Thursday, June 21, 2018

Is grad school right for me? Thoughts from a Grad School Mommy

Two years ago, my family and I embarked on a crazy, wild journey to earn my master’s degree in public administration. I had reached a point in my career where I had learned as much as I could from my job and needed more education to advance in my career. I had always wanted to work in public service, helping the most disparaged populations get the help they need, so this degree was a natural draw for me. My husband and I thought about it for a long time and felt like it was the right thing for our family. But we still had a mortgage and bills to pay, so I kept my full-time job while pursuing this degree. Needless to say, I have relied heavily on the support of my husband, in-laws, and friends to make this happen, and there were so many sacrifices along the way. I wanted to write this blog post for all those parents who are considering graduate school, or any schooling in general.

Celebrating my acceptance into the BYU MPA program. (Look at baby Audrey. She couldn't even walk yet)
Working is kind of draining. Schooling is kind of draining. Parenting is kind of draining. And when you put it all together, you really do get draiiiiined! Here’s a reality check of what it’s like going to do it all at once.

It’s draining. I often felt like every hour of every day was scheduled with things that I “need to do.” In the mornings, I would get myself ready and then get my children ready (sometimes pleasant, sometimes not so pleasant experience) so my husband could take them over to grandma’s house. Then, I got myself to work and worked for a few hours before lunch. Lunch breaks consisted of pumping milk for my newborn while doing homework for my classes. The rest of the day consisted of finishing up work, getting home, getting dinner ready, hanging with the kids, picking things up around the house a little, and then homework until midnight or past. And then, I woke up and did it all over again. Yeah, you can see how one gets drained after doing this for so long. Sometimes, it took everything within me to keep my eyes open and write just one more paragraph. My mind, my body, and sometimes even my soul got drained.

I know, it sounds hard already. BUT the trick here for me was to figure out my routine and incorporate the essentials that would help me take care of myself and keep me going. That thing theyl tell ya about good sleep, exercise, and nutrition... it's real. I wasn't always super good at doing all fo these things all the time, but organization and making it a priority were key, very truly honestly. You make time for things you care about and these bare essentials will help you function as a person, so please, please, please make time for them, regardless of whether or not you're going to grad school, but especially because you have these responsibilities. This is taking care of yourself. And it doesn't have to be an exact everyday thing, but it could be. My "thing" was monoskiing and hand cycling, and I tried to schedule those things in as much as I could. Skiing was a bit longer of a commitment so sometimes even just once a week and doing as much as I could to compensate at home. Meal prep on Sundays. And SLEEP!! Limit your all-nighters if you can! (My body and brain can't do that anymore, so that's a no brainer ;)

Another thing is do something that is good for your soul, e.g., reading scriptures, taking walks, planting something low maintenance, talking with a friend throughout the week (once, maybe twice a week? whatever works for you!). I still wanted to feel like there was me somewhere amidst all the responsibilities. Think long term and take care of yourself.

This could be you working and being a lap pillow while your baby sleeps on you. (Look at toddler Audrey!)

It requires discipline.
It sounds simple right? But it was an everyday battle for me to decide what or who I was going to put into my schedule. There were times where I overcommitted to different responsibilities that took me away from my core activities (family, school, work), and I had to learn to become more disciplined with my time. I learned it takes a great deal of discipline to follow through with the schedule as well. Sometimes, if I didn’t get enough sleep the night before I spent time sleeping during lunch instead of doing homework. You can be FLEXIBLE. Sometimes, I had no motivation because I was simply too tired and just wanted to veg out. Those days are allowed, but I had to be careful not to get sucked in and fall behind because it would be so difficult to catch up. I had to remember my end goal! I wanted to make the most out of this experience, learn as much as I could, make as many friends as I could, be as happy as I could, so I needed to do those little yet necessary things that would allow me to make things happen. 

It takes sacrifice. I tried hard to maximize my time with family wherever I could, realizing I still wanted to share memories of this time in school with them—hence scheduling as much as I could. I chose when and how I would dedicate my time. Family time was family time. Work was work. And school was school. To facilitate this a little better, there were certainly things I cut out like running errands with my family on Saturdays so I could study, and not being a part of my kids’ bedtime routine (my husband was mega in this area). I didn’t always like it because I like spending time with my kids and seeing all the funny things they do, and ways they develop, but I kept telling myself that this is a short season and I tried as best I could to be present whenever I was with them. As much as I tried to stay organized, I learned that my house would probably never be clean while in the program, and the neat freak in me had to really, really learn to let it go sometimes (as long as I could still find things, I was OK). These are simple sacrifices, but sometimes, when you're already feeling crummy after an crappy exam, or you're just tired, it can weigh on you, but be kind to yourself. Whether you're going or not going through school, there's always sacrifice elsewhere. There's always a dilemma. Time on career, time with family? Money on house or money on vacation? It depends on what kind of sacrifice you want to make. Just remember, what's it worth to you?

It can be lonely. Initially, because I had so much packed in my schedule, I couldn’t fit in visiting friends on a regular basis like I got to do in undergrad. I went through the grind of my routine and sometimes had this feeling of isolation—like I was doing this alone. It was difficult for me to really connect with anyone because I didn’t want to add more to my plate, having to coordinate time with another person’s schedule or mixing up my routine a little to accommodate someone else seemed like extra work and stress for me. But the reality was that I wasn’t going through this alone and sometimes, that simple little stress is great for return on investment compared to the stress from exam prep. There was a whole support system of family, friends, colleagues who were all going through their own experiences and they needed a friend, too. If I wanted to, I could reach out as much or as little as I wanted to (it's win-win). I was grateful for people who did reach out to me. I was really grateful for people who were available to spend some time impromptu. I was grateful for help babysitting. All these people helped me get over that feeling of loneliness in the beginning. But over time, it got to be a little easier to manage life's responsibilities.

This experience made me more aware of the challenges others are facing (probably silently) and try to be a lot more empathetic. I committed to looking for opportunities to support others who might need a little connection and human pick me up.

It’s not for everyone. People often tell me that they wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing. And the truth is, they probably could if they wanted to. But that’s the thing, do they want to? This path is not for everyone. As mentioned, it’s not the most fun to have one more thing on your plate. It’s hard to sacrifice more of your precious, valuable time in pursuit of a degree. It’s lame to have to do homework on nights and weekends instead of having a delicious popcorn movie night. I know I was very fortunate to have a great support system to compensate for areas that I could not tend to. My family and my sweet friends helped a ton with my children whenever I needed help. My husband took care of grocery shopping. I auto-pay all my bills so I wouldn’t have to think about them. There are so many factors into making this path work, and yes, probably many barriers as well. BUT, if you really feel passionate about it, then you shouldn’t let all these other factors stop you. You know yourself best. You can determine whether you want to do this. You do you. Just know that if you want to, YOU CAN DO IT. I would support you 100%.

Now that I’ve finished you’re probably wondering, “Was it indeed worth it?” And the answer is a simple, unequivocal “Yes.” There are so many things I’m grateful for from this program, (and I'll more about it in another post). But for now, I’m grateful for the confidence to face the unknown and work through anything. I have learned skills through my program that have helped me become a better wife, mother, and coworker. I’m grateful for my associations with intelligent and compassionate people. I’m humbled to learn from talented people who are living such faithful lives and striving to make a difference in the lives of others. While I haven’t quite landed my dream job (anyone got any leads??), I am confident in my ability to go into my next professional role with the skills to make a real impact. Plus, no tests and lots of baby cuddles means life is good!

I don't have all the answers, but I hope you were able to benefit from these lessons I’ve learned on my master’s degree journey. This is a great time for some introspection. Remember, sometimes, the craziest things you do are the best things you do. Whatever it is that you decide, you do you! Please share your thoughts in the comments or pass this on if you think it might be helpful to someone else!

Adventure On!


EMPA Class of 2018! I'm grateful for this cohort that opened their arms to a newcomer like me.

P.S. It took a village to make this degree possible. I wanted to thank God for providing me with the strength and determination to do this. My supportive, patient, and kind husband, thanks for holding down the fort while I pursued this degree. It was a team effort to coordinate preschool days, Costco runs, errands, homework time, class time, meetings, and everything in between. You are amazing. My children, thanks for giving me time to study and occasionally picking up toys and cleaning your room so my wheelchair doesn't trip over all the littles things on the ground. Oh and your sweet hugs and kisses when I need them the most. My family members, especially my in-laws for all the babysitting hours you put in and the example you set for my children that families stick together. My professors, thanks for all the knowledge and experience you shared with us each week, and for stretching us and teaching us to strive for positive change. My colleagues from my original cohort class of 2019 and my current cohort class of 2018, thanks for all the laughs and perspectives--I'll make sure to put in a good word for your final grades ;) My friends, thanks for keeping me sane and being so patient with me.

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