As I sit her amidst a sea of papers, research notes scribbled on post its that were once color coded, but now are just one bland band of brightly colored snippets of thought that have crossed my raw bleeding mind, as I wonder what one earth I am doing here. I sit back and stare at my carefully crafted statement of intent, each word carefully pulled out of the plethora of synonyms that did not work as well, and yet does not appear to be the right word, I have only one question: Does this sound smart?
Who am I, but a child cut down by every branch that was supposed to hold me high? A child racing through the woods of research – no, studying as my parents and teachers called it because I was a child and a child didn’t research, a child studied. And a child studied for a good job, so now that I finally have one, what right do I have to continue to research?
Research is for those destined for great things – those who can reach the stars with a single touch, to balance the moon on their finger as they climb heaven’s stairway, because they can get the funding to bring them to that gate which will swing open just for them as the moon ascends in the darkness when the stars twinkle like glitter on the canvas of blackness, painted to hide the past.
All my life I was told that I had an overactive imagination. I could see connections where their weren’t any, chased my own pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, where I was certain that I could see Starlight racing me to the end, with Twink holding onto his tail. I could spin yarns about little people who lived on the bathroom tiles, and tell people about their adventures, and where the bad one’s lived away from the others, with their yards not perfectly manicured but a sickly manifestation of orange and tan because as their hearts withered so too did those things around them. As they ceased to grow in nature, nature ceased to grow around them. They were smug. Unhappy. And too proud to do anything about it.
I remember when I entered the workforce, working full time in order to keep a roof over my head and food on the table at the age of 20. While others were in school, I was out for experience… something all the job ads wanted. I was going to get it. The alarm sounds of my modem crashing in the night as I taught myself to code in PHP, Oracle, and SQL. And MSCE was the way to financial freedom they told all of us, and I waited too long, until everyone had one to give up the dream. I wasn’t going to be like them. I was going to be different. And, someday, if I worked really hard, I was going to be smart.
Now I’m in the third week of gathering things together to apply for a grad degree. Two of the institutions interested – okay really 3, but the third isn’t a viable option for me – are Ivy League. One is international.
I’m literally sitting amidst a sea of past mistakes that were right for me at the time, looking over ‘the best that I could do’, which was not nearly the best that I can do (presently). All I see are past failures – which really aren’t failures, but are they good enough for grad school? I don’t know.
A degree from a for-profit college… the kiss of death in academia… it is what leads my degree process. My first associates degree, the only one I could get online in the mid 2000s, before the other schools realized that this was a thing to do, and wasn’t just a fad… yup – I was ‘cutting edge’. My GPA – No, QPA – there … a 2.5. A ‘C’.
Currently, I’m carrying a 3.85GPA at a prestigious non-profit state university. But, is it enough? Did I kiss of death myself into failure before I even began? I never thought I’d be looking at grad schools – it’s not what I was expected to do.
My best friend pointed out that every step of the way I was destined to fail. I was brought up with low self-esteem, taught to dream big until I was old enough to do something about it, taught that sub-standard treatment was mine to deal with and cope with, and taught how to be quiet when I should be screaming. I wasn’t permitted to really find myself, and not just survive, until I was about 32.
Giving into the anxiety, which holds my arms down, makes me tired when I should be excited, floods my heart with shame at the things that people say are commendable…. it would be easy. “I have a good job. I have experience, and I’ll have an undergrad, and I’ll make it work,” I tell myself.
But, is it smart? Is it smart to let the best that I could do a decade ago, mold my next decade? Probably not. But, right now the past seems close and it chokes me with its frozen dreams, raw against my already bleeding skin from where I have scratched away the sensation of crawling skin, which flows down my arms and towards my stomach. My stomach, where the bitterness of a defeat I’m too scared to taste was swallowed down and forgotten years ago, so much so that I didn’t realize the date that I graduated – 6 MONTHS before the date I’ve been recording, or started a year before I remember doing so, and have a GPA – no, a QPA- .2 less than the sugar coated lie that I’ve been telling myself for the past seven years.
Professors have poured hours into fine tuning my writing sample. Friends who are teachers have spent hours combing through my letters of intent, looking for any errors, anything that can make me appear less smart -less worthy. They all think I have a “good shot” and am a “viable candidate” for any of these funded positions.
Without that for profit degree, I would not be where I am. It is accredited. It is worthy for business, for the real world. But, academia is a world unto itself. And it has a long memory. And ‘smart’ is not always enough.