The Path That Might’ve Been
I’ve been out of graduate school for seven years now. Wow…that feels really strange to say. Some days it feels like yesterday. Some days it feels like forever. But anyway, it’s been seven years since I decided to take this whole idea of writing for a living and treat it with the seriousness of a career that’s already happening. I might not be where I’d like to be on that yet, but I’m a damn sight further along than I would be if I’d continued to treat it as the impractical hobby that might someday pan out–but probably not (which was the attitude that certain parties in my life had over years that influenced my path toward pursuing a more practical career). But that’s not actually what I want to talk about.
From the time that I was about sixteen, I planned to get my PhD in psychology. At first I thought I’d do therapy. Then research. It was more by luck than design that I landed in teaching (something my brother from another mother takes great delight in cackling about, as he always said I’d make an amazing teacher). I went into psychology looking for something–and not finding it. And I didn’t get in to those PhD programs I applied to, despite exceptional grades and very high GRE scores. On paper, I was the perfect candidate. I finished my masters degree with a 4.0. Top of my class.
After much angsting and anger over it, I was forced to conclude at the end of it that I was simply meant to do something else. Writing. It’s how I finally listened to my heart instead of someone else’s fear.
But I’ve been musing lately about how differently my life would’ve turned out if I’d been aware of some of the research that’s been going on the past decade. I knew, of course, about the trend toward positive psychology. Martin Seligman (the dude who discovered learned helplessness) made a call for it when he was elected head of the APA back in 1998, I think it was. But it wasn’t something I really KNEW anything about. No one talked about it in any of my undergrad or grad classes. We were all totally focused on dysfunction and therapy and all the things that go wrong in life and how we can better equip people to fix them. Those things, frankly, just didn’t interest me, didn’t inspire me. I mean, this sounds contradictory. I’m IN psychology because it interests me. But in an abstract, engineering, how does that work kind of way. But in terms of something I wanted to devote YEARS to my life to? No, they bored me, and it showed in my interviews with all the potential researchers at the various grad schools around the country I visited. I’m a really lousy liar. I can’t really pretend interest in something that I don’t feel. That’s probably the number one reason I didn’t get in, despite the grades and scores. Well, that and that 95% of clinical psych applicants don’t get into grad school (bet you didn’t know that).
But if I’d known about all this research out there on happiness? On authenticity? On joy and gratitude and vulnerability? On PLAY? DUDE, I’d have been all over that! I’ve been snapping up books on these subjects left and right lately. More interested in non fiction than fiction, which is totally not like me. I’m becoming an epic fan girl of Brene Brown (have you seen her TED Talks? Talk 1 Talk 2). I totally want to buy her a margarita and sit down over chips and queso and talk. I freaking LOVE that there are finally researchers out there looking at what DOES work, looking at the healthy, the happy and figuring out WHY and how and sorting ways to apply that to everybody else. It’s a much needed effort to BALANCE all the science of the negative.
I think I missed out on this before for a reason. Because I WAS meant to write and this would’ve distracted me from that goal. Because THIS I could’ve gotten super excited about and nailed those interviews. And I think I’m coming across it now because I’m in a place in my life where I need and WANT to hear it. The Universe is practically taking out billboards saying HEY LOOK AT THIS.
I don’t regret where I am. But it’s definitely interesting to imagine what might’ve been.