And how my fears have forced me to believe I am unworthy without it.
From a young age, I've tried my best to please everyone. My biggest fear was disappointing someone who believed in me. I've tried my hardest in school since kindergarten, aiming to exceed impossible expectations of perfection. In high school, I took a shitload of honors, AP, and dual-credit courses because that's what I thought I needed to do to maintain that facade of academic excellence. The teachers told us that the more college-credit courses we took, the less time and money we had to spend in college. That's what every one wants, right? To limit their time in college to save money? I had no idea what I wanted to do, who I wanted to be, or how I planned to spend my time but I truly believed that college was where I was supposed to end up. The rest of my classmates were going, my teachers and parents expected me to go- so that's where I went.
"I had no idea what I wanted to do, who I wanted to be, or how I planned to spend my time but I truly believed that college was where I was supposed to end up. The rest of my classmates were going, my teachers and parents expected me to go- so that's where I went."
Once I got to college, I changed my major about 1,000 times in my head and at least 3 times on paper with the registrar's office. With every passing semester, I grew less and less unsure about the path I would take. A teacher? A physical therapist? An art historian? I loved every path equally- how was I supposed to choose? I had effectively shortened my list of needed general education courses and I had to make a decision soon. With every change of my major, I was adding more time onto my college sentence.
And then my aunt got sick.
In my fourth semester of college, I was making the three-hour-drive home every weekend to visit my dying family member. For the first time in my life, school didn't matter. It took a back burner to my family. When she passed near the end of the semester, I was distraught. I had absolutely no drive to return to school and put the effort in. I drove back to campus and barely left my room until the semester was over. I packed up my room, threw my stuff in my car, and returned home with my boyfriend (who was also at college with me and had also just lost a very close family member in the same semester).
No one really pressured me about school, but I felt an insane personal pressure to return to school immediately and I jumped into a program at super small, private university. At this point, I didn't care what my major was; I just wanted to finish. I had two and a half years of classes left so I put time and effort in to finish, despite working 40 hours a week.
Somewhere in my time at school, I was given a vision so beautiful it changed my entire outlook on life. In my mind, I watched an entire labor and birth. When I awoke, I had hot tears running down my face as I realized the absolute beauty I had just witnessed. I immediately started researching. I read around 15 books on pregnancy and birth, attended a doula training, and studied the application details for 5 different midwifery schools. I had found a passion that fulfilled me like no others had before.
By the time school had wrapped up, I had been accepted to a school three hours away, gotten married, and quit my full-time job. After our honeymoon, I returned home to start midwifery school a few weeks later. From day one, I loved it. For the first time, I was going to school with a purpose. I knew what I wanted and how I could spark change with my passion- something that had never been part of the prior 17 years of school.
In my first semester, I almost immediately grew exhausted. I was driving three hours away every week to attend class where I would stay for 48 hours and then drive the three hours home. At the time, my husband and I weren't living together due to some financial situations and I was trying to find balance between schoolwork, visiting my husband, and trying to have some semblance of an extra-curricular life all while working two jobs. I'm lucky that my school is taken care of by scholarships and a generous family member, but I still had to work just to eat and pay the insane amount of gas money I was putting in on the weekly.
By the end of my first semester, I had given myself multiple panic attacks, gallbladder flare-ups, and effectively ran myself into the ground.
Over Christmas break, I worked all my jobs and started doing some digital art commissions to put some money aside. Almost immediately, all that money was gone when I put it towards and apartment with my husband and our roommate. By the time school had started again, I had made enough money to have lasted me the semester, but we were surprised with a moving-day much quicker than we had realized. Though grateful, I was back in the same spot where I had started Christmas break.
Returning to school for the second semester, I thought I was ready. I attended the first six weeks as though I were fine but nearly every week, I was returning so exhausted and anxious that I would spend my 5 days at home chewing on the inner part of my cheek thinking about all the things I had to get done for school while juggling work and second-semester clinical. By the seventh week, I had a breakdown. I cried relentlessly while my husband held me and asked what was wrong. After a few minutes, it just tumbled out of my mouth: "I want to take time off of school."
I immediately felt relieved.
It was as though 1,000 pounds of dirt had washed away from my brain and I felt lighter. The anxiety released its grip and I could finally see my life outside of school. The thought immediately after is what crushed me: "What would everyone else think of this decision?" My husband immediately supported me (as I knew he would), but I was absolutely terrified to tell everyone else. I had people messaging me on Facebook to tell me how happy they were for me or how proud they were to see me doing something I loved. How could I tell everyone that I was quitting? I had built up this idea of me as a hardworking student midwife who loved school and couldn't see herself doing anything different.
But I wasn't being honest.
I love my program, I love my teachers, and holy shit I love my classmates, but I am burnt out on school. I went to college before I was really ready for that kind of commitment because that's what I thought I was supposed to do and now I'm so mentally exhausted from the continuous strain of being a perfectionist in school. I love midwifery so much but from the beginning, my school has been honest about the high burn-out rates of midwives. I so badly don't want to become a part of that statistic and I'm afraid that my burn-out on school could transfer to my calling.
So I've decided to take time off. No pun intended, but the timing was perfect- the school is opening up a campus that's an hour closer to me in a different direction. Their first cohort will be at their third semester (where I will leave off) in fall of 2019. That gives me a year-and-a-half to do all the things I've wanted to do as a 20-something but have been too afraid to be honest about.
I honestly never wanted to be a student, I just felt pressured into going to college because as a smart kid, that's what everyone expected me to do. I had no idea what I was doing, but I forced myself into something I wasn't ready for because I wanted so badly to make everybody else happy- I wanted to make people proud of me. I've realized recently that my biggest fear isn't disappointment: it's feeling unworthy.
I am honestly TERRIFIED of leaving school for a number of reasons. I'm scared I won't go back. I'm scared that I'll forget everything I'm not actively using. I'm scared that this is my only opportunity to go.
But I'm mostly scared to not have grades that tell me how well I'm doing- grades that convince me I'm worthy of something. For so long, I tried so fucking hard in school because I had convinced myself that the grades actually added to my character somehow. I had built up this false notion of worthiness that came with getting good grades and a feeling of unworthiness with bad ones.
I jumped right into my next program without taking time to digest the effort and work I had put into undergrad because I was terrified to take a break. If I stopped, how would I know that I was worthy?
I know now that my grades don't define me, school isn't want makes me worthy. It's just something I'm good at, like how I'm good at art and writing and singing. With this time off, I'm going to build up my art business and work on some other passion projects (because I also realize now that it's okay to have more than one passion). I'm going to manifest some other dreams of mine before I give my 110% to midwifery. The career involves holding space for people in their most vulnerable times, and I can't do that if I'm burnt out and thinking about the 1,000 other projects and ideas floating around my head. If I'm going to be a midwife, I want to be all in because the students I attend school with and the clients I work for deserve that.
I also recognize how privileged I am in having the opportunity to attend school and being able to take a gap year while still knowing I can return with the help of my family members. As much as I urge everyone to take time off from school and work to find themselves, I recognize that not all people have had the same opportunities as me and that this is not always an in-reach possibility.
I still have two more weeks left and I already miss my classmates and my school. But this is something I need to do for myself and for my future. This next year and a half is about personal growth:
It's about finding my own worthiness.
Thank you to every one who has supported me in this endeavor, both with school and with taking time off. I'm so eternally grateful.