I've been absent for the past two weeks--forgive me. I've been in the midst of taking thesis exams, both written and oral, in order to finally, finally! complete my masters degree.
The exams consisted of a lot of writing, a lot of talking, a lot of defending all of the things I had originally written in my thesis papers. At the end of it all, in a basement classroom in Smith Hall, just off the main quad on the University of Washington campus, I convinced my committee that I understood the developments in immigration from North Africa to France and the accompanying rise in Islamic practice. At 2:30 last Friday I was granted my degree. It feels amazing.
It also feels strange. To work so hard and so long for something. To wonder many times throughout (sometimes daily) why it was that I began this process in the first place. To wonder what I'll do once it has finished. And now it has finished, and the answers are no more clear. For many, finishing school leaves open the same kinds of questions and possibilities, but usually after finishing a masters degree, most have in mind what they want to do. Whether in business, mechanical engineering, or education, the next step on the ladder is somewhat clear. But what do you do with a degree in Comparative Religion from an International Studies program? My professors keep asking what I intend to do next. To make the answer less awkward, I babble on about applying to teach at international schools and talking with the consulate in France, maybe looking into a job at a community college. But, I*have*no*idea.
Sometimes I kick myself for going through with all of this. The stress, the never ending reading, grading, reading and grading, reading and grading and reading and grading that has been my life for the last four years. I've become antisocial out of necessity. The only way to stay afloat and to get it all done was to use every available minute. Social time--as much as I wanted it--was never fully enjoyed because the reading and grading always crept into my thoughts. And now, at least for now, I'll be waitressing full time again. Leaving work at work and having plenty of extra time to go running, take a road trip, cook, read for pleasure and see friends. It seems like a no brainer. Why work so hard for an ambiguous goal when I could have been waitressing this whole time and had less stress?
I am wrestling with this one right now. Micael and I often wander into conversation about whether it's worth it to try and climb our way up the ladder professionally, take out a mortgage on a house by ourselves, work and save to invest in a volatile market. Isn't it possible to set our standards lower and then enjoy a less stressful life? Maybe, or not. We're not sure what that looks like anyway. What would it look like to set our standards lower, or maybe not lower, but different? I don't yet know what this means, but the wheels are turning. Perhaps the stress was worth it for some future goal that has yet to take shape. Perhaps the last four years served to teach me to ask these questions and seek out alternatives.
I'm sure the more distance grows between me and this last four years I will appreciate all the ways this work has shaped and challenged me. School has taught me to be disciplined, which is an incredible skill, but I never had the opportunity to be creative. I always had to be analytical, objective, critical; pull things apart until I discovered the smallest working pieces and how these pieces shaped and influenced one another, and then I had to explain.
But now, I have the chance, the freedom, to be creative. To take what I've learned about the world and how it works and use that to better explore it. Now I have the freedom to feel as much as to think; to interpret and observe in ways that allow me to build something, rather than to deconstruct. Perhaps for the past four years I've been carefully shaping tools, and now I have before me a canvas and a license to paint. Perhaps this is the moment I lay down the first blunt strokes and allow the brilliant colors to speak to me of their coming shapes.
Perhaps. It is a beautiful word.