Okay, I won’t string you along on this one. Yes, the answer is absolutely yes.
Three years ago, I was finishing up my senior year of college with a degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders, a degree I had originally planned to use as a steppingstone toward a Master’s in Speech Pathology. From there I would get a job as a speech pathologist in an elementary school, where I could both work and raise a gaggle of children. I had my life planned out, and it was a genuinely good plan. Then my senior year, I took a poetry workshop, just for fun. And the plan changed.
I liked speech pathology, seriously. I didn’t decide to leave that field because I disliked it. It combined my love of people and my love of science, and I was all about it. But then I started writing poetry consistently, and I found something I’d never found with speech: passion.
My deep-seated Midwestern practicality wants to snort at the idea of using “passion” as a guide for how to live my life, but the poet in me knows that passion is really all there is. No, not everyone is passionate about what they do for a living, and that’s okay as long as you have avenues for expressing your passion elsewhere, but I had the opportunity to combine my passion and my work, and I took it.
When I graduated undergrad, I had a choice to make: attend grad school for speech pathology or for English. In some ways, this time in my life was YA-novel-level cheesy. There I was, a young woman coming of age, faced with a decision between her passion and her 10-year plan. Throw in the fact that I was too terrified to even tell my parents what I was considering until after I had made my decision, and you’ve got some classic YA angst. But in other ways, it really wasn’t as dramatic as it sounds. At the end of the day, I had two choices in front of me: speech was a two-year program followed by a year of intern- and externships, with a job all but guaranteed when I finished, but I would have to go into debt for the first time in order to pay the tuition, and English was a two-year program with no job guarantees at all, but it was completely free and would even offer me a stipend for teaching.
I’ve always been more of a “here and now” kind of person, and in the moment, English just made more sense. After all, if I graduated and had no job or no interest in getting an English-related job, I could always go back to school for speech. That’s the thing about loving school: I’m not bothered by the prospect of being a student forever.
So I sent in my letters, signed my contracts, and enrolled in my very first grad school classes, including my first course as the instructor. I felt rebellious and brave and excited. But then I had to actually start, instead of just planning it all.
Grad school was…hard. I mean, I knew it would be, but you know how sometimes you let your excitement about a thing cloud what that thing is actually like? I definitely did that. I thought of grad school in terms of the aesthetic, not in terms of the actual workload, and in many ways, I was in over my head that first year. Most of my classmates had their undergrad degree in English, or real-world experience with writing, and there I was, a total newb who hadn’t really written an essay since high school. Imposter syndrome was very real, and by the end of my first year, the stress from school had started wreaking havoc on my personal life. I had a minor mental breakdown, picked a fight with my future mother-in-law, and bleached my hair, as if that would fix things.
That first year was rough in one way, and the second was rough in another. I had a better handle on the workload during my second year, but office politics and power structures became more of a problem.
My school had (and still has) a lot of issues in its English department, and the administration definitely put its students in unfair and even actively harmful situations on more than one front. There were many professors I knew I couldn’t trust, and many others I had to keep my distance from because I wasn’t sure if I could trust them. Juggling these issues made the daily work of my classes and my thesis that much more stressful, but I would say overall, the second year was better than the first. I definitely felt more qualified to be there, at least, which was a nice change of pace. And despite the administrative issues, I found some excellent professors to sit on my thesis panel and offer insanely insightful and helpful guidance. In late April 2018, I defended my thesis, passed, and officially became a Master of English. Then I just had to figure out what to do with it.
It has taken me over a year to really get into the swing of things as a freelance writer, but at first I wasn’t even sure that’s what I wanted to do. I thought I would just freelance until I found something more permanent. I applied to teaching positions, marketing jobs, anything even remotely related to my degree. I made a Pinterest board dedicated to office clothes, what I would wear when I got my first “real job.” But the “real job” never came. You know what did come? Freelancing gigs.
It turns out, my eclectic experience is seen as a liability in professional settings (I probably seem flighty) but it’s a huge asset in the freelancing world. Someone with experience in science and writing is a pretty hot commodity, as it happens. And even though I’ve been writing my whole life and I like to think I had pretty decent writing skills even before I got my Master’s, I know I wouldn’t get nearly as many freelancing gigs without a professional degree by my name.
So yes, getting my Master’s in Poetry was definitely worth it. It has brought in more opportunities for me professionally, and it radically improved both how I write my own poetry and my ability to appreciate the poetry of others. Plus, I have no regrets about not pursuing my passion. I’m not left with a million “what if” scenarios. I guess it’s probably a sign that I made the right choice that I never really think “what if I’d chosen Speech Pathology?” I’m happy with my choice, I’m happy with my time spent learning, and I’m happy with what I’ve achieved as a result.
To anyone out there facing a choice between their passion and their practicality, I can’t tell you what to do exactly. I want to tell you to chase your passion, consequences be damned, but I know real life is more complicated than that. If you’ll always regret not taking a chance, it might be worth it, but if you can’t pay your bills without choosing the practical path, then passion may have to wait. I’ll just say this: remember that only you know what’s best for you. It’s fine to ask others for advice if you want, but remember that at the end of the day, you’re the one who has to live with your life choices. Everyone else has their own life to live.