“You’re not your fucking khakis.”

This year, February is being known not only as crappy-weather-month, but also as the-month-during-which-Katie-will-eventually-get-her-grad-school-rejections/acceptions. None have come back yet, it’s still early, but I should be finding out within the next couple of weeks, and mother of God if that isn’t a little terrifying.

If I’m not accepted anywhere, if all I receive are rejections, I can still reapply next year and take the remainder of this year to beef up my application, but part of me (the pathetic part that will wallow in self-odium if the above happens) won’t want to. If I don’t get into graduate school, it will feel like that door is being slammed shut, but I’m trying to see it as an at-least-my-options-are-narrowed-down-now thing. There’s a million post-graduation possibilities, which is exciting, but also so overwhelming that most of the time I can’t get out a coherent idea. If grad school does go out of the picture, it will be at least kind of comforting to have one possibility ruled out, even at the price of throwing out a plan. And that’s the thing, I don’t really have a plan. I have things I say when people ask me what I want to do, the standard answer being a lot of rehearsed, fairly true phrases about becoming a professor and doing research and teaching.

My real answer, however, would be closer to, “I have no idea.”

If you take anything away from this post, let it be this: if you ask a student about to graduate college what they want to do, and if they answer you with a concrete, fairly well-thought out idea, or anything resembling a plan, there is a 98.6% chance they are lying to you, they are scared shitless, and they have no idea what they are going to do. I am kind of one of these people.

Do I want to become a professor? Yes, it sounds great, but I’ve never been a professor before, how will I know? I genuinely love Classics, and I do know from experience that I want to work in an environment with other intellectuals who all love the ancient world. I know that I like teaching and writing and forming arguments and researching them; example being that I honestly, completely, genuinely enjoyed every minute I spent working on my most recent research paper/writing sample about Sappho. However, the thought of picking a career right now terrifies me because there’s a whole mess of what-ifs in my head. What if I end up hating it? What if I’m not good enough and fail? What if there’s some sort of mystery career out there that will answer all my problems and be perfect in every single way? What if I just want to make soup all day and write about Ke$ha’s influence on music and post-feminism? How can I make that pay for food and coffee? There’s too many possibilities here for me to actually form a clear path, there’s too much noise for me to think.

If I go to grad school, the possibility of becoming a professor is there, along with a host of others. I could get a PhD and apply it elsewhere; David Halperin got a PhD in Classics from Stanford and is now a professor in the English Department at the University of Michigan specializing in the history and theory of sexuality. If going out of the department isn’t enough, I could go the whole nine yards and decide not to be in the world of academia. I could go further into the bicycling world, or apply for a job like everyone, or sell everything I don’t need and start traveling (let’s be honest, the last one is the most probable). It’s not as if my job or even my career defines who I am; Simone de Beauvoir would have called that alienation. I don’t even have to decide right now. I could literally do whatever I wanted, and the combination of excited and terrified that idea creates is something I haven’t felt since I got off the plane in Istanbul last winter.

Update: I have just gotten my first rejection. It came in the form of an email from the Virginia department chair using the characteristic apologetic language, and my first reaction was that of being slightly impressed. I mean, it may have been automated, but it was still more personal than I was expecting (I was expecting something like an automated email from the application database saying my result had been posted and then, after logging in, having to read “Status: Declined”). Still, it hurt. Of course, it hurt, but not in the way like how a few years ago a high school senior filed a lawsuit against the University of Texas at Austin for rejecting her. When I say that the rejection hurts, I mean it’s like giving a dose of rBGH to the little voice in the back of your head that will always whisper, “You’re not good enough.” Neil Gaiman once said, I’m paraphrasing, that after his initial success he was plagued by a paranoia that men with clipboards would come to his house and tell him he’d been found out. I’m afraid of being found out in some way that exposes all my insecurities that I’m not as good with the languages I study as I should be, or that none of my ideas are original, or that I’m just not good enough to continue. When there’s no logical way to get over a fear like that, because there’s no logic behind it, I just have to take the long way around and reason it out, not let the voices have the last say. Other things that help: bikes, tea, and roommates.

It’s weird though, because if I am not accepted anywhere, it would probably turn into the rocket fuel I’d need to start doing all the things I really want to do. My twenties may be the only time that I have to do things like bike across the country, or go to Vietnam and Morocco and Lebanon, or a dozen other things that I haven’t thought of yet. There’s a whole tour of Europe-and-stuff I still need to go on and people to visit (In rough order with things left out: Edinburgh, the Netherlands, Berlin, Paris (again), Athens, Budapest, and Istanbul-no-all-of-Turkey-I-want-to-go-back). To quote Lex Croucher in this video, “It’s the end of one world, but it’s not the end of all the worlds.”

Title quote from Tyler Durden.

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One comment

  1. I really like reading your thought process. I assume that Patrick also has thoughts, but I never get any insight into them! He did share that he was terri-cited to go to Nepal. Combining terrified and excited like he and Benoit have been doing since they were 12.
    A few notes: My career ended up in computer networking, a field that had not been invented when I was in college.
    Mr.Jeffers is a data network engineer and he was a history major – so your horizon is unlimited!
    You will get to travel when you are older. Travel does not end at 30.
    And you may always have those feelings of being a fraud. I still have a nightmare – recurring since college. I’m sitting in a big U of I lecture hall and it’s finals, but I don’t know what the final is, except that I skipped most of the classes, never opened the text book. I am sitting half way up on the aisle, but not on a chair, but on a toilet, and I am naked. No one is noticing me. It makes me laugh – now – but it used to terrify me.
    Good luck on the rest of your graduate apps! Hope to see you this summer.

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