Five years ago, I made the decision to go to graduate school.  I gathered my transcripts, went fishing for letters of recommendation, and took the GRE.  I applied, and was accepted.  I began studies in the fall of 2006, scarcely 2 months before I was to be married.  It was an exciting time, full of change, new experiences, and I was bursting with untapped potential. 

It was not the school I thought I would be attending.  It was not the program I had planned on pursuing.  It was not the career path I had tried to lay for myself.  Instead of becoming a speech-language pathologist, I was going to apply my artistic inclinations to my analytical skills, and become an architect. 

I did not, however, do so.  This week, in a fit of regret and seemingly doomed to an eternity of suburban sameness in an unending career (spear-headed, of course, by my “well intentioned” sister-in-law, who chanced to ask if there was any opportunity for advancement for me in my field/place of employment), I pondered the decisions that sent me to SLP school. 

It seemed a logical choice – given my background in linguistics, my high verbal abilities, the ease I feel working with children – and I made it sincerely.  But it followed another, more difficult choice: the choice to put architecture away.  From time to time, as Mr. Apron and I discuss our unrequited interests, we speak of doing all these things “in another life” – his becoming a police officer, my opening a “cupcakery”, my studying/living abroad, his pursuing a life as a professional actor, and my becoming an architect. 

It seems as though my peers have found their callings.  The one who was a gifted flautist in high school is touring with the Manhattan Symphony; the one who never really was into teaching is finally feeling fulfilled pursuing music therapy.  I keep waiting for mine.  I wonder if I appeared to my friends or teachers to have a calling, and if so, what it is. 

I thought it might be architecture. At least, I can see myself doing speech pathology, but I don’t want to be “stuck” with it.  I began to think of my parents and my in-laws.  We sat around my in-laws’ table for dinner recently, and I lamented with a shudder how I can’t imagine staying in the same job for 20 years.  Of course, my mother-in-law then offered that she will get her 20 year plaque at the library next year, my father-in-law has been working for himself in essentially the same field since 1987, and my sister-in-law started working for him 17 years ago.   My own parents have changed jobs many times in my lifetime, but they are not so different.  Their careers have been set since before I was born (yes, the Beginning and End of Time is my lifetime, thank you), and I can’t see them starting over in any life, least of all this one.  I think my father would really enjoy teaching high school math, (as he never seemed to forget his calculus) or organizing a non-profit that provides quality musical instruments to promising student musicians.  My mother has always professed an interest in rabbinical studies, but for them both, the careers seem set in stone.

 As I saw on the couch this evening, sobbing to my therapist, she asked why I had given up on architecture.  I considered.   I had all the intentions as an idealistic undergrad. Though I didn’t have the foresight to apply to a school with even an architecture minor (Who at 17 has foresight when applying to college?), I did bother taking the recommended prerequisites that could be needed for a graduate program.  As linguistics major (with music minor) I found myself taking architectural history lectures, drawing classes, physics, and calculus.  Calculus, voluntarily!

By the time I was ready to apply to graduate school, it was 4 years later, and I’d had my head cracked open by then.  It took a little longer than I’d planned, but I needed to relearn how to walk, tie my shoes, and stop drooling first. 

I went to an open house at Penn.  I filled out applications; I collected work for my portfolio.  And I got very, very intimidated.  Though the brochures say “applicants from other backgrounds, such as liberal arts, are welcomed” I felt awash in unfamiliar terminology, ashamed of my lack of drawing skills, and deeply insecure about my potential in a career in design.  I never even applied.

I lied to myself and others, saying that the program would take too long (3 years + 3 year internship), the field was too competitive for me (deadlines, projects, competitions for work), and that the lifestyle of an architect wouldn’t be compatible with the family I hoped to have soon.  All these reasons may be true (though I never actually talked to a real, live architect about them), but the most valid was my own fear of failure.

Or even success.  If I applied, if I was admitted, if they said I had enough potential or talent or creativity, it would mean a huge time commitment, new ideas, and hard work.  I was afraid of it all.

That’s why I gave up the closest thing I had to what I wanted to be when I grew up.

But based on our discussion tonight, I tried a new perspective. I am not “stuck” in my career for life.  I do have a career, but nothing says it has to stay my career until I retire.   

I came home and pulled down my dusty architecture school materials.  I guess I saved them for a reason.  A reminder?  A hope?  A bookend?  I perused updated websites, scanned for degree requirements, and was immediately disheartened again.  There’s not just one school in the Philly area for people with “other backgrounds” to pursue a MArch; there’s just one school in all of Pennsylvania (oh, and the tri-state area, for good measure). As I looked at the Penn website, saw the daunting list of admission requirements and prerequisites, and tried to begin to understand the coursework, I experienced déjà vu.  My dreams were dashed again. 

My specific dream, perhaps.  I’m hung up on nuts and bolts, on logistics of full-time/part-time, tuition, studios, GREs, and portfolios.  Maybe architecture won’t happen, at least for now.  Maybe I still don’t know if I’d be any good and that will continue to haunt me, but I did have one realization that just might hold me over:

I only get this one life. (I know, I’m Sally Field for Boniva; give me a break.)

 I can’t redo where I went to college or what courses I took freshman year or why I didn’t spend one moment in the career counseling office, but I can do more with the remainder of my life.  If I wake up one day and decide I’ve had it with being an SLP, I can change that.  It doesn’t have to be architecture, either.  I can pursue one of my Plan C or D career paths, if I really want to.   If I can get past the mental blocks I have chaining me to routine, sameness, comfort, and stability, I might be able to think about continuing my education in a different way than the CE credits offered in speech pathology. 

I need to stop looking disparagingly at people my age who are already changing careers.  I need to stop judging people who “don’t use” their professional degrees, or people who won’t finish schooling until they’re 35.  I need to let myself acknowledge my regrets about my career path, and realize I am not done yet.  I am most certainly not done learning, and I may not be done schooling either.

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