Well, another semester nearly done (being back in graduate school and doing adjunct teaching has suddenly put my life in the “semester” track again). One more semester to go in graduate school and the MA will be mine! One more final and I’ll send another batch of students out the door and on their way.
I realized last night that some of my new Ball State grad school friends are graduating and moving on. I said good-bye to one who’s heading to her doctoral program in another state in September. I was just getting to know her! And several of my Taylor students are graduating. This will be the tough part of teaching. Getting to know students, investing in their lives, and then letting them go. (It’s too much like being a parent!)
I’ve been thinking a lot about the dichotomy of being–at the same time–an old(er) graduate student and a professor of students who are my children’s ages. So here, for what it’s worth, is my advice to my younger self about how I would have done school differently if I knew then what I know now (and next week, advice to others, old like me, who are thinking about heading back to school).
(1) Take advantage of every opportunity you have to spend time with your professors.
I’ll say it. I was terrified of professors. They were “up there,” I was “down here.” They held my future (or at least my GPA) in their hands. I stayed as far away as I could.
Now that I’ve been a professor, I realize they’re just folks. Of course a lot more knowledgeable about said topic–which is why they are teaching–but many of them chose this profession because they really like students. My son told me he was able to talk more easily with his professors once I began teaching because he realized they are just people who have kids and take out the trash and mow their lawns and even cry sometimes.
Ask a professor to lunch or coffee. Take advantage of office hours to have a chat at some point in the semester. They really love that. They have a lot of life experience that they can impart. Draw from what they’ve learned.
(2) Don’t let fear about the future overwhelm you.
I’ll admit it . . . I wanted to be married. I wanted to have my dream job. And I wanted it all right then (or anytime during the month of May 1980 would have been fine). That moment when you arrive home after those four college years can be the most depressing of your life. “Now what?” Suddenly the comfort of knowing what’s happening in September is gone and the future is an empty road. As a Christian, I can encourage you that the plan is in place and all you need to do is take a step at a time. The road will turn and maybe lead you in unexpected places. Follow it. Of course be wise and strategic, but be open to surprises. God’s plans are way better than our own anyway. And don’t be afraid of being unmarried when you graduate. The right person will come along at the right time. Trust me.
(3) Follow your passions.
I ended up in publishing because I did what I loved. At college, when that moment of declaring a major arrived in the fall of my sophomore year, I panicked. I literally got out the college catalog, sat on my groovy bedspread, and figured I’d find out what Houghton offered. As I read through the majors (Accounting? gag. Biology? puh-leeese. Chemistry? not on your life), something jumped inside me when I hit it: English. “I can read my way to a major? Sign me up.” I followed what I was hardwired to do–love words. I signed up to double major in Writing (once I got to W in the catalog) and never looked back.
My path wandered various directions, but I believe God wastes no experience in our lives. And sometimes it was a few surprises from him that put me in the right place at the right time. I’m passionate about what I do. I absolutely love it. If you follow those God-given gifts, you’ll feel the same. As noted in #2, don’t worry about the detours. If you have to have a job at Starbucks or Babies-R-Us for the time being (I’m looking at two of my beloved kiddos), enjoy it, learn from it, do your very best at it. Keep your passion alive by working at what you love on the side.
(4) Stay in contact with your grandparents (or other significant family members).
And I don’t say this as a new grandparent. You’re busy, you’ve got so much going on, you’re doing your darndest to separate yourself from your parents and get on with your life. I get it. That’s all good and necessary. But please in all of the drama of your friendships and love life and future plans, don’t forget your grandparents. Stay in touch. Call grandma up once in awhile. Give grandpa an update. Those people are gone too soon from your life. Just as I noted in #1 that professors have so much to offer, grandparents have more. They are your blood, your family legacy. Don’t regret never getting to know them. For better or worse, learn about where you come from. Mine their memories. Learn from their experiences. You’ll be fascinated.
(5) Learn about budgeting, saving, and spending wisely.
You wanna be on your own? Living costs money. The better organized you are at keeping track of money and budgeting your expenses, the less stress you’ll have when you sign that lease for the apartment and pay for the cell phone and cover the electric bill and make the car payment and sign up for car insurance and get an internet connection and decide if you can afford to order HBO so you can watch “Game of Thrones.” Some of you may already be way down the road on this, but I beg you to be wise. Put the credit card in a bowl of water and put it in your freezer so you can’t get to it without a waiting period. Don’t run up debt. Live frugally. The time will come when you’ll have more, but don’t expect it right away. You’ll thank me later, just as I thank my parents for their good training.
So, Linda, here’s my advice to my younger self. Some things you did well, some things you could have done better (isn’t that always the way?). But maybe someone can learn from you . . .