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How Do I Go Back to School?

Dear Plums,

I got pregnant with my first child 1 year into my Master’s program. Thanks to Title IX, my spot would’ve been held, but I chose to pause my education. 

Fast-forward: I never went back.

By the time my kiddo was in school, my job was more demanding than the part-time workload I had been managing before, so I’d think, “If I go back now, I won’t have to re-take the GRE.” But before that 5-year GRE-window closed, I had another baby.

Although the credits I completed count toward the degree, I’d have to re-apply now. I’ll be 20+ years older than all the other people in the program. I don’t need the degree for my job, but a part of me feels like a failure for not having done it. 



Hey Q - 

Let’s never use that word again. Deal?

Many women embark on the exhilarating adventure of graduate studies right after college. However, at a rate far higher than men post-college, women often find themselves pausing their academic pursuits for personal challenges or "family responsibilities." (As you know firsthand.) If you’ve started a degree but never got around to finishing it, it's time to embrace vulnerability and reignite that dream.

Renowned researcher and storyteller Dr. Brené Brown has illuminated the profound impact of vulnerability on our lives. She reminds us that vulnerability is not a sign of weakness but rather a testament to our courage and authenticity. Returning to school can expose (and ignite) deep vulnerabilities, as it requires you to confront past challenges and potentially face new ones. However, it's precisely this vulnerability that can lead to personal growth and transformation. One of the most beautiful aspects of pursuing a graduate degree is the opportunity to delve deep into a subject you are passionate about. Rekindle that passion. Acknowledge that your dreams are still valid, and your love for your field of study is as strong as ever. You deserve the fulfillment and intellectual stimulation that comes with academic pursuit. Know your worth. 

Self-doubt often creeps in when considering a return to academia. You might wonder if you're still capable, if it's too late, or if you have the support needed to succeed. These doubts are natural, but they should not deter you from your goals. It's okay to be vulnerable, to confront our doubts and insecurities head-on. In fact, doing so is an essential part of living a wholehearted life. Completing a graduate degree, even after a hiatus, is a powerful testament to your resilience. It demonstrates your willingness to face challenges, adapt, and persevere. Her research emphasizes that resilience is not about avoiding vulnerability; it's about embracing it.  

Going back to school is an act of self-compassion. 

It's about recognizing your worth and acknowledging that you deserve to fulfill your dreams and ambitions. It's also about treating yourself with kindness, even when facing difficulties along the way. Remember, you are your most valuable ally on this journey, but you are NOT alone. Surround yourself with a support system. Recruit friends and family members to be your cheer squad. Recruit co-workers and scale back your workload if possible. If you have a partner at home, it’s likely that you - the mom - have been carrying the lion’s share of domestic work. It’s time to delegate. Write down all the tasks you take care of in a week, and offload as many of them as you can.

Vulnerability is not a solitary endeavor; it's about connecting with others authentically. Seek out mentors, peers, and friends who can provide guidance, encouragement, and empathy.

As Brené so eloquently said in a 2012 TED talk, "Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change." Embrace your vulnerability and embark on this transformative journey with an open heart. You are capable, deserving, and resilient. Your dreams are worth pursuing, and your academic pursuits are an essential part of your authentic self. Go forth and complete that graduate degree, for the world is waiting to witness your brilliance and the beautiful vulnerability that comes with it. 

You are a Plum.