Stepping into Self: On Graduate School and Living Alone
Updated: Mar 10, 2022
“Don't be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.”
― Rumi, The Essential Rumi
Recently, I visited the undergraduate branch of my university for a grad school assignment and felt like I'd been sucked into a time portal. I looked at 18 to 22-year-olds sitting outside on the grass, sipping their iced coffees, laughing and gossiping without a care in the world. It's hard to believe that just a little under a year ago, I was one of them. But now, I feel like a completely different person. What happened? Did life change or did I? Let's dissect this, shall we?
Hello! This is Apps, with today's breaking news story. Here's what they DON'T tell you about graduate school and living alone:
Graduate school is NOT college pt. 2
The biggest misconception people have about grad school is that it is an extended, more difficult form of college. WRONG. While college is about gently gliding over a variety of courses, as you develop friendships, discover your individuality and enjoy your youth, graduate school is a full deep dive into intensive learning and building a professional foundation. Grad school, especially journalism school, is more like a career: the prequel.
You will absolutely miss the old college you, and reminisce about the good old days and your pals, but you will soon discover the joy of stepping into your power and really committing to your life path. You may not be as young and naive as your college self but you're older and wiser, and far braver when it comes to taking risks and getting down to business.
2. Everyone has their own version of imposter syndrome
It is absolutely normal to have fears about starting all over as you embark on your master's degree. I had massive imposter syndrome about getting into a top-10 graduate school to pursue a highly ranked journalism degree. George R.R. Martin, author of the book series behind Game of Thrones got the same MSJ degree as I plan to!
And here I am, straight out of college, in a school with the brightest minds with some of my peers having years of experience working for top media companies, having lived all over the world.
But it turns out everyone has their own fears. The ones with job experience are worried about returning to a classroom setting and feel old sometimes, Some students are stressed about balancing their jobs while taking classes. Others hope this will pave the way to better jobs in a tumultuous economy. All of us hope to become better journalists.
3. You discover skills and interests you never knew you had.
In graduate school, you know everything and nothing all at once. Every time, one of your accomplished professors acknowledges your response in class, or your classmate applauds your work, you feel a glow of pride inside, but there is a lot of second-guessing that happens as well.
My first assignment in J-school was to go out on the street and interview a random person, which was as terrifying as it sounds. I remember walking on the riverwalk, psyching myself up, "C'mon!" I told myself, "how can you be a journalist if you can't swallow your fear and do this! Everyone in your class seemed to find a source." Eventually, I hesitantly approached a lovely young student from a neighboring college on her lunch break and had a great chat.
Once I did it, it didn't feel as hard. I felt empowered. I walked back with a pep in my step, knowing I had accomplished something that day, however small it seemed.
Small victories count for a lot in graduate school— your first A on your first photo essay, anytime you find the perfect source who is willing to interview, and coming up with the perfect story. It makes you realize why you love what you do despite everything.
4. Purpose is more important than ever
As I approached graduation, I started feeling like I was outgrowing who I was. What was once fun, now seemed like stagnancy and dysfunctional patterns. I didn't feel creatively fulfilled and felt farther away from the things I stood for. So, I bided my time while setting a foundation towards my purpose.
The term "purpose" can make people confused or defensive if they're unable (or unwilling) to question the things they're used to. Search for a purpose is often seen as unrealistic, lofty, or mistaken with unhappiness with one's life. I disagree completely.
In fact, the happier you become and the more you grow, the more you realize the importance of finding and working towards your purpose. Life isn't just about surviving. It's about LIVING. For ourselves, and for others (For more, read: Finding a purpose: To need or not to need?)
In grad school, having a purpose isn't just understood, it is actively encouraged. Some students want to work towards mental health. Some want to work to make entertainment more accessible. Others want to call out structural inequalities. A purpose doesn't have to be seen as some delusion of grandeur, it's simply making a difference in our own way.
5. Living alone is eye-opening!
Living alone usually evokes two images: The independent woman who struts into her apartment, stares at the view in front of her and sighs contentedly, or the person huddled under the covers all alone, twitching nervously every time they hear any little sound. The truth is that while both those situations could happen, the reality is more complex.
Everyone should have a phase in their life when they live alone (if time/resources allow it). Even if it's just for a few days. Solitude isn't just recommended, it's needed. There's a reason why hermits are so revered for their wisdom. Introspective reflection opens you up to a whole new way of life.
You trust yourself more. You read. You cook and experiment with new dishes, and that first bite of food is somehow more delicious than anything you've ever made because YOU made it. You work out, well, more than you used to anyway! You go on walks, and savor the breeze, the hustle and bustle of people and the Starbucks cup you nonchalantly sip, feeling like the main character. You call family and friends. You study.
You do what YOU want. No one holds you accountable but you. Yes, it's not roses and sunshine, but then again, nothing in life ever is. I do know though, that the feeling of being in control of your destiny is unbeatable.
The reason people are so hesitant towards living alone is because they confuse solitude with loneliness. I get it. I'm pretty social and that's why I've always opted to live with a roommate. But, now I'm in a field where I'm always around people, so to come back and unwind in my own space is HEAVENLY.
Being your own person while dancing around the apartment isn't just in the movies, it actually happens!
I received an interesting compliment recently from my college professor. She said, "a great thing about you is your curiosity about life and people." At the time, I was a little baffled. "Isn't that true of most people?," I said but then realized as soon as I asked the question, it was not.
I think innate curiosity is a boon and bane. It's great for my field, provides creative fuel, and keeps me challenged. But it's easy to get lost in other people's stories and forget you have your own. Sometimes it's good to extend curiosity to yourself because there's more to your potential than you think.
Think about it this way: If today was your last day, and your life up to this point was to be published, would you be happy with the story? Or would there be more you wish you'd done? Been more honest? Ticked off more things from your bucket list? called out disrespect more often? Written more? Read more? Forgiven more? Talked more to people you cared about? Danced more? Believed in yourself more?
The good news is we have time. So let's begin living a story we'd be proud to read, even when it's uncomfortable to take that first step towards change (and no, that's not just the journalist in me talking ;) )