A Me Away from School

Do you realize that we spend approximately 20 years in some type of school setting? Daycare, pre-k, elementary school, junior high school, high school, college, and beyond (if you’re pursuing a higher degree). If we live up to 100, that’s a fifth of our lives!

Beyond that, the years that we’re in school are our formative years, the years we learn pro-social behaviors and develop our identities. It’s no wonder students have high levels of anxiety and stress.

I, for one, have a lot of my self-worth tied to school. To grades. To my lack of a college degree. I’ve let my academic mishaps define who I am, and let myself truly believe that I am a failure. Meanwhile, I tell the students I tutor that failing doesn’t make them failures; it is a way for them to learn and improve. Yet, here I am living the opposite.

After years of telling myself that school isn’t as “do-or-die” as I believe, I finally withdrew from college for an indefinite period in November. I tried doing so before, but I kept nagging myself into trying again before I was really ready. I kept doing the same ineffective thing time and again. All for the purpose of validation.

I used the excuse that the industry I want to enter requires at minimum a Master’s degree to justify my continuous stunts in school. It’s not untrue. There’s little one can do in human services without licensure in social work, especially in the clinical sense. But I knew, from the bottom of my heart, I was spouting bs. I’d say I was trying to rationalize because people pointed out the errors in the redundancy of my school approach, but I’m sure it was to convince myself I wasn’t just being stubborn. To pretend that the true motive wasn’t to make myself feel like I’m worth something.

It’s hard for me to take out the school element of my understanding of self because it’s so ingrained in me. The praises I received as a child revolved around my intelligence and speculation of what my future would hold. I spent years being in school being rewarded for good grades and being scolded or disciplined for poor ones. I compared grades with peers, believing that the number on the paper made the person. I couldn’t separate me, my intelligence and my capabilities from the scores on my exams and the grades on my transcripts.

I remember the first time I did poorly on my math test. It was in sixth grade and I got under a 70, maybe in the 60s range, but my standards were much higher at 11 years old. I bawled. I was so distraught and so upset. I also feared the repercussions of a failing grade. My classmates and friends tried to make me feel better, most also not doing very well on the exam. It didn’t work. I felt pathetic and worthless. I felt like a failure. Not doing well in what was one of my best subjects? Preposterous! Impossible! Pathetic! Stupid!

I wish I could say that I developed a way to cope and to dispel those feelings and thoughts, but I didn’t. I haven’t. To be perfectly honest, even now at 26 going on 27, there’s a chance I would bawl over a failing grade in a subject with which I feel confident. Even if I don’t cry, I would definitely despair and my thoughts would spiral into the dark negative side of things. I would jump from “Oh, I did poorly on one assignment” to “I completely effed up my chances at a degree and will fail out of school.” And it sure doesn’t help that I have legitimately been academically dismissed from a higher education institution. I know it’s not because of my intelligence or my ability to excel in a school setting, but logic doesn’t necessarily always go hand-in-hand with emotions.

So, because of this twisted self-defeating relationship with school, I decided to take some time in the workforce. Take some time to get to know myself better. Take time to write and go back to my roots and my interests. Go back to the very beginning of what I want to pursue academically. I hope that this is a worthwhile journey, and that I’m not “wasting my time”. It’s hard not to think that I’m just delaying the inevitable, especially with people from all around constantly pushing the importance of a degree in this current climate.

I have to be strong in my endeavor. Strong against the naysayers and the doubters. Strong against my own preconceived notions of success. It’s going to take a lot… I already want to sign up for the Spring semester. Not even a whole semester off from school and I can’t imagine not jumping back in. I really have to think, is that the best thing for me? Is it the right move?

I don’t want to keep repeating the same cycle as if I’m not learning from my past or my errs. I am. It’s hard though. It’s extremely difficult to not be in school when I don’t have a degree to show for it. It’s difficult because when I’m not in school, all I want is the academic challenge. Then, when I’m struggling with anxiety because of school (not the academics itself, but my unresolved feelings) all I want is to escape — to work and move forward with my life. It really is a vicious cycle… and I hope to break it soon.

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