"Someone once wrote, 'If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.' Yes – & I’d add that if something is worth doing, it is also worth doing halfway & then quitting. It’s also worth brooding over, and making lots of plans, & then going off & doing something else. Having many little interests, amateur enthusiasms, & failed ambitions creates a rich stew out of which you can boil fresh ideas." -- James Kennedy
I’m feeling mired right now, and I know it’s because I need to face this decision in the face.
For years, I’ve felt that if I went back and did things differently, I would have gone to nursing school. Last semester, facing mountains of uncertainty, I began to seriously consider the idea. My school was (is) losing funding at a mind-numbing rate. I’ve been there a year, and I think we’ve lost at least 6 million from the annual budget – and this is a school still in recovery, still facing serious repercussions from Katrina damage. Even when programs, professors, and staff aren’t being cut, the professors are often smart enough to leave before they’re left with no job and no notice. My undergrad faces the same issue – even though it’s a private college – and the thought of putting in so much time and effort into two degrees from institutions that probably won’t exist in five to ten years was a bit overwhelming. Hell, for awhile (and even now, though I try not to think about it), I wasn’t sure I would make it out of the University of New Orleans in time to graduate before my department ceased to exist. Unhappy with my job prospects in the last year and feeling already emotionally overwhelmed, school became a nightmare I couldn’t face. So I checked out for most of last semester, committing only minimal time and energy, and started considering my options.
Transferring is a last resort, at this point. I’d be able to take 12 credits; I have 21 plus 6 more from this semester. I don’t have the energy or drive to start over again from that point, and I would be forced to move. The only other program in state is Baton Rouge, and hell no, I would rather cut off a limb than move there. Commuting is out; the program isn’t even nationally accredited and my tuition would double, plus I couldn’t work and commute. Fuck that.
So I chose to stay put. I also didn’t want to leave New Orleans. I’d been here a year, was on shaky emotional ground, and wasn’t ready to give up on this city or the possibilities here.
Instead, I considered investing in a different career. Nursing would be something I’m interested in. I’d never have to worry about not finding a job – there’s a worldwide shortage of nurses. I’d have an income I could depend on, instead of working in social services, which is infinitely unpredictable (see: federal/state budget shortfalls, dependency on donations, and political chaos), underpaid, and emotionally taxing. So I looked at my options, and talked to several people. I still had two biology and microbiology courses I would have to take as pre-reqs to apply, so I figured these would be a test – to see if I wanted this, if I had the drive to do this. If I was crazy enough to get another fucking degree.
So. I’m doing ok in biology class – I have a 86 in lab and a 89 in class, which I could bring up to an A. But the experience is really showing me that maybe this isn’t the right path. A part of me feels guilty for jumping into this, for looking for other ways to bail ship because I’m scared of all the chaos. Both my bio classes are sucking the life out of me. I’m still taking a full masters’ course load, and working two part-time jobs – and yet, because my bio classes require so much work, they’re getting put first. But I enjoy them the least. I really don’t have the interest or passion in science that I do for sociology and public health. It’s brutally clear to me what a difference I experience when I go to a bio class and when I go to soc class. There’s a part of me that wants to prove to myself that I can do this, if I want it badly enough. But I fear that’s the part driven by guilt, driven by the fear that – what if I’m not good at this? – and I want to bite back and say – I don’t have to be good at everything.
And good God, the thought of three more years of school sounds so brutally intense that I can’t imagine. I got my undergrad in 3.5 years, and I had a 3.9 GPA. I’m going to graduate with a Master’s by the time I’m 24, and right now I have a 4.0. I’m not sure what I’m trying to prove, or who I want to prove it to.
But there’s a limit to how hard I can push myself, and I’m staring into that mirror right now.
I realized last week that everything I was doing was really half-assed: work, homework, studying, friendships, sex, all of it. I hated it. I constantly feel like I’m doing damage control lately, paying attention only to what is immediate and necessary, what is going to explode first.
I want to write grants to fund a more permanent place for me in the work I'm doing now. I want to fund my own research. I want to plan more events for the trans community. I want to have a few nights where I can just get a fucking beer without feeling like I need to be studying for eight hours a day. I want to be able to go on a date, without having to go home after dinner and study. I want what I love, what I’m good at, to be good enough – and if it isn’t, I don’t want to spend now worrying that the only way I’ll be able to support myself is to keep working service industry for the rest of my life. If I keep sinking so much time into pursuing so many different plans, everything I do will always be half-assed.
(I can hear my advisor giving me two pieces of advice, yet again: a) slow down and b) focus – don’t think so broad)
A lot of this is tied up with guilt about failing. A lot of it is tied up with guilt and anxiety and fear about money.
So I’m writing this to let that guilt go.
So far, every decision I have made this semester I’ve been immensely pleased with. Truly, there aren’t a lot of decisions in my life I regret – and being a sociology major, conducting research, and working in the non-profit sector, have been some of the most fulfilling and amazing opportunities that I have had. So I’m looking for peace in this decision – I’m looking for peace in letting go, recognizing that I gave myself the chance to pursue this dream, but it turns out that it’s just not right.
My dream is to work in a sex-positive context for the rest of my life – to work with sex education and HIV/AIDS prevention, to empower people to connect with and embrace their sexuality, to address sexual health issues, to work against the social constraints which limit gender and sexuality expression in our society. If I went into nursing, I knew that I’d either work with mothers or with HIV/AIDS prevention. There are a lot of paths to get to where I want, but I’ve just got to accept that I can’t take them all.
Instead, I’ve got to start prioritizing and discriminating. I’ve got to let go of my guilt. And, as I keep hearing over and over and over in the last few months, I’ve got to be physically, emotionally, and psychologically present. I want to be here, now, not tied up in anxiety about where I want to go next, what I haven’t finished yet, or who and what I’m putting off.
So, starting Wednesday -- Lent, for those of you who aren't paying attention -- I'm giving up feeling guilty. And hopefully, before then, I'm going to drop both classes, and I'm going to start investing my time in what I already have on my plate -- and not try to find a quick-fix for all the questions I haven't even been asked yet.