New Chapter

It can be weird to embrace change. It can be hard not knowing what to expect from the future. I’m starting a new chapter of my life soon to pursue my master’s degree, moving to a new place. I have a lot of friends who traveled much farther than I did to study for their bachelor’s or master’s degrees. But this will be my first time living somewhere new with no family nearby.

I’m worried about a lot of things. I’m worried I won’t like school or my internships or my new apartment. The process of researching, saving money, writing essays, asking for recommendation letters, sending my applications, going on interviews, choosing a school, and securing a field placement has been going on for about a year now. I didn’t know going into it that grad school would be so much work before I even started. And there’s still much to do even though I start in just a couple of weeks.

I’m pursuing my master’s to create more opportunities for myself. I put lots of time into weighing my options, wanting to make the right decision. But I still can’t help but wonder, am I choosing the right thing? I know a master’s degree wasn’t my only option to create more career opportunities. I also could have gone for a shorter and more affordable certificate program, such as one in teaching English to speakers of other languages, or web design.

But I decided to pursue a master’s in social work for several reasons. One reason is that I knew a certificate would prepare me for something very specific, while a master’s degree gives me more flexibility in pursuing jobs. When I finish my master’s, I know I’ll have the opportunity to work in different settings, whether it’s teaching at community college, doing therapy at a mental health clinic, doing social work at a hospital or school, or doing policy work with the government. One of the reasons I studied theater and then English for my bachelor’s degree is because I never wanted to be pigeon-holed into a specific job.

Having done so much unpaid work as a writer, I think I have a higher appreciation for any job that offers a salary. It sounds kind of sad, but it’s the truth. A lot of people hear about social work and assume there’s “no money” in it. Clearly those people never spent years literally working for free.

I decided to continue my education because I realized, after three years of trying, that I wasn’t going to earn a living as a writer. I know that earning my master’s will open doors, yet I still feel very anxious about my future. The job application process can be the most disheartening thing in the world. I’m worried that I’ll graduate and still won’t know how to have a career.

I think I’m being true to myself in pursuing social work, the same way I was true to myself in pursuing acting and writing. If nothing else, I’m self-aware when it comes to my strengths and weakness, my likes and dislikes. I’ve always loved and needed my creative outlets. But I always had a desire to help others. Social work is something I feel I would have pursued sooner if I had known about the various career paths it could lead to.

Despite always being asked if I wanted to teach (I was a Theater and then English major after all), I always knew that teaching K-12 wasn’t a goal for me. I don’t think I’d last a day in the seemingly stressful, possibly pretentious environment of a law firm. I’m fascinated by science, engineering, and web development, but I think studying any of these subjects would feel a bit dry to me. I’ve developed a greater appreciation and confidence in math over the years, but I don’t think I’d be very happy as an accountant.

A lot what has led me to where I am today has stemmed from a process of elimination, along with the tenacity to never settle for a career that didn’t satisfy me. Choosing a path in education is a complex and expensive decision. I know nothing is set in stone, and that I can still pursue a certificate or two even after I get my master’s. All the same, I have a tendency to overthink my decisions, always afraid of choosing the wrong thing and making a mistake. I don’t want to be this neurotic about things. I want to enjoy my life. But it’s hard for me.

I also chose a master’s because I knew I could use federal loans to fund it. It’s possible that taking out a cheaper private loan for a certificate would have better in the short term (since I could have worked and then pursued a master’s after I saved money and paid off the private loan). But when I was making my decisions, I felt better about taking out federal loans only. I applied only to state schools to keep my costs as low as possible. And I realized that many certificate programs took two or three semesters. If I were going to be in school for that long, I figured I might as well take four semesters to earn a higher degree with more job options.

If nothing else, I know I thought this through. With all of the events and travels of summer, I feel like I haven’t been able to process everything that has happened, especially in the past month. I know I’m moving, but it’s hard to really grasp what that means or to have any idea of what my life will really look like.

I have a lot of help and support from my family. A lot of people believe that I will be successful and that I’m pursuing a career that will be perfect for me. That in itself is a good feeling and I know I couldn’t do all of these things without help.

It’s scary and unpredictable. I want to be successful. I want to have a career and an apartment and love. I want to live in a nice city and to doing things that I enjoy. I know this. So why do I so often feel like I have no idea what I want? Why do I so often feel like my future is shapeless?

It can be weird to embrace change. But I’m hopeful. And I know that I have people who are supporting me. All I can do is take things one day at a time and trust that things will work out.

I have to trust that my choices are good.

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