Sunday, June 10, 2012

On Graduation. And the last few months.

Today was my graduation day. Instead of going to school and sitting in an insufferably long ceremony with my classmates, I lead a Mountaineers trip to one of my favorite alpine lakes. The five of us chatted about many things along the way -- adventures in online dating, the fact that I finally finished graduate school, hikes, and other things. When we got to the lake itself, we ate our lunch quietly, just awe-struck by the beauty around us.

Lake 22 sits at the base of Mt. Pilchuck. I like to describe it as looking "almost primeval." There are large boulders on the far shore -- likely placed there by some long-ago avalanche. Pockets of snow were scattered on the boardwalk around the lake. Waterfalls tumbled from melting snow on high. Even though clouds filled the basin, blocking the view of the mountain, the view was still lovely.

I sat there, thinking about everything that happened in the past few months. Within the last nine months, I've gone from the lowest I ever felt to feeling like well, things are going pretty great. Back in November, I made one of those life-changing decisions I never thought I'd have to make. It's a long story, and probably one I shouldn't share here, but I got a nasty introduction to the dark side of teaching. It shook my faith in who I was as a person, in how I always believed one should treat other people, and make me realize that teaching's not the right career path for me. I made the decision to take the teaching certificate out of my program and just go for a straight Masters in Education. It meant leaving my cohort -- the people who I'd had every class with -- and striking out on my own.

One of the things that I know about myself is that sometimes you have to strike out on your own to get what you want. I read all sorts of job search books, and discovered several things that probably won't surprise any of my readers. First, I'm the kind of person who wants a job where I can be an advocate. I'm one of those bleeding heart liberal types that wants to make the world around me a better place. I believe I can do that by advocating for others. Second, I discovered that I desperately wanted and needed more balance in my life. I don't mind putting in long hours when the occasion calls for it, but student teaching was more draining than I thought it would be. My cohort mates were saying things like "this is so much fun" and all I could think about was "this is so much work."

Through research (and the wonderful website Idealist), I found a job that Dave Niehaus would have said was "in my wheelhouse." The position involved working with 30 different school districts, talking about financial aid with students, parents, and staff in each. I'd have to build strong relationships with the people with whom I was working. Well, as my mom would tell you, I'm the queen of networking. I'm good at building both relationships and community. And seven years of graduate school prepares one quite well for talking about college and financial aid.

I cast my hat in the ring. And I got the job. I'm doing meaningful, fulfilling work. I feel like I'm actually making a difference in kids' lives. Some days, what the kids tell me makes me want to cry. Poverty sucks. That might be the understatement of the year. Many days make me want to laugh. My job brings me a lot of joy -- joy like I've never had before. I feel like I've finally found what it is I'm supposed to be doing with my life. I often think "Of course. This makes total sense. Helping kids get into college and get financial aid for it? Yup. This feels right." It only took me seven years. But hey -- I've become the student loan expert in the office, and that means something.

So the other big thing that happened is this -- with me feeling settled and having a direction, I realized that it was time to evaluate the state of my relationship. Andy* (name changed) was a great person -- is a great person -- but I took a step back and realized that we just weren't right for each other. I'm what some friends call an "introverted extrovert." I love hanging out with my silly, amazing, one-of-a-kind friends. When it comes to meeting people, I can be pretty fearless. Especially after I've had a beer. Remember, this is the woman who walked up to Mariners pitching coach John Wetteland and told him she hoped his team started pitching better. This is the woman who saw her favorite Sounder in a bar and took it upon herself to make an introduction. And Andy? Well, several friends didn't even meet him in the little over a year we were together. And every time he needed to write his fiction, I couldn't even be in the same house. The same room I get -- I'm a writer, and used to cover my computer screen with my hands so Mom couldn't see what I was writing. But the same house? Seriously? If we were going to get married, where was going to go when he needed to write?

I felt lonely in my own relationship at times. I realized that if I kept going down the road I was going down, Andy and I would end up in the loneliest marriage on the planet. I knew he believes that marriage is forever. And I'd like to think I have a forever person out there somewhere. But realistically, marriages don't work out for many, many reasons. Just because someone gets divorced doesn't mean that this person failed at being married. Honestly, if two people have fallen out of love with each other, it's better for all involved to get divorced. This I strongly believe.

After a trip to Portland in which we bickered over little things, I'd had it. We went to Fred Meyer to get some food, and I was standing in line for the self checkout, just staring at the Fred Meyer Jewelers. I had this visceral reaction. I knew, first, that Andy was never going to get me a ring. Ever. And second, I knew that I had to end the relationship right then. Everything happens for a reason. I listen to my gut. I follow my heart over my head every single time. So we broke up in the car. I walked away. And I haven't looked back.

I turned thirty about six months ago. It seemed so old when my good friend David and I were in high school. We were walking through the mall once, and I stopped and turned to him and said, "Oh my God, David. We're halfway to thirty." Well guess what? Thirty's here. And the woman I am at thirty is the woman I've always wanted to be. Always. Strong, smart, able to think (or talk) her way out of almost any situation. Funny, friendly, and happy. Has a strong, strong sense of direction. It took me a while. It took me a good long while. But I'm here. And you know what? I kick ass!

In the last eight months, I have found a direction, written a second master's thesis, gotten my first real job, and had the presence of mind to leave a relationship that wasn't going anywhere. As of today, I am no longer a graduate student. My university bus pass doesn't work anymore! It's so weird!

In the words of the Indigo Girls, "it's remarkable the mess we make and what we can survive." In the words of Kelly Clarkson:

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger

Stand a little taller

Doesn't mean I'm lonely when I'm alone

Maybe I will get that tattoo of a compass I've always wanted. :)