“I think it’s finished,” I called to my husband from the second bedroom, which had ostensibly become my office over the previous ten months. Then tentatively, “can I print it…? Is it ok if I print it?”
It was a Saturday evening in August and I technically still had a whole day before my major research paper (MRP) was due. “Shouldn’t I use that day to edit it more?” I thought aloud. Since I am a devout procrastinator, motivated by time crunches, and therefore accustom to writing, printing, then running to a drop box with seconds to spare, this feeling of completion was foreign to me. It was freaking me out a little bit. Admittedly, part of this feeling included a strong desire to no longer look at the words I had written over the previous three months. This paper was over forty pages long. I researched, evaluated, and then did it some more. At point half way through the summer I trashed a whole section and started over again. This process took away my sleep until the days came where all I did was sleep. I consumed coffee and tea beverages to keep me running and my part time job as a “wine enthusiast” kept me flush with grape based alcohol. I even quipped that my grad school experience would gain me a certificate in wine knowledge.
Listening to the sound of the printer spitting out my research page by page, my calm demeanor was taken over with an intense need to purge my living space. I gleefully threw over thirty library books into two large bags while bouncing and giggling with anticipatory glee. I finished it. I finished the largest, most consuming, most challenging project of my adult life. Where I had watched all my fellow classmates wrap up course work in the spring and summer, I had been left on an island all on my own. Out of everyone in my program, I was the only one who choose to work on a MRP. It was actually surprising how isolating it was. Where for eight months of the program I would research, write, grade papers, or generally blow off steam with others in the program, the last three months I often found myself alone. Alone in my apartment. Alone at Starbucks. Alone in the library. Alone in the grad work room. I started to understand the monastic roots of a university education. But now I was done. I was free!
I have to say, dropping off a paper of this magnitude in the evening of a long weekend, felt somewhat anti-climatic. Campus was deserted. But the warm summer night felt like anything after this was possible. The largest challenge I had to deal with in grad school was me and I felt like the lessons I had learned to get me to this point were the most valuable. Even after receiving my acceptance letter, I had been convinced that I didn’t deserve it. I was sure that I was an intellectual fraud who had somehow tricked everyone into believing I was smart. You would think that if that were the case, then maybe I should take pride in my morally questionable ability to manipulate people’s perception of me, but instead all I could see was my own perceived fraudulent nature being exposed.
I’m not as smart as they think I am. I’m clearly an idiot who will be proven to be a big faker.
I am not going to lie and say that I “overcame” this kind of thinking. That nasty voice is often in the back of my head, as it is for many others. However, I did learn new tools to deal with this annihilation of self worth and academic ability that helped me not only through this intensive year but will follow me onward. And I think these are the kind of lessons that many people can focus on when it comes to their academic experience. Sometimes there is more than the obvious that you learn in grad school. Being intellectually challenged is wonderful. If done with a desire for growth, it expands your knowledge base and forces you to evaluate topics from new perspectives. And one of those aspects can, and I think should, include the self.
It has been five months since completing my grad program and during that time I have chosen to take things easy. It took me this long to start to feel like I even wanted to pick up new projects. People often ask what is next for me or what do I plan to do with my degree. I honestly don’t know. And I am honestly content with that.