I wanted to get my master’s degree pretty much since I got my bachelor’s. The problem was I kept putting it off, and the longer I put it off, the harder it seemed. It felt like I was stuck in an impossible series of catch-22s. I remember thinking, “I can’t just stop working and go back to school full-time, but there is no way to juggle work and school. And, what would I get a degree in anyway? I have too many interests, and no degree I would ever be interested in seems worth the debt to do it. I definitely don’t want to go into debt, but how am I going to pay for it?” On, and on, and on, the record would play.
As those questions rolled around in my mind during the ten years since undergrad, one of the very best things I did for myself was go to therapy. I wasn’t in a crisis. I just wasn’t totally satisfied with my life. Over time, my therapist helped me to reconsider many of the ideas that had become “givens” to me, underlying assumptions about the world and myself that led to my dissatisfaction. One area of exploration was graduate school.
With his help, I eventually created a new “record” that sounded much different. It was a series of thoughts built on a newfound belief in trying. “Maybe I can go to school and work. And, maybe I don’t have to wait around until I figure out the perfect degree, I can just pursue one area I’m interested in. This therapy thing has been pretty magical, so maybe I can learn more about that and help others. There has to be a way to pay for school without going into debt.” And, as self-defeating as it may sound, a big comfort to me in the beginning was the thought that “If I hate it, I can quit.”
Well, I didn’t quit. I kept going, even when halfway through I was faced with a devastating personal loss. Making it through the worst of that experience while working and continuing grad school helped me to learn something way more important than any one thing I learned in class: I’m stronger and more capable than I ever imagined.
When it came up in conversation that I worked full-time as a teacher and went to grad school, people would often say something that I used to say myself: “Wow, I could never do that.” Over time, what I discovered and what I started to share with people (especially in my work as an Ambassador) was that we all have a reserve of energy and ability that is there when we need it. We don’t always tap into on a daily basis, but it’s there. And, we can utilize it to reach our goals.
If you haven’t had this realization yet, I invite you to reflect on what it is that you’ve been putting off or are unsure of how to do and then to figure out what it would look like to just try. I think in doing so you can have the same empowering realization about yourself as I did. Because I don’t think I’m special. I think we are all much stronger and more capable than we often give ourselves credit for. We see it in our clients; we can see it in ourselves. Also, I think life, with its inherent challenges, will introduce us all to this reservoir eventually, and we can help ourselves out by giving it a trial run in advance.
Paradoxically, while I was learning just how much more capable I am, it also became clear to me just how essential we are to each other. While, yes, I am the one who received the hood and the diploma. And, yes, I am capable of much more than I originally thought. However, this accomplishment wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the people in my life. As independent and self-sufficient as I’ve tried to be, I cannot escape the fundamental truth that we, humans, need each other. A truth that is encoded in the social work value that honors human relationships. My relationships, including those at the GCSW, helped me to see what was hidden in my blind spots, to get up when I was down, and to make it through grad school in order to achieve my long-held goal of earning my master’s.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the ways people have showed up for me in the past three years (and longer). I’m grateful to the GCSW for giving me the opportunity to grow as a person and to expand my future possibilities with this degree. For those in a similar situation as I was, wondering how to work and go to school or even if a master’s is possible at all, I invite you, like I did, to just try.
By: Cassie Manley