December 28, 2010

Distress and Progress

Tonight I was really distressed about life. Okay...let me rephrase that: For the past several years, I have been distressed about life. I want to be making progress, to be moving forward, to be making the best decisions. Graduate school (and the prospect of boring alternatives a.k.a work) have posed the biggest challenge of my life because they are not decided for me. I have to choose to do them, and they are big, expensive choices.

My quest for graduate school got serious this fall, and I was proud of my applications to the University of New Mexico and Northern Arizona University for degrees in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL). I sent them in around Thanksgiving, even though the due date was February 15.

Then I had to wait.

A week ago, I found an article called "5 situations when you shouldn't go to graduate school." The blogger argues against going to graduate school to deal with uncertainty. After reading her article, I googled around for other people who wanted to rain on my graduate school parade. It's the most expensive choice for people who don't know what to do, it's not necessary for most careers, it's not going to be the romantic time you think...and so on.

I felt like those articles were written for confused people like me--just persuasive enough to pull the rug right out from underneath your plans and make you feel terrible. Then I got this e-mail from Cambodia. Starting in February, the Cambodian Rural Development Team (CRDT--the big organization behind the school I taught for) is looking for a volunteer to live and work in the remote areas of Cambodia with their team to help them learn English. Basically, live in the most beautiful, quiet part of Cambodia and teach very motivated people to speak better English so they can get more funding to implement sustainable development projects in the villages. It's almost perfect. No noisy city or other volunteers to compare myself to. I did the math on how much it would cost. I looked at flights. Living expense would be minimal, the experience invaluable...and so on.

So there I was, my mind boggled by Christmas, coffee and cookie overdose, a newfound distrust of graduate school, the pressing need to find full time employment and adulthood; and a once-in-a-lifetime escape hatch to malaria-ville. The options and distractions were overwhelming.

Tonight, I thought the confusion was going to get the best of me as I sat there eating popcorn, lamenting my woes to my mother. I was thinking about all the unknowns, all the "what-if" situations, and all the lame jobs I could get just to save a buck or two. I even asked her what would happen if I didn't get accepted to grad school. A job, she suggested. I think prison would have sounded better to me at that moment.

Then, there on the table amidst bills, Christmas cards and other letters not addressed to me, a little envelope from Northern Arizona University. Congratulations, you've been admitted to our program. The timing could not have been better. I was so worried that I would have to wait until March to find out whether I had been accepted. I needed a little reassurance that I was doing the right thing.

It's a small step. I've still got to get serious financial aid and/or establish residency before this degree is even an option, but acceptance to the program is the first step. The best part is that I won't be as tempted by distractions like Cambodia if I have a goal. It's obvious that my lifestyle at the moment is not the best situation for me. I need more intellectual stimulation and more interaction with people who have the same interests as I do (those are called "friends"). For a few months I need to stay home, make some cash; then go to grad school, become a better teacher, then stock up on anti-malarials and go save the world.