Where was I, 17 years ago? According to a picture my mom sent me in the mail, I had recently graduated kindergarten and was probably off to Big Kid school. I stared at the camera with wide eyes and had the toothiest smile, as if I had just been given the best present of my life. And speaking of presents, there are a few pictures of me in onesie pajamas next to a Zenith TV cardboard box. The box is bigger than I am, but not bigger than my pride at having My Own Place. 3123–of course the numbers add up to not just an odd number, but a prime one. And of course my name is intentionally spelled backwards. I’ve always been weird.
I’ve always loved to learn, and today marks another first day of school. I didn’t think I would be excited about this school year. Work is too hectic, my health is barely reliable, and why am I doing this in the first place? But the thought of going to class fuels me through the day. The projects assigned for the semester already have me looking for ways to connect my coursework, previous work experience, and possible career interests. I get through the day and drive home with a head full of ideas.
I’ve been toying with the idea of a doctoral degree. I’ve never totally barred it from the table of possibilities, but I have definitely put it on hold. Shelved it from the realm of my ambitions, only considered it if someone else happened to mention it. But recently–in part because of my internship this past summer, in part because of my coursework this semester–I’ve started to consider it more seriously. There’s a dash of what-the-hell in there too, as in Why not? It’s not like I have anything better to do. But a doctorate isn’t something most people do just for kicks.
I approached this semester with a grim face and a heavy sigh. Everything felt like work. Not necessarily in terms of effort, although that is often a part of it, but in terms of labor. It wasn’t fun anymore. I didn’t feel like I was learning anything, I didn’t feel like I was growing. The challenge was finding motivation to stay–alert, interested, invested, even alive. I kept thinking of a lyric I love, from a P!nk and Nate Ruess song: Just give me a reason, just a little bit’s enough… But any reason I gave myself sounded hollow. I wanted other people to encourage me, but I didn’t reach for their help. I felt that asking for help wouldn’t even be worth it, because I would only end up hating myself for needing comfort, company, community.
I’m not saying that getting a doctoral degree would give me these things. I’m just saying that I’m still learning. In life, in school, at work. I am learning, I just have to remind myself that the challenges might not be the ones I would ask for–but maybe they’re the ones I need right now. Usually when I find pictures of myself, I have a sort of mental glitch. My reflection tends to spark irrational anxiety in me; the why and how of it are often impossible to verbalize.
My kindergarten self brought me joy and delight. Maybe it was because I actually recognized who I saw. That same eagerness and excitement–to learn, to understand, to experience, to live fully and love deeply–is still with me nearly two decades later. Among the many reasons I haven’t died yet, one of them is that there’s still so much I want to learn.