Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Graduate School and Lessons from the Third Grade

The first time I can remember being convinced I could not possibly continue with my education was the second grade.  Apparently instead of letting us just, like, move up to the next grade my educators decided that year it would be a good idea to "prepare" us.  They "prepared" us all right- with talk of bigger chairs and "benchmark tests" and "higher expectations" but no real advice on how to actually be ready for them.  I, as a generally S+ or E (Satisfactory Plus or Excellent) second grade student (except with money... I had no idea what coin combinations made up a dollar), was convinced that I could not handle the third grade.  Bigger books, bigger chairs, bigger expectations, bigger backpacks, everything looked gigantic and terrifying.

I went to the third grade.  Things were not gigantic and terrifying.  In fact, things were so un-gigantic and terrifying that they gave me materials for gifted students.  I did not find these materials to be particularly engaging, but they were not gigantic and terrifying either.  I loved third grade.  I loved my teacher.  I loved my bigger chair, the former symbol of everything gigantic and terrifying.  I loved being able to read better and more interesting things, making good friends, all that stuff you do in the third grade.

Unfortunately (probably fortunately, actually) bigger and scarier things do not end in the third grade.  For example, I was literally so terrified of middle school I'm pretty sure I spent an entire summer feeling like I was about to throw up.  And I begged my mother to homeschool me.  (Hey, it was a practical plan in my brain back then.  She had a teaching license and I was convinced there was no way I would survive).  (Anxiety disorders make a mountain out of not the molehill, but the tiny grain of sand on the molehill).

Middle school is the definition of terrible, but even by non-middle school standards, things weren't really that bad.  I joined the swim team.  I officially made best friends with a wonderful human being I am still close with today.  I failed my first quiz and learned how to ask for help.  I got to be in choir and band AT THE SAME TIME, a wonder not allowed by schedules before or since.  There were three options in the cafeteria at lunch.  It was a good, if awkward, time.

Since I got through those two calamitous events in my life, you'd think I'd figure I can get through anything, but this story repeats itself for every summer camp, every new math class, and every (seemingly) life-changing decision. (Like the crisis prior to taking the pre-pre-ACT plus career assesment in the 8th grade because I thought that the results were determining the whole rest of my life.  Good times).

So it is no surprise that I sat in a grad school seminar today having all the physical symptoms of an anxiety attack for two hours straight.  The people in the room wanted to talk about the realities of graduate school, some of them tough, some of them great.  But all I heard were the tough, scary parts, especially how unstable things can be in the immediately pre-and-post- grad school life.  Even once I remembered to breathe long enough to hear that they were also saying, "You can do it."  and "It is worth it,"  I couldn't really calm myself down.  I felt like I was heading for a life-changing decision and transition I wasn't ready for.  I saw all of my uncertainty become concrete before my very eyes.  (And when it became concrete, it took the shape of a large, hungry monster staring me down).  I almost left the room.  So yeah, I paid an ever-so-familiar visit to the anxiety spiral, but I'm getting better at this game.

I scribbled in my notebook the entire seminar, attempting to take the mangled up thoughts out and put them elsewhere in order to regain a semblance of function.  In the midst of my scribbles, you will find:

Graduate school is just like going to the third grade.

And sometimes, I actually believe it.

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