I'm a grad school dropout. There, I said it.
I decided at about the age of 12 that I wanted to be a psychologist. I was then and still fascinated with how the mind works and why people are the way they are and act the way they do. In 1975 I wrote away to the American Psychological Association for brochures with titles like "Careers in Psychology". I checked books out of the library. I read about it in the 1972 World Book Encyclopedia.
While I was drawn to the subject intellectually, I think I was probably like a lot of people who gravitate to psychology. I wanted to understand and maybe fix the problems I saw in my family and myself. In my rural Oklahoma house there was alcoholism, attempted suicide, isolation, loneliness... so much pain. And on the face of it, it didn't make a lot of sense to my kid-brain. It didn't look like anything had gone wrong. We had a nice house. We lived in a pretty area. My parents had three neurotypical kids who got good grades in public school and who were on student council, in the band, ROTC (one of my brothers opted to be on the ROTC rifle team to get his gym credits.) I didn't feel like I fit in really, but I was a chameleon. I managed to get through my own bout of high school depression by toughing it out.
Fast forward six years and off to college I went, leaving behind the problems of my childhood home. I majored in psychology and did really well -- still really interested in the topic. But I discovered SOCIOLOGY, and liked it so much better! Groups! Not individuals! So I took more sociology classes, but kept my major as psychology.
Then one day, my favorite sociology professor handed out a survey in our Social Deviance class about sexual orientation! Eek! By this time I'd had a non-platonic relationship with another young woman, but this was Oklahoma, and 1984, and even handling a survey that had the word "lesbian" on it freaked me out. I couldn't turn it in. Whew. But the cat was out of my brain's bag. Coming out was something I'd get around to dealing with two years later when I was a senior. I still needed to finish school and figure out what next, but it was becoming clear to me that clinical psychology wasn't what I wanted to do. The closest field of study in psychology to sociology at that time was industrial/organizational psychology (later the programs got better and the language got hipper and it morphed into Organizational Dynamics.) So I set out to get into an IO psych program, and my chief criteria? Proximity to skiing.
After many a high school and college spring break, I loved Colorado and I loved skiing. I picked my grad school based on location. And I got a job as a hall director that paid 100% of my educational costs PLUS room and board. Colorado State, here I come!
Then two things happened. I fell in love with a real live out lesbian who was also into me, and I hated my grad school program. The details are not super important, but ultimately I dropped out of grad school after a year and a half and moved with my then-girlfriend to the East Coast.
No one plans to drop out of grad school. I had a lot of my personal identity tied up in the image I'd held for myself and my future as a PhD for more than a decade. I had a lot of elitist and classist stuff to work through. I quickly became under-resourced. I was starting over in deciding who I was going to be when I grew up. I had several pretty tough years. (I wish coaching had been available to me then!) But eventually I got my bearings and created an awesome new story for myself.
Is there a moral to the story? Ummm... It's okay to change your mind? What happened to you in the past is just part of who you are today? Once you're a few years away from it, it's not a thing anymore? Something that feels enormous won't always feel like that? Maybe do a little more research on grad programs before you decide?
Are you at that place of deciding what to do with your third third of life? Coaching can help. Sign up for a free session and get that extra assistance in sorting it out.