“How’s school going?” is a question I’m getting a lot now, and I’m never sure how to answer it. Like the spiritual director I am, I always want to know what the asker is really asking. Are they just being polite, using the question as the school-version of “how’s it going?”, not really expecting an answer beyond the ubiquitous “fine”? Is “I’m still making straight A’s” the answer they’re after? Are they trying to gauge if I’m gonna keep pursuing this ill-advised and debt-inducing adventure? Or do they really want to know what’s happening in my brain and heart and soul as I spend every day for sixteen weeks sitting in a classroom full of other students who could be my kids?
But here I am, finished with my third and registered for my fourth semester. When I complete next semester, I’ll be at the half-way point in my undergrad degree journey. Half way feels like a long way to go, half left feels like a short sprint to the end. Only four more semesters worth of classes to choose has brought into stark focus the importance of having some direction if a “next step” is in my educational journey. And let’s be honest—I never thought I was going to stop at a Bachelor’s Degree. Who I want to be needs more than a B.S. behind her name.
The simple answer is that school is going amazing. One of the fears that prevented me from choosing to go to college over the years was the idea that I would be stuck in classes full of information I already knew, and I’d feel like I was wasting my time. The wisdom of adulthood, the university I chose and some solid connections within the colleges I’m attending have helped me to avoid that. I have yet to sit in a class I felt like I wasn’t learning from. Algebra felt a bit futile, of course, but the ability to bring myself from only able to attempt 1/3 of the questions on the ACT prep exam to passing College Algebra with an A- in two years is an accomplishment I feel great about, so I figure it’s a fair trade. I’ve only taken a couple Freshman-level classes, and started getting pre-reqs waived my second semester. I’ve had amazing and inspiring professors, difficult professors, and one terrible professor. I’ve learned from all of them. I’ve registered in Jr. and Sr. classes every chance I get, and have found ways to study things I’m interested in and passionate about—but ignorant of—in classes you wouldn’t expect. My paper for the intro to English class was a research paper on the impact shame and revulsion-based abstinence-only-education has on sexual satisfaction within marriage. I researched the power of indigenous women’s knowledge of healing for my Feminist Methodologies Literature Review. I examined the concept of Self-Care for my “Definitions of Fun” class, and took an oral history from a dear friend for my history class, which ended up being a story of a child witnessing the aftermath of a lynching, living through the Jim Crow south and choosing not to be racist anyway. I continue to be amazed, inspired, curious, disturbed, challenged and interested by my classes and, more specifically, what I am making of my classes.
If I’m being honest, though, last semester was hard. My partner struggles with depression and anxiety, and this fall has been one of his lowest points since our marriage. Nurturing a struggling partner while practicing self-care is a really challenging balance to strike. I had an extremely heavy class load, and we unexpectedly went from just the two of us in the house at the beginning of the semester to the two of us plus an adult son, a granddaughter, an adult daughter and her boyfriend, all by Christmas. I was sick at the beginning of the semester, and was never able to find my footing after falling behind the first two weeks. For the first time in my educational career I showed up in class not having read all the words in all the readings for the week. I had weeks where I broke down and cried. I had to tell people I loved that I needed them to leave me alone so I could work. I had to ask people to cook for me, ask them to bring me encouraging things, ask them to help me do research for a paper I wasn’t going to get done on my own. I had to depend on people, and push people away, and those are two of the hardest things in the world for me. I lost a grandmother. I unexpectedly gained a niece. I managed several emotionally fraught situations. And I still learned, shared, grew, worked, and thrived.
This journey is far from over, and it’s hard, but it’s amazing. What it’s doing to and for me is amazing. I’m finding my voice. I’m speaking my truth. I’m learning when not to speak, even though I know, now, that I can speak. I’m re-discovering my passions. I’m understanding myself through new knowledge, and I’m learning to be confident in my abilities. I’m also learning what I like, what I don’t like, what works for me and what doesn’t. I’m discovering when to advocate for myself and when to let things go.
One of my wise friends recently observed “You seem to really thrive on challenging yourself.” I’d never looked at it that way before, but she’s right. I love working hard and succeeding, love learning, love growing. And school is doing that for me.
So, yeah. School is great. Thanks for asking.