I graduated with my Master of Arts this past weekend! It was such a great moment, especially since I was one of the speakers at commencement. So many people are happy for me and have sent me wishes for success and so on. After 11 years total between undergraduate and graduate, it’s been a long time coming. However, I have this one constant thought running through my head: now what?
Of course, there are many answers: work, spend time with family, take a break, etc. I’ve thought of it all. I’ve also thought about pursuing a doctorate*. But when that topic comes up, I am usually hit with an avalanche of “shoulds.” In fact, I’ve heard the sentence, “You should (add unsolicited advice here) now that you are done with college” more times than I’ve been asked, “What do you want to do next?” Actually, nobody has asked me that. Not a single person.
Here is my response:
- You should get a full-time job. Well, DUH. Actually, I was just offered a full-time job. My intention was always to work more after grad school. In fact, I’ve been working this entire time and often more than one job. But I get it and I am excited to say I will be working full-time at CSUF. However, the remark comes from the assumption that college students aren’t working, at least not more than 20 hours a week. That is false. Many people work full-time throughout their college education, even brand new freshmen out of high school. So, if you’ve just finished breaking your back working full time (be it one job or many) while completing college, pay them no mind.
- On the other side of this statement lies the truth: it’s not that easy to “get” a full-time job in our chosen career, or any career. It takes time, tears, and more time. If you, like me, are in a field that isn’t begging people to apply, you understand this 1000%. This is especially true for those hoping to teach in a post-secondary institution. And guess what? Many community colleges would prefer you to have a PhD.
- You should spend time with your family. Just what exactly did you think I was doing the last 11 years? Though I did have to sacrifice missing meals together and some of the kids’ concerts once in a while, I actually spent time with my children every. single. day. My children are all fed, clean, healthy, and doing well in school. I have my husband to thank for his support during this time, as I could not have done it without him. But what about single parents with no support? Do you think their children are suffering? While some may actually feel the strain, I truly believe the benefits of attending college far outweigh the effects. In fact, many experts have said that children are motivated to do well in school when they see their parents attending and succeeding in college. Do I now have more time for my family? NO! Because now I am working full-time. But you know what my daughter asked me last night: “When will your students call you Dr. Blake?” She is the first to ask, aside from my good friend Tim (thanks Tim). So, if you are a parent in college and have been told this, please don’t let the guilt creep up more than it already has. You’ve been able to find balance thus far, you will find it still. And if you haven’t found balance, please feel free to reach out to me and we can talk about it one-on-one!
I could share so many “shoulds” with you. Maybe some are justified, maybe they aren’t. All I know is that when people tell you what you should do, they are speaking from their point of view. If you feel completely overwhelmed by the people telling you what you should do, I encourage you to surround yourselves with people who ask, “What do you want to do?” which allows you to speak and think for yourself. If you’ve spent too much time telling others what they should do instead of asking, now is your chance to change.
Please follow your passion, even if it has to be done in slow steps or with breaks in between. I know I will do what I think I should do in due time. Now, what do you want to do?
(*Note: I know that PhD programs are rigorous and cut throat. I know they can cost a lot of money (only fully funded, thank you!). And I know it will be an overwhelming experience like nothing else I’ve done. I do not need anyone to reiterate this for me…again. I am not jumping into anything for now.)