that don’t protect student interests.  At people who don’t warn you when you’re going off the rails.  At myself.  Mostly myself.  And the fact that I never had the resources I needed to make the choices I needed.  If I had stronger advisors at some point, ever, I wouldn’t have made these choices.  And if my parents weren’t dead, the options that are available to me to make this work, would work.  But they’re dead, and I’m alone.  So, there’s that.

What’s done is done.  I can’t undo anything.  I can only clean it up.  Figure it out.  Survive.  It’s what I do.

And so, I made a really shitty choice today.  One that makes me hyperventilate.  One that kept me up half of last night.  One that almost broke me.

I have a good life right now.  I’ve worked hard for it.  Most people would be really happy with this life.  Do I need two more degrees?  Do I need to be a counselor?  Can’t I just do this?  Can’t I just make what I have now work?

Why am I always so messy?  Why can’t I just grit my teeth and endure?  Toughen up?

And, last night, on the verge of a meltdown, I realized something–I am fighting for the life I need.  I’m fighting for all the people who don’t have choices.  I’m fighting for the people who fought for me.  And Goddamn it, I’m so tired of fighting, but what other choice do I have?  I can’t just give up.  That’s not me.

I make shit work.  It’s what I do.  I built a career on it.  On finding a way.  I always find a way.

So, I asked myself some tough questions this morning.  And it was clear: I want to be a counselor.

The path to getting there is simple: I go to school.  I get licensed.  I’ve applied to school.  When I’m done with that program, I can be a counselor.  I can work and get some of my loans forgiven.  And save money.  And then get my PsyD.

I can pay out of pocket.  But I have to save money this summer to do it.

So, do I finish this degree and pay out of pocket?  Or do I use that money for the counseling degree?

And it became clear.  I pursued this degree because I wanted to learn how to run a nonprofit.  I know that now.  I’m just a few courses shy–and the courses I have left are bullshit.  I’ve been apathetic about the program–nearly quitting several times before.  (Which makes me kick myself even more).  This is no longer essential.

This morning, I dropped my course.  I have six years to finish those few courses.  And I think I will, but not until I’m a counselor.  Because I’ve worked hard, and I should have something to show for it.  But, then, maybe not.  I’ve never been much on pieces of paper.

###

I can’t say I’m not upset about it.  I feel a little lost and gutted.  But I’m tired.  Like soul tired.  I’ve been in grad school–one program or another for five years.  That’s a long time.  And I certainly haven’t used my studies for any real personal benefit other than knowledge.

To do what I need to do, I will probably need to use that more.  I’ll need to make all those courses work for me.  And I need to focus on my new job and do well there.

I’m taking a risk.  But in an odd way, it feels like the Universe has been supporting me by extricating me from situations that don’t support my actual dreams.  It’s been taking away choices so I can’t keep choosing what keeps me stuck.

This situation gives me time to enjoy my life.  I have time to prepare myself for what I actually want to do.  I have time to find scholarships and fellowships.

Honestly, my heart hasn’t been in it for a long time.  So, it’s time to find my center and get real clear about why I’m doing any of this.  And why I need this.  I know I do, but I’ve lost my way a little.  I need to remember how much I’ve accomplished and do more than just remember it.  I need to make those accomplishments worth more than the pieces of paper they’re printed on.

Nothing like a crisis to remind you of what’s important.

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