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5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Entering Graduate School. Ron Burgundy Style.

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You live and you learn! Just take it from me and watch Ron Burgundy’s slip ups before you decide to enter a graduate school program.

Otherwise, you’ll enter a war you never wanted to sign up for.

1) You will have no sense of rest and be filled with emotions:  

Your brain will run a mile a minute. “Do this! Do that! Go to school! Finish this paper! Don’t forget that group presentation! Did you eat yet? Don’t forget your friends and family!” So many demands  that create a critical you for not being on top of everything. Give yourself space and compassion. Take it day by day, week by week. Pace yourself and try to be in the moment. This sucked for me because I worked from 26-40/week with a highly assaultive and emotionally draining population, then full time school in a Counseling MFT program, homework, and interning. Balance is the main thing, and please have a plan for your work and social life!

2) You will be tempted to quit your job, or get fired for trying:  

This is at least true for a counseling program. I remember back in the day when I was looking into this program 10 years ago, it fit for ‘working professionals.’ When I finally became one and decided to go back to school, I was encouraged to leave my job and live off of student loans. Thank God I stayed at my job part-time! It really helped financially. I was tempted to quit, but I stuck with it. When I graduated I did not have to worry about finding paid work in the clinical field. I strategically used my education and sick time wisely in order to get through the program.

3) You will be tested among cohort members:

Hey it can happen to anyone! I actually got ‘picked on’ during graduate school. Not to take a victim stance, I had to learn and see the system at hand. This reflection only happened after the fact. Others can and will have a different point of view of my personal experience, and that is okay. It is important to speak up about it for others to better prepare themselves when entering a new program, or even a new job.  Instead of others coming to me about concerns of my well-being, it was passed on to the teacher.  Not sure what to call it. All I know is that I felt as if we were in preschool. These secret exchanges created booby traps for disconnection and distance. I got paranoid of who said what. This skewed my focus a bit during one point of the program and had to recenter myself. Here is the main takeaway: Always approach face to face before bringing in others to speak up and intervene. Confront in that moment.  The best way to plant seeds of contention is to take control and intervene on the behalf of someone that did not need saving in the first place. Playing God does not make you eternally angelic. Despite it being painful, it was an important experience to navigate.

4) There will be times you doubt your place in the program and it may not work for you:  

There were times where I was unmotivated to finish the program. I even questioned the research presented to us, and wondered if it still applies today. It’s important to question what is being said to you or else you will be trained to become someone you’re not. I knew I was not going to be a certain type of therapist they were training me to become, and I found it hard to find someone who thought the way I did. Thankfully we had a creative art therapist who made the program more inclusive. It’s nice to see different therapy techniques.

You have to keep going and remember your ‘why’ of coming into the program.. The real issue for me was the ‘why’ becoming not good enough for me to enjoy the entire process. My ‘why’ could have been answered in other ways (e.g., look into earning a business degree to get away from clinical work as it’s too familiar to me, finish the theatre program I originally wanted to do in my undergrad, learn about image consulting and fashion, etc.). I think with my personality, I needed to go through the program to affirm my true calling. It was not going to come easy for me. I needed to explore to determine my next life direction. I encourage you to question and develop a strong reason to pursue your degree. Think about the people who are subconsciously influencing you to pursue it. Are you doing it for the approval of someone? Because it looks good on paper? Is the reason tied into your identity rather than your values? A title will not provide enough satisfaction to sustain your quality of life. Sometimes we mistake movement for achievement and think achievement will fulfill our inner needs. Listen to both your inner and outer needs. List out the ‘whys’ of earning your degree.

5) Your relationships will be non-existent:

Okay, this is me being dramatic but there will be a lot of people you will not see as much. It was hard to have enough energy for everyone. I had to stop attending a church I loved going to because it was too far away. I got vertigo and dizzy every time I drove the distance. Listen to your body and follow it. Do not fight against it. Your true friends and intimate relationships will take it seriously, and endure the changes with you. If they are unable to understand or have empathy, direct your energy to a schoolmate. After all, you’re both in the trenches of this war called graduate school.

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