July 16, 2008

Walking Away and Back

I know I all but promised a blockbuster post for #101, but I used up a bunch of my intended post on someone else's blog. I'm thinking the rest will end up as a more general post, but that requires actual thought, so it's waiting until I have more time. In its place, I offer a little story that a lot of people know the outlines of, but few know the details.

Once upon a time...uh, sorry.

Many, many (many) years ago, I was getting ready to graduate from college. I was coming up on the five-year mark, which wasn't bad for having switched majors and transferred schools. I had just about finished my degree in psychology, with a bunch of classes but no official minor in Russian language and literature, when someone noticed my grades and asked whether I wanted to enter the honors program.

I wanted to do some sort of counseling, although I hadn't focused on specifics yet. Since this meant grad school, and honors would only help me get accepted, I said yes. And immediately discovered that three of my classes, statistics and a couple of subjects that had just sounded interesting, would still count. Every other class required for my honors psychology major would be new.

Most of my new classes were graduate-level. I met a bunch of PhD students in the new classes, including one I dated for two years, but I actually fell in love with research methodology. Yes, I'm totally a geek.

I took my classes and worked as an RA, lying to intro psych students about what they were about to do and classifying their responses. I got right up to the point of finishing my senior research paper, data collected and analyzed but the introduction and conclusions not written, when my new love caused me no end of problems. I could no longer hide from the fact that psychological counseling had almost no support in the literature. I was planning to go to grad school to study something useless.

I walked away without finishing my paper. Everything but that was done, but I wasn't going to do it. Okay, I could have just gotten my degree, then said I wasn't going to grad school, but this made it a sure thing. It was a form of digging in my heels.

I can be a bit stubborn sometimes.

I think it was somewhere around this time where I had the discussion with my mother about how she could choose whether to keep telling me how to run my life or to have me answer her calls. My friends were a little more circumspect. There was the one guy, about a year or so after I should have graduated, who told me he would buy me champagne if I'd just finish the paper. That is, it was champagne at that point, but the longer I waited, the less the value of the bribe. I think the final offer, if I didn't get off my ass in a year or so, was warm Pepsi. I didn't get the Pepsi either.

Eventually, the issue just sort of evaporated. People gave up and stopped asking.

Then, about eight years after my presumed graduation date, I took a job as, essentially, a customer service lead. I knew, and my new boss knew, that this job and I were not an ideal fit. But it kept me and my knowledge at the company, helped out a friend, and involved a decent raise. The biggest hitch, aside from having to be a lead again (I hadn't liked it much the first time), was that it required a one-year commitment.

Six months in, I was ready to chew my leg off. But I'd committed. On the upside, I had plenty of time to look for the next job. My resume, when I was done, was a work of art. It was still only going to help me so much. I had a bunch of weird experience and assorted proficiencies at this point, but in order to make the most of them, I was going to need that degree.

I called the U to ask what I needed to graduate now. First thing I needed was to go to campus in person, since they couldn't give me any information over the phone. Of course. The news got better from there, though. Since I'd applied for graduation before my dreaded realization, all my requirements were locked into place. All I had to do was resolve my one incomplete.

That, in itself, was a little delicate. I'd originally chosen my advisor based on the fact that I wanted to replicate a piece of his research in a non-student population. So I did that. Then I blew him off for nine years. Ahem.

There was only one way to go about this. First, I checked that he was still at the U. Then I wrote the paper. I pulled out my old file. I redid my literature search to make sure I hadn't missed anything relevant the first time. I didn't gloss over the weak spots in the research. I organized, wrote and polished until I had the best paper I could manage.

That was when I sent him the note asking whether he'd still be willing to grade it, now that it was done. He said, "Sure," and about a week later sent back a grade of A with a couple nice compliments. Then he copied me on his email having the grade entered. Boom. Done.

I still had months to go before I could look for a job. If I'd known it would have been that easy...oh, wait. I had. That was why I'd walked away.

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