Practical next steps—and working to stay positive

So I pulled the trigger on grad school today. I narrowed down the programs based on which ones I thought suited me best and applied to the one I chose.

Ultimately, I opted for an online program. It’s through a real university that has a brick-and-mortar campus, which was very important to me. But my deciding factors were two-fold: which schools actually had the kind of program I wanted, and the fact that I’m too non-traditional of a candidate for most in-person programs. (And there’s the not-insignificant factor of not knowing if going in person will overwhelm my health, which is an unknown.)

Upon further research, I discovered that I didn’t really like the programs in the local area, and certainly not as much as I liked the one I chose online.

The other factor though is that I can’t really get academic references from undergrad. It’s been 12 years since I graduated and only two of the professors in my major that I had are still at the university. One didn’t answer my email at all and the other one was a dick whom I only had for one class.

I’ve got a mentor who’s fairly highly ranked at Apple who’s enthusiastically writing a letter of recommendation for me. I’ve also got two former supervisors willing to do so. But you would be surprised at how many schools require that at least one of your references is academic. That’s kind of gatekeeping to block people like me, don’t you think? I can see the reason for it, but when you have an applicant who did as well as I did in undergrad, it also seems a bit unnecessary. At the same time, if I did so well in undergrad, why can’t I come up with academic references, even if it’s been 12 years?

I have to watch myself because I feel moments of despair and discouragement lurking in the shadows. Part of me has that tiny voice saying I fucked it all up by not going to grad school right after undergrad. What if I could’ve gone on even for the doctorate and could be a professor somewhere now? But at the time, circumstances just didn’t work then, and back then there was only one school offering the program online (which is still offered but I still don’t like their program.)

My mind goes down well-worn paths of “what ifs”. What if no school accepts me? What if I can’t even get adjunct jobs? What if I’m kidding myself that adjunct jobs will ever be enough to satisfy my love of slightly bougie things?

But then I remember to stop myself from catastrophizing. I can’t change the past, so it’s worthless to dwell on how it could have been different. I have to focus on what I can do now.

I probably could get into an in-person program somehow even despite my lack of academic references. Even though all the schools I’ve considered are significantly more competitive than the school I attended for undergrad, their acceptance numbers are still in the majority–and I’ve got my undergrad performance on my side.

All this reminds me of something else I read recently, which I think is incredibly relevant. Being positive or “positive thinking” doesn’t mean you’re happy all the time. It doesn’t mean that positivity comes naturally or even easily. Sometimes it’s a surprise to people that it takes effort to be positive–sometimes a lot of effort.

It certainly doesn’t mean that you’re pretending to be happy or that your life has no problems. Some of the most positive people also have some of the most difficult problems in their lives.

Instead, it’s that you make the effort to rein your negative thoughts back in (much like I did with my negative self-talk about grad school.) You don’t indulge yourself in self-pity but instead force yourself to look at the more positive possible outcomes. And also to look at the things in your life that are already pretty good.

It’s hard to see the good when you’re always focused on the negative. That doesn’t mean you don’t have down days or serious problems, just that you don’t let them take over your whole life.

I have no illusions about my path. If I stop at a master’s degree, I’ll probably end up adjunct teaching. I know what that pays and I’ll never get rich from it. I’m well aware of that. Luckily, my bougie tastes are like an iPhone replaced every three years (never with the newest model), a Kate Spade bag that I buy at TJ Maxx and carry for four years, and Perrier instead of Diet Coke…not that outrageous. I don’t need luxury cars or updated kitchens or even fancy things every month.

There are other jobs outside academia that I could do with a master’s in sociology but I can’t really handle full-time work right now.

I’d still love a “Dr.” in front of my name, but that may not be in the cards. We’ll see how it plays out. If it’s not a good career move, I’ll stop at the master’s level.

All I know is that I love sociology and I really want to pursue it further. It’s what I wanted ever since I fell in love with the subject in undergrad. I don’t care about the people who think it’s a “blow-off” un-serious major. It’s a real discipline with value and not everyone is cut out for STEM fields.

I’m happy that I chose a school and hope I get in. Knowing that I’m going for what I really love feels like I won the lotto (even though the monetary outcome of my choice will likely be quite the opposite.)

This is what I feel I was born to do.

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