Advice and Tips

Worried about All the Wrong Things


Over the past year, several friends have asked me what I think about grad school. Turns out they are contemplating going back to school. I have to admit, though, I’m not the best person to ask this question. I definitely see the value in pursuing an advanced degree, obviously, but I also see the benefit of not completely disrupting your life and starting all over again. But I think the main thing people want to know is “Is it worth it?” and “Can I do it?”

“Is it worth it?”
Well, it depends. What is your end goal? If you know what your end goal is and the requirements/credentials needed to achieve that goal, then you should already know if going back to school will be worth it. I think you already know that this option will be worth it or else you wouldn’t even be contemplating it. So the “Is it worth it” question is really more about “Can I do it?”

“Can I do it?”
Of course you can. If you thought it in your mind, then it is possible. But will you do it? Will you persist when it gets tough? Will you be able to let go of your expectations, assumptions, and current routine and adapt to a new environment? Will you be able to negotiate learning and playing by the rules of the academic game while also striving towards the purpose that originally motivated you to pursue this advanced degree?

After I got accepted into grad school but before the beginning of my first year, I started to get worried about if I would be able to do it. For me, the would I be able to do it worries were a result of my being out of school for several years. I had this small measure of self-doubt that, not surprisingly, the more I thought about the more it grew. I was so nervous that I wouldn’t be able to adjust back into the structure and thought patterns of school. I was so nervous that the popular conception others had about me being ‘smart’ that over the years I had internalized would be exposed as being completely and utterly false. I was nervous that I wasn’t who I thought I was, and what’s more, that I wouldn’t be able to become who I thought I wanted to be.

Turns out, I was worried about all the wrong things.

Sure, there was an adjustment phase of getting into the pace and feel of this new academic space but that’s true of any new phase in life. And grad students at all stages of the program echo those sentiments of impostor syndrome. The truth is, once you’ve committed to doing something you actually want to do and are in the midst of doing it, there’s no room for worry. Your mind and body are consumed with action in line with your goal leaving no available mind space for worry.

With that in mind, I’d say don’t worry, but I know you will. So, try to worry less and focus more on the end goal. Strive to do your absolute best every day. One day you’ll realize that not only can you do it but you are doing it and have been doing it and it’s all been more than worth it.

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