And the decision is…
To stay, I think?
It’s the best I can do, making a decision with a question mark at the end, though I would like to burst forth with certainty and confidence and exclamation points. I HAVE DECIDED TO STAY! But that’s just not realistic.
I kept expecting to land on that exclamation point, or at least a solid and confident period. I told my supervisor last week, “Every time I imagine one thing, staying with the program or leaving it or moving back to Seattle, I immediately panic and imagine how much I’ll regret that choice in ten years.”
She looked at me with her grave dark eyes and that tiny modicum of a twinkle in them. “Oh, you’ll regret your choice,” she said. “That’s the only guarantee here. If you’re looking for the choice of no regret you’ll be stuck forever.”
Paradoxically, the decision to stay with my program came out of getting a huge blow, what at first felt like the last straw. I was put in the “clearinghouse” for next year’s practicum placement. What this means is that the places I applied to all chose other candidates over me, and the “clearinghouse” is where the leftovers end up (both students who did not get their top choices in placements, and places that did not get their top choice in students).
I originally applied with both confidence and arrogance, thinking that my six years practicing as a therapist would give me a leg up. When I got almost no interviews, my sister said, “In student teaching, usually experience is frowned on, because teachers want to shape students from the beginning. Applicants who have taught before come in with their own ways of doing things.” This might be the case with me, as I didn’t get placed at some agencies that offer the exact type of therapy that I’ve been doing (very well, I think) for a long time. But as I applied, the ways that I’m NOT experienced started to stand out in sharper relief. I haven’t worked with kids, or in community mental health settings. I think I am caught in a vortex of too much of one kind of experience and not enough of another.
So, I got placed in the clearinghouse. The leftovers camp. Is this the last straw? I wondered. If I were a believer in signs, having been wrestling with whether this program is the right fit since the beginning of it, it seemed like the clearinghouse should be the trumpet-sound from heaven: GET OUT.
But actually, the last straw had a funny effect on me. Getting rejected let me know something important: This education will be different from what I expected. And that’s what good education is. It’s learning things and having experiences you don’t plan for because you don’t yet even have a concept of them. The 18-year-old who swears she’s going into the medical profession takes an art history class and that changes everything. The 25-year-old artist realizes the value of a steady paycheck and decides to get training in software engineering. How can I know at the outset what this education will get me, and how will I receive what it offers if I insist on it being a certain way?
In the last month, I gave myself real and full permission to move back to Seattle. I imagined packing up and driving north, getting an apartment there where my nephew could have occasional sleepovers, where in the morning we would watch movies in our pajamas and listen to the rain fall through the trees. I cried over this image while walking along San Francisco’s bright and dirty cement sidewalks. I let myself start to plan this move.
And, I realized I didn’t want to do that quite yet.
It’s scary, because what if I never want to move back? I assume I will in two years, but what if I’m in a different place then? It’s still weird to have gone from a 10-year life plan (we’re gonna have kids and move back to Seattle and I’ll start a therapy practice), to essentially a two year plan (I’m gonna finish the coursework here, and then maybe move or maybe stay or maybe do something else entirely).
Mostly, this process has been a making peace with uncertainty and regret. Oh, you will regret your choice. I already do, and I certainly will when I’m up in Seattle next month, watching the rain in my pj’s. But it’s the set of regrets that feels most tolerable right now. And it’s offset by the joy of staying put, the intrigue of education, the stability of the structure that a doctorate program provides to my still-traumatized, uncertain, post-divorce soul.
When I was complaining about all this on Facebook last month, an acquaintance shared that he had prayed for me and imagined me in a field of flowers, smelling a rose with a pile of books and papers behind me. My therapist said, “I think it’s impossible to find balance in graduate school, because it just takes up so much time. But if you stay, you have to do the things that are important to you, so you can feel like yourself. It sounds like your nephew and writing are high up on that list.”
It’s been a rude shock to go from having a lot of freedom to be myself, to having to fit my self in the cracks of time and life. For example, I’m up at 5am writing this post, because I won’t have time after this. Next month I’m flying to Seattle for a short weekend, and will be doing homework on the flight there and back. It feels like there’s a tempting eject button, and at any point I can go back to a life of having my work valued (in the process of being repeatedly rejected for practicum training placements, I’ve told EIGHT potential therapy clients that I have no availability and would need to refer them to someone else), of having freedom to take care of my body and my creative self.
But, I think (question mark) it’ll be worth it to stick through the program. Maybe it’ll be worth it in a direct financial and career way, but maybe in other ways that have to do with the character formation of sticking through something hard, of having educational experiences you don’t know exist. At the very least, here’s my chance to have the necessary human experience of learning to tolerate your own set of inevitable regrets.