Graduate school was hard. I’m talking about days when I couldn’t even understand material and therefore questioned my whole purpose and place in economics. There were weeks of time, specifically, when I did NOT pass an Advanced Microeconomics class that made me feel like I was dying mentally and physically. My ‘academic’ ego was so damaged during this time that I even contemplated if I could finish the program. I was really hard on myself about this too. I had never ever done poorly in school and to not pass a class was devastating. Never mind the fact I was working at a very demanding start up oil and gas company, starting my serious relationship with The Dude, and trying to give 100% in every area – feeling like I was half-assing it all.
I did ‘alright’ in most of the classes and really well in less than a handful. Classes were tough, the material was sometimes written in a special economics code that I could not decipher without looking at it for days or weeks sometimes, and I made it harder by not blending in to the academic economics culture. My ‘re-do’ of the Adv. Micro class resulted in an A for me and a much better relationship with my graduate peers, professors, and my academic self. I also quit my job and focused on school like I should have done to begin with. But, fitting-in made the difference.
This is the thing I have regrets about. “Fitting in” – I’ve never really fit in anywhere. High School? Nope. Undergraduate? Had a ton of great awesome friends, but didn’t really have ‘place’. Hair School? Definitely not – but everyone at hair school is an example of not fitting in. I waltzed into graduate orientation with my ‘hair stylist’ attitude – tattoos showing, alternative thinking, and damn proud to rub ‘my identity’ in anyone’s face. That, with working and not physically being able to be at school to ‘bond’ led me to be alone. This stunk because I wasn’t there for the ‘break-thru’ mind melding sessions that allowed everyone else to do WAY better than me. There were two professors that understood me and knew my potential and my background – the others I had never taken a class with and my demeanor or perhaps my gender made them standoffish and not approachable for me. This made things really hard. I could pout even more and say they discriminated me because of my tattoos, my gender, and my lifestyle, but I isolated and discriminated myself. If I had ‘toned’ down my identity and censored certain parts of my life, I probably would have finished graduate school in 2 years instead of a grueling never-ending 3. I know what you’re thinking – ‘whatever if they don’t accept you then forget them’ well that kind of thinking doesn’t apply to the people who determine your academic future. It also doesn’t apply to your employer and ultimately I am glad I learned this hard lesson of censorship in school and not by being ‘discriminated’ against at a job.
I have learned to censor my life and leave some things hidden and secret – no one at work knows I’m heavily tattooed and I like it that way. There are not assumptions made (good or bad), comments made, or incidents that could be avoided if I had just toned it down. I don’t feel like I am pretending to be someone else – or hiding my true identity. I’m simply ‘fitting-in’ – now don’t worry I’m not going to start shopping at Ralph Lauren or Abercrombie anytime soon, but it’s nice to fit in with your professional peers. It’s easy.
I spent two and a half years being angry at graduate school culture, but ultimately I was mad that I could have done something to change it instead of feel like I was suffering. We have choices we can make to make our lives easier and harder. In my field of work, alternative lifestyles are not normal or easy to lead successfully in the open. This may change, it may not. But, I know that by not being so loud my life, my potentials are no longer limited. Plus when the whistle blows, I can take off my sweater and proudly show my beautiful tattoos and be me without sacrificing the career potentials for a rare tattooed-crafter-blogger-furmama-goofball economist like me.