The best way to describe the past year is to compare it to riding a roller coaster. Once you settle in and buckle your seat belt, you've got to ride, right? There are twists and turns, a climb, and a drop -- and you scream or cry (or both). But you hang on and maybe you even try to enjoy it. And before you can catch your breath, it's over. This year was much the same. It was the ride of a lifetime.
I went from full-time employment to full-time graduate student and completed my Masters degree in one year. But the truth is, it took me years to get there.
I'd dreamed about the University of Alabama's Community Journalism program for years, but I always let fear keep me from applying. I thought I was too old to go for it--but the truth is, I was too complacent. I had a pretty stable job with a good salary and great benefits. I had a routine, and I was comfortable. Who would give that up to pursue a dream?
But I couldn't let go of the idea. To be honest, becoming an aunt had a lot to do with it. I wanted to be the type of woman my niece would look up to, the way I look up to my mother and aunts. I wanted her to believe me when I say, "You can do and be anything if you apply yourself." But I wasn't living that in my own life.
I knew I wanted more for myself, so I began with PRAYER. I prayed for and about everything: for guidance in knowing whether I should leave my job, to scoring well on the GRE, to being accepted into the program and to finish strong, even if I had to crawl across the stage at graduation. I prayed for the courage to endure whatever would come (graduate school is NOT easy, for a multitude of reasons I won't go into here).
Then I began to PLAN. I planned EVERYTHING. Although my program paid part of my tuition and provided a stipend and health insurance, it wouldn't coverall of my living expenses. I made a budget for the entire year, so that I knew exactly how much money I needed for essentials like tuition, supplies, rent, gas, food and bills -- down to medicine, miscellaneous items and even a few "treats." I scaled back on entertainment, travel, "beautifying" and any unnecessary habits or purchases (bye bye, random Target runs). I also eliminated all credit card debt! My plan didn't stop there. I planned my outfits and meals in advance to save time, and shopped for deals on almost everything to save money (hello, eBay, Poshmark and couponing). The year involved a two-hour daily commute and that required planning my travel. So I consulted the weather reports each evening and traffic reports early every morning (via Twitter) to know what I might be facing the next day.
Finally I went in PURSUIT of my goal. Yes, it was scary quitting my job. And yes, I had second and third thoughts. Yes, I felt like I was in Oz being back on a college campus. Yes, I worried about fitting in, making friends and making good grades. Yes, taking five classes each semester and completing two internships in a year was exhausting. But I made the commitment and I stuck to it. When I was afraid, I pushed through. When I was angry, I pushed through. When things went wrong (hello, two computer crashes and a fake fire drill in the library--the night before my major project was due), I pushed through. I counted down the days with gratitude and thanked God for every bit of the experience --even the hard parts -- because He answered my prayers beyond what I had asked or dreamed.
Finally--and perhaps most importantly--I found my PEP SQUAD. They're the people who held me down, had my back and kept me focused, and who bolstered me when things looked bleak. To do this, you will need sounding boards -- family members and REAL friends -- who will know to ask if you're eating, if you're getting enough sleep (NO) and if you just need a hug. They'll listen while you cry and provide advice when you face tough situations. You need these people year-round. But when you take a leap of faith, you need them even more.
I've graduated now, and am enjoying a rest before embracing into my next adventure. The faith and strength I've gained were worth every tear shed and every late or sleepless night. I'm different now: stronger, happier and at peace with myself. With a little bit of faith (which is all it takes) and a ton of support, I did the thing I thought I could NEVER do. Graduate school changed me -- and really, that was the whole point.
The same can be true for you.
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