Back to School
Building on pandemic epiphanies
At 35, I’m starting to think seriously about grad school. The thought was unexpected, materializing sometime in June.
I won’t say I was surprised. By June we were three strange months into the pandemic and, like so many, I had gone through countless mental expeditions and detours. Time took on an almost laughable quality. Minutes felt like hours, days felt like seconds. The linear nature we normally plunk along with turned into a wide tarmac of something very different, something unnerving.
My job was still there, but it was excruciating. My clients (small hospitality businesses) were lurching and capsizing. My boss was an emotional wreck. My tiny apartment, as much as I love it and everything in it, revealed a near fatal flaw in its lack of private outdoor space. I realized I was dangerously close to burnout and for what? To live alone in a shoe box? The news reported constantly of the tragic ending of so many lives.
Was this how I wanted to spend mine?
That period was incredibly heavy, but in some ways it gave me the time and poignancy to think of new possibilities. By May, I was daydreaming of quitting my job and moving to Florida near my mom. Buying a plot of overgrown land, making art and becoming a realtor to help other people find their home base. I’ve always loved cultivating a sense of home– enjoying, improving, working on my own home and helping friends with theirs. The pandemic blew that into almost mythic proportions.
Home became the framework for life — mine and everybody else’s.
I started to think deeply and spontaneously about how I ended up where I am. A flood of seeming unrelated experiences… jobs and people and interests, habits and confusion and creative blocks that led to a general lack of focus and initiative in my life. I’ve learned from all of them, and trying so many different things has given me a breadth of human experience I’m sure I will draw on all my days. But something about this moment felt ripe for change.
The last few years I have earned my own trust, I’ve figured out what it means to take care of myself. I’ve gotten my health and finances and relationships in order. I’ve learned how to practice consistency and accountability in the things I commit to. I’ve learned to lead with love and grace instead of the “inner patriarch” who used to bully me around.
I have an inner calm and faith in myself that I lost for almost 20 years, definitely through college and the beginning of my career. I’m proud of myself for finding a path to where I am now.
Despite the rough patch at work at the start of Covid-madness, there’s a lot to be said for our business being able to weather the storm. And it really highlighted how valuable the relationships I’ve built are. I’ve found a lot of satisfaction in figuring out how to help in this unprecedented situation. There aren’t a lot of understandable technical resources for this industry, and my clients really seemed to appreciate my support.
But frankly, I don’t know if I want to be translating city code sections into restaurant-speak or answering “quick questions” that have complicated answers via email for the rest of my life. At least, I don’t know if I only want to be doing that.
When I reflected on how priceless life is, considering my particular interests and values and how I wanted to spend my days, I kept coming back to architecture. And this time around, I think I trust myself with an ambitious goal that will require a lot of creativity and sacrifice to accomplish at this point in my life.
It’s not something I can do bobbing along in the current flow. It will require planning and clarity, loans or figuring out how to continue working while in school. It will require tough conversations with my boss and tough decisions about what extra-curriculars I can manage. But something about the sheer gravity of such a big undertaking thrills me.
It taps into a young part of myself and tells her, I believe in you. I believe you can do this. And the adult in me will find a way to support myself through this process with resources that I just didn’t have at 20. I am excited to see what I’m capable of when I give myself a greater reach through the education and license an architecture program provides. I’m excited to see what I’m capable of when I’m given a fighting chance.
I guess I’m coming to this at the perfect time, because I’ve lived enough to develop a thoughtful inner philosophy about design. I’ve lived in enough places to understand how important light and air flow and noise levels of neighbors are. And I’m young enough to have a few decades ahead of me to learn the craft and leave my mark on the world.
When I graduated from SUNY New Paltz with a degree in Philosophy, I was more lost than when I started. My degree taught more more to doubt my thoughts than how to think. I got good grades not from a sense of alignment or integrity but because I felt obligated. And honestly, I’m grateful that I got through it; that Bachelors has come in handy plenty of times. It prepared me to read difficult work — I don’t know how else I would have spent so much time with Heidegger — but I truly never thought I’d want to go back.
And yet .One of many strange miracles from this year we are having. If the devastation of this situation has taught me anything, it’s to appreciate the good and build on it, in every sense of the word.