2016, Graduate School, & Life Lessons


“Not all those who wander are lost” ~ J. R. R. Tolkien

This post is going to be different from what you’ll normally find on The Gaming Teacher. Instead of offering a review or analysis of a recently played video game, I’m going to delve into something more personal. If you’re okay with that, read on!

At the start of this year, I was in an interesting position. I had submitted multiple applications to Ph.D. programs across the country and was waiting hopefully for response, I had completed a second year at a job that I enjoyed but was perhaps under-appreciating, and had high hopes for the year ahead.

On the Ph.D. front, I had applied to a few schools for the 2016 academic year and ended up turning down my offer of admission. I did so for several reasons: 1) I had halfheartedly applied not knowing if I wanted to return to school just yet and 2) I ultimately decided the direction of the program that accepted me wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. I put off school for another year and continued to work at a writing center, which has been an invaluable experience as an educator.

Despite my decision to hold off on school, I felt like I floated through 2016. My feet weren’t on the ground, and I wasn’t moving in a direction of personal growth most of the year. When the fall came around, I forced myself to focus on my applications for school, and the process of doing so reinvigorated my excitement for going back. It was a lot of work putting everything together, but I was feeling confident by the time I pressed “submit” for each application.

Fast forward to early 2017 and I was eagerly awaiting admission decisions. I received two rejections right off the bat in January. I wasn’t feeling too down about those because rejection is part of the process. But then I got an acceptance! And then another one! I was feeling pretty good at that point and was in the perfect position, in my mind. I had options for the upcoming fall. For my future.

On the job front, I’d been working at a university writing center since late 2015. I love this job, which I’m wrapping up this summer, but after about a year-ish I was feeling stuck. This wasn’t because of the job; it was me. Since studying for my M.A., I have known that a position in academia is for me, particularly one teaching composition and rhetoric. While the writing center has been wonderful for a number of reasons, I knew that I could only develop so much as an educator while being there. I felt that I was selling myself short by not returning to school or being able to find an adjunct teaching job locally. I knew I could accomplish more, but I didn’t know how.

By 2017, partly riding on the high of my acceptance into several schools, I had a renewed purpose. I no longer felt that I was selling myself short because I was transitioning to a different stage in life. I was happier and enjoyed my time at the writing center more than I had when I was initially hired. I started writing again and finished the first draft of a novel-length manuscript, and I started up a new blog.

By March, I visited my top choice school and was excited about the campus and the town. More importantly, the program at this school was next to everything that I wanted for my Ph.D. studies. But then something entirely out of my control happened and my world crashed down. I was distraught and felt completely aimless.

I don’t wish to get into the details of my distress because it’s still a bit too close, but I will say that an unexpected answer emerged from the emotional heap I was in. This answer was unexpected in the sense that, though I didn’t know exactly where I would be in 2017, I had envisioned myself being somewhere else this fall. And that vision was something I formulated over the course of two years. It was hard to let go, at first.

Despite the initial feelings of failure and a lack of worth, I have found peace in this sudden change in my life. I can now say with confidence that I will be pursuing a Ph.D. this fall at my alma mater, that I will be living in a town familiar to me in Illinois, and that I will be embarking on a journey that, despite the expected struggles of exams, long nights balancing grading and coursework, and the inevitable resurfacing of impostor syndrome, I believe will make me happy.

The greatest lesson I learned from all this is to be my own best advocate. I already knew this to a certain extent, but I had forgotten how powerful it can be in life. If there’s one thing I can offer those who read this it would be that you need to take care of yourself and that you shouldn’t be afraid to use your voice.

That’s really all I needed to say. I find writing, in general, enjoyable, and though this blog is primarily dedicated to gaming and education, I hope you can tolerate or forgive this therapeutic piece. 🙂

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