Why I Dropped Out of Grad School (& Why I Came Back)

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If you're looking for a post on how I managed to complete my Master's degree despite all the life circumstances of the last year, you can find it here

I often get asked about why I left graduate school in the first place. I only really give a half answer, but I wanted to take some time and really reveal all the reasons behind it.

1. I thought I was busy. This one always makes me laugh. I believe I had recently gotten engaged. We were planning a wedding in a relatively short amount of time. I was leaving my job for another one across town and we were both planning to move to another part of town together when we got married. It truly was a lot going on, but I still laugh because it does not even compare to the busyness of my life now. So one of the reasons I left was because I thought I would just take a semester off to attend to that stuff and then return the following semester. That of course, never happened because I got pregnant with twins mere weeks after getting married.

2. My job disincentivized finishing school. When I changed jobs, I negotiated my salary. My previous job had offered me a salary raise for my degree that I was quickly completing. The new job was only going to pay me for the graduate classes I had already completed since that May, and they would not give any kind of raise until the following May. This made it easier to "take a semester off" because it wouldn't affect my timeline for receiving a raise.

3. I didn't feel smart enough. This is a tough one to admit fully but it is true. I enjoy learning. Most of my life I have done well at school, and for most of my life it has been fairly easy for me to do well at school. I graduated with my bachelor's degree in just three years. I took 24 credits in one semester alone. My grades were decent. Though receiving my previous degree was nowhere near effortless, it wasn't too tough.

All of that changed when I went to graduate school. All of a sudden I was spending hours and hours on each class every single night. I was reading from 3-5k words a week. I would try my absolute best and still not get an A (and sometimes not even close to it). It was hard for me. I started to take less and less classes. I thought everyone else at the school must have been smarter than I was. I thought maybe I had found my own academic limit. These thoughts created anxiety for me. The anxiety built up and up, and eventually I was to the point where even thinking about school would make me tense, and my heart beat fast. I would even feel like it was hard to breathe. It was almost like I was having mini-panic attacks. Because of this anxiety, I started to fail to turn in some assignments on time. Failing to turn in my assignments on time would in turn make me feel disappointed in myself, which would only increase my anxiety. I started to straight up withdraw from my classes. These feelings made it easy for me to find life excuses to go ahead and take a leave from school.

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A lesson that has taken me a long time to learn but I feel may be totally obvious to everyone else is that people aren't static. I used to put too much weight on "natural talents". If I was not immediately good at something, or if something did not come easy to me, I would think "oh I must not be any good at that" and move on to another thing. Similarly, when I did encounter people who were extremely talented I would mainly assume they were born that way. Everyone successful was a prodigy in my mind. 

As I have grown older, I have realized that most people achieve things by working very, very hard to achieve them. As I began to learn this, I thought back to the many limitations I had set for myself in my life--including graduate school. I thought about what kind of message I might send to my daughters about not completing school--about giving up when things get hard--about not believing enough in myself to let myself have a chance to fail at it. I wanted more for my daughters. I wanted to be a living example that they could chase after anything no matter how crazy life gets, and no matter how hard it may seem. That was the main reason I chose to go back to graduate school. Of course, my life was even busier, but I knew it wasn't going to get less busy anytime soon. I also am unemployed, so the raise point was a moot point.

If you want to read about the ins and outs of making grad school work when you have three babies under the age of two, read along here.

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@amyoconn