Getting a degree doesn’t mean you’ve learned all the answers, it means you’ve learned the questions. –Dr. Jon Grier
If my undergraduate career could be compared to a long distance marathon, my graduate career was a sprint.. over a field of rusty nails.
Graduate school is not for the faint of heart. I knew before I went that it was the right decision for me. However, I did not realize how different it would be from my undergraduate experience. While both experiences shared long nights full of coffee and homework, my graduate school experience was also plagued with loneliness, higher levels of anxiety and stress, and a relentless fear of not ever being good enough (which probably comes with the territory of being an artist). I struggled a lot through my two years of graduate school, but it was absolutely worth it.
In graduate school, I lived on my own, by myself for the very first time. Which was lonely at first, but also the best thing I could have done for myself. I learned (through lots of trial and error) how to take care of myself on my own. How to make myself happy and how to lean into myself when I needed comfort. Instead of relying on other people to help me out of emotional ruts, I had to figure it out myself. That all being said, graduate school also taught me how important it is to stay in contact with your people. Write more letters. Make more phone calls. All of those things help your heart. Reach out when you need help, or just someone to brighten your day.
Living on my own also offered me the opportunity to decorate my cute lil’ studio apartment exactly how I wanted to. So there were lots of dinosaurs and decals on the walls. And I was obsessed and loved it so much. It helped me when I first moved to Rochester, which was such an unfamiliar and scary place. I nested into my little home and it made me feel comfortable. It made me feel better about being away from my “heart” people.
Then, before I knew it, I met more of my “heart” people. They made me laugh and taught me new things. They were also the people who shared my anxieties and stresses from school. They went on adventures with me and spent nights on my couch watching scary movies in forts we built together. They’re now my people for life. They helped me and loved me and oh man, do I love them for it.
For me, graduate school meant an almost unbearable work load of homework, practicing, and rehearsals. I stumbled over and over during the first three months. I thought I was capable of running on 5 hours of sleep and working at places that were absolutely not conducive to my life. I thought I could do everything and say “yes” to everything. Quickly, I learned that I am not actually an indestructible Amazon from Themyscira. Once I achieved it, balance was a beautiful, beautiful thing in my life. This whole experience of taking on too much, really helped me figure out what jobs I actually enjoy and the kinds of people I enjoy working with. It liberated me to say “no” to the things I hated and to leave them, because they did not serve me or my life.
Being away for two years also helped me realize just how beautiful and magical my relationship is. Long distance is not easy, but it is possible. I noticed that I had doubts about my relationship. I struggled with being away from my person, but rather than let these feelings fester and boil into an infection, I addressed them with my partner. I even went out to lunch with a friend and talked to her about how I was feeling and I was really, really lucky because rather than telling me to act on impulse, she told me to think about my life at the moment.
Things were chaotic. I wasn’t in control of all the things I wanted to be in control of, but I was in control of my relationship. Isn’t it just tragically human that we subconsciously ruin things we love when we feel out of control or unworthy?
Doubt is human. Doubts happen, but you have to take your doubts out for coffee and talk to them. This was by far the best decision I ever made for myself, because when I talked to my partner about how I was feeling, I realized just how much I was loved.
Even though I was far away, my partner was keeping the lights on for me at home in Chicago. They were planning a future home for us and saving money for us to have a future. They were taking this side job and that side job, taking anything and everything to make sure that when I was done from my adventure in Rochester, I could come home. They sent me care packages and love letters. They came and visited me and called me every single morning for the first month I was gone. They planted themselves firmly, waiting for me to come home and oh man I can’t even describe how much gratitude fills my heart when I think of that.
When you’re that loved by someone, doubt has no place in your heart. When I realized that, it changed me. It helped me discover that I needed to be more vocal about what I needed while we were apart. That when I needed something, I just simply needed to ask. I know you’ve probably heard Oprah and Dr. Phil say it a million times but, once more won’t hurt: communication is vital if you want to exist in a happy relationship.
Long distance also made every visit sweeter, shared cups of coffee in the morning became sacred rituals, folding the laundry together was the best way to spend a Friday night. Every quiet, simple moment together became marvelous. We savored every second we could when we were together. Most of the time, this meant just feeling like we could relax because our hearts’ missing parts were finally in the same room again.
(and let me just tell y’all, that I am loved by the best person in the entire world, okay?)
Out of all the lessons and bruises and growing pains, the most important thing I’ve learned from my two years in the graduate school gauntlet, is that I am strong as hell. Yes, I am Kimmy-Schmidt-Leslie-Knope-Buffy-The-Vampire-Slayer levels of strong as hell. I can handle a mac truck’s worth of work skillfully. I can balance my life and make time for the things I need and love. I can make friends with new people and love them fiercely. I can make $15 stretch for two weeks (woof). I can get myself up and ready for the day in under 20 minutes. I can work two jobs at once and not kill myself. I can call my mom on the phone and cry about my day and pull myself together for a night rehearsal. I can meditate in a bathroom stall before a stressful lesson or audition. I can take care of myself. I can make myself happy. I can love myself. I can persist onward, despite multiple obstacles being in my way. I can maneuver my way through an unfamiliar, concrete city and I can bloom.
I hope you realize how capable you are too, little cricket.
I hope you know how strong your roots are.
I hope you know that you can bloom through the concrete too.