You remember your first day of college. The anxiety paired with the excitement. You could be anybody. Do anything. Which is truly liberating, yet also extremely intimidating. Now imagine that same feeling, but this time you are supposed to have it all figured out. That is graduate school.

Starting graduate school is, for all intents and purposes, the same as freshman year of college, but this time, there is no extensive orientation to acclimate you to the school; no easily accessed housing or dining hall; and certainly no helpful RA or adviser to give you sage advice regarding professors or classes. And the most stressful part about the entire experience is that everybody around you seems to have it all together. But let me let you in on a secret: Nobody has it all together.

As I struggled to get used to graduate school, Georgetown and D.C. in general, I found myself often irrationally emotional and desperate to simply throw in the towel. Between bouts of uncertainty and distress, I seriously contemplated withdrawing or taking a leave of absence from school.

This emotional turmoil and distaste for academics was far from the norm for me. I generally operate on quite a cheerful level, and greatly enjoyed both the academic and social aspects of my undergraduate experience. Moreover, from the outside, it seemed that I was doing quite well. I was succeeding academically, had made many friends and was exploring interesting parts of D.C. practically every weekend.

Therefore, the dissatisfaction and unhappiness I was feeling felt completely misplaced. I felt certain that something was wrong. Therefore, I felt certain that something was wrong. I was in the wrong program, or in the wrong school, or perhaps I merely wasn’t cut out for postgraduate work. But the entire time I was making the grave assumption that I was the only one feeling this way. All of my classmates seemed to have adjusted easily and were enjoying their time here — but I slowly realized that this was far from the truth.

I started discussing my thoughts with other people in my graduating class, and found that many of them had also been feeling anxious, lonely and confused. I later talked with some of my cousins who were, or are, Master’s students at other institutions and discovered that they too wrestled with the beast that is graduate school. I eventually discussed the situation with a young woman further along in my program than I, and was assured, yet again, that confusion, depression and anxiety are the natural companions of graduate studies.

This, of course, leads to the question of why so many students choose to put themselves through this misery. There are the obvious advantages with regard to future careers, delving deeper into a subject you love, and the lovely postponing of entering the “real world,” but these are not the biggest advantages of choosing to go to graduate school. The true reward of graduate school is the experience itself.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am hoping to capitalize on having a graduate degree. But I am already capitalizing on the experience. I have grown more in my first semester of graduate school than in any previous year of my life. Change is often difficult. Growth, too, is usually painful. Yet this type of pain is far better than the agony of stagnation.

Through braving this adventure far from my comfort zone, I evolved in ways I never expected. I learned to remain true to myself, even though the things I find important may be viewed with disdain by others. I began to truly value the importance of being fearlessly authentic with the people around me. I re-discovered the importance of prioritization, in both scheduling and in the general hierarchy of what I hold to be most important. I learned to find beauty in the process. Most importantly, I realized that it is okay to not have it all figured out.

This semester has started off on a much better foot. I feel like I am back to my old cheerful and engaging self, the girl who is quick to laugh and excited to learn. Some people might think that this change of course is a simple case of “settling in.” I, however, think it is more of a case of acceptance. Not a grudging acceptance of graduate school — I could have easily withdrawn–but rather, an acceptance of myself.

I read once that “nothing will ruin your 20s more than thinking you should already have your life together.” Nothing could be more true. Well perhaps, thinking everybody else has her or his life together could prove equally problematic. Your 20s is a time to be selfish, make mistakes, take chances and mature in unforeseen ways.

I am not saying that graduate school is the only way to undergo this growth, or even the best way. I imagine starting a job in a faraway city would be equally jolting. Regardless, your circumstances are unlikely to always be filled with sunshine and blue skies. But in those moments when it seems easier to just give up, know that these are the times that mold us. Breathe deeply and whisper to yourself the words of C.S. Lewis: “Courage, dear heart.” Besides, it always gets better.

Rebecca Childress is a master’s candidate in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Gradually Getting There appears every other Friday.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*