Last month, I completed my last graduate school course, bringing to an end six years of college courses. It was a lot of time in the classroom, but I would not trade the experience for any other. For me, returning to school was the right choice.
As I move further and further away from my days in class, I’m sometimes afraid I’ll forget all of the amazing, wise advice I received from my graduate school professors. I am admittedly one of those people who holds on to all of her old school notebooks, thinking that maybe someday I’ll need the inspiration, and flip through them once again. I didn’t just learn writing skills in graduate school — I learned how to enjoy living the life of a writer.
“Why We Write,” an article by Jennifer Baker in the July/August issue of Poets and Writers Magazine, addressed an issue all of us graduating students are afraid of: never writing after we leave school. We fall into life’s routines, going to work and coming home. It’s easy to do — writing is very much an isolated activity. After we leave school, no one is sitting over our shoulder making us write. We have to remember how writing makes us feel, how it enhances our lives.
In one of my last courses, my professor put a quote on the top of the syllabus: Woody Allen said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” Even though I’ve heard it stated various ways by many professional writers — “You can’t be a writer if you aren’t writing” and “Get your butt in the chair” — this quote always inspires me. As writers and storytellers, we have the benefit of knowing what our passion is and knowing exactly what makes us happy. The tricky part is actually following through.
To make sure we keep writing, we can’t be afraid to own who we are. Another professional writer who visited my last graduate school course told us to “own the fact that you are a writer.” He said it took him a long time to do that, and he wished he’d done it sooner. His words really resonated with me, since my purpose in returning to school was to finally own who I really wanted to be. And regardless of what happens next, regardless of how many articles or books I do or do not publish, that is an amazing feeling.
I’ve been thinking about my future as a storyteller more and more after a recent interview on BigThink with Dr. Meg Jay, author of The Defining Decade. She reinforces how important it is to figure out who you are and own it. Dr. Jay’s message is to make your 20’s matter: Don’t waste these years thinking that you can’t accomplish anything yet. Don’t waste these years thinking that you can just be who you really are later. No matter what your age, the point is to live in the present, and do what you love now. The truth is that it only gets harder to do this as you get older, as you take on more responsibilities — so why wait?
I made my 20’s matter by going back to school and pursuing the path I really wanted to take. My path may not have been linear, and it may not have been the one everyone else would choose at first glance, but each step was worth it in order to get me where I am today.
I am a writer. I am a storyteller. If that is the one and only thing I remember from graduate school, and if that is the one and only thing I take away from my 20’s, then I’ll consider both the degree and the decade a success.