Back to School… Again

Well, the time has come.

Tomorrow I head back to school for a two-day honors leadership seminar prior to the start of the semester, which begins next Monday. So all the lovely hours of writing time will have to take second fiddle to school once again.

However, I am planning my schedule for the foreseeable future on a much lighter timetable to allow for additional writing time. Hopefully that means I won’t go completely absent like I had to do this past fall for long stretches in order to keep up with my studies!

Just to Let You All Know

Today started the Fall Semester at school and I’m taking a full and heavy load of classes. So this may be an interesting few months. I may not be super talkative, but I’ll always be here!

Challenging Expectations

By the time we reach 40-something (and that number is probably far younger, it just happens to be my current number), whether we’re aware of it or not, we have established a set of personal expectations. There is a mental outline that shapes the parameters of what we believe we can and cannot do, what we can and cannot accomplish, what we are and are not able to achieve. This outline has been determined in part by our parents, by our teachers during childhood, by our experiences, and by our own determinations.

But, really, who says this outline is set in concrete? Is there actually a solid “thing” in our brains forming an immovable boundary we cannot cross? Of course, there is not one. Still, this outline is as confining as if it were a steel box, secured with a hundred keyless padlocks.

I’ve made huge strides in breaking out of that box. I stepped out of an abusive marriage. I went back to school. Instead of taking a make-do career path, I went for the dream – a doctorate in psychology. But over the past several months there has been a niggling sensation of “something” worming its way around in the corners of my mind. And yesterday the lightbulb went on. I have still been confining myself to that box in yet another way. Well, actually in a couple ways. The other way was challenged last week.

First things first. Let me back-track to last week. Last Tuesday I flew from Atlanta to Chicago for the annual board meeting of the organization I volunteer with, which is based in the Chicago suburbs. I’ve been working with New Hope Outreach for seven years, now starting my eighth. As we had a whirlwind of meetings, including the executive board meeting, I was reminded how much this work is my heart. And it occurred to me – there is nothing really keeping me from moving there once I finish my Associates degree.

The moment that opened my eyes was when someone mentioned it was a 15-minute ride to downtown Chicago on the train. I realized one of the colleges I’m considering transferring to has a campus in Chicago. It is literally as close to them there, as it is to me here. I moved to Atlanta after I married because my husband was from this area and we moved to be near his family. My brother later moved here and is the only family of mine in this area. He is planning to move away from this area within a couple years, back closer to family. My boys are grown – one is getting married. The other is going away to college in another state and will be gone for 3-5 years. My ex lives in another state now. Why do I need to stay here when the work I love is happening in the suburbs of Chicago and I can go to school there just as well as I can here in Atlanta?

The other challenge to expectations was more significant, however. It goes back to the fact that we were not affirmed in our strengths as children, so we did not learn to value them. Also, I always approached school with an attitude of “get it done better and faster.” I was a perfectionist, so anything less than perfect meant I wasn’t good at it. And if I wasn’t doing two years of school in one it wasn’t good enough. I was always in a hurry to get to the finish line for some reason. I had to get done with eighth grade a year early so I didn’t get sent away to boarding school in Brazil (not a punative thing; long story). I had to get done with high school early for some reason I can’t even remember now; I think it was so I could graduate with all my friends who were a year ahead of me, but my dad wouldn’t let me anyway. I had to get done with Bible college early to escape because the place was so abusive. The only way out was to get married, and I had to be done with all but a few classes I could do from a distance because they required students who married to take a year off, and by then I would be far, far away if at all possible.

When I started back to school last year I wasn’t sure if I could take the academic rigors. Would my brain function like it used to, especially post chemo, migraines and all that abuse? Was I ever any good anyway, since who knows how the academics of that weirdo environment I was in “back then” compared to a “real” school? In talking to my academic advisor, he suggested, and I agreed, that at my age, the best plan was to get in, get out, and get into a career, ASAP. I suspect he was verbalizing what he thought my perspective was. But I really didn’t have a perspective other than my previous mode of “do it as fast as possible.” So I unconsciously adopted his, like the good, obedient girl I am.

But I found I was good at the academics. Not only was I still proficient, I found it profoundly satisfying at a level I can’t even describe. One of the hurts of my marriage was that my husband was apparently intimidated by my intelligence and would humiliate me publically if he ever saw evidence of it. So I tried as much as reasonably possible to pack my brain away for 20 years. School has been FABULOUS; you just have no idea.

Over the course of the past week, I’ve also had another thought. In the course of walking out my own situation, I’ve been busily looking at my own feet, working out my own path. But the fact of the matter is, since I work with DV survivors, I’m already making tracks for others to follow. It’s about more than just me. What would I tell others to do? Would I tell them, do the quickest and easiest way? Or would I say, go the way that will most help you grow as a person, will give your children the highest and best example to follow, will give you the most personal satisfaction on the way – as long as you and your family are safe and provided for at the same time?

Yesterday, in the textbook reading for Psychology of Adjustment class, the book asked the question, “Where am I going?” That is the moment the lightbulb flashed. It hit me all at once — the destination is not the goal. The years will pass one way or the other. The best question is, how I will spend them? Will I maximize their value in their passing? Or will I merely tick them off my to-do list on the way by?

This has motivated me to turn a little different direction in my transfer college choice, my class choices, and also in the use of my time “in the meantime.” I’m very excited about it. It’s a little scary at the same time because it means I have to take some chances and dare a little – well, dare a lot. But as the saying goes — nothing ventured, nothing gained. So, we will see how it goes. And I will enjoy the journey more.

School and Psychology of Adjustment

This term I’m taking Psychology of Adjustment. I really didn’t know what to expect when the course started. There were a couple psych classes available this summer with instructors who had good ratings on ratemyprofessors.com and that was my qualifier. LOL! My first semester in school I registered for classes without checking out the professors on ratemyprofessors.com. I learned the hard way why that was a bad idea. 😉 Anyway, my understanding was that the class was about adjusting to the changes and challenges of life.

Well, I am loving this class. It is personally challenging rather than just an exercise in accumulating knowledge. If you really want to dig around in why you do the things you do and learn how to change your own choices, I recommend getting the book, I Never Knew I Had a Choice, by Gerald and Marianne Schneider Corey.

The chapter we’re working on this week talks about “injunctions” – the internal “do’s” and “don’ts” that we are taught, either actively or passively, from the time we are very young. These injunctions program the way we act and the choices we make, and unless we deliberately choose to stop and challenge them we will never be able the change our lives.

See which of these may be determining your actions:

Don’t be yourself.
Don’t think for yourself.
Don’t feel.
Don’t be close.
Don’t trust.
Don’t fail.
Don’t be foolish (or silly or have fun).
Don’t be important.
Don’t brag.
Don’t let us down.
Don’t be sexy or sensual (even within your marriage).
Don’t focus on your appearance (at all).
Don’t change.
Don’t talk back (or question authority).
Do – be perfect.
Do – say only nice things.
Do – be more than you are (you are not good enough the way you are).
Do – be obedient.
Do – work up to your potential.
Do – be submissive.
Do – be practical at all times.
Do – listen to authority figures.
Do – always put your best foot forward.
Do – put others before yourself.
Do – be seen but not heard.

I included a couple extras that weren’t in the book. Even the ones that “seem” like they are good are not necessarily, especially the way they are interpreted within an abusive environment.

Another question that I thought was very thought provoking was, “What messages have you received concerning:

  • your self-worth
  • your ability to succeed
  • your gender role
  • your intelligence
  • your trust in yourself
  • trusting others
  • making yourself vulnerable
  • your security
  • your aliveness as a person
  • your creativity
  • your ability to be loved
  • your capacity to give love

Think about it and see if you learn anything interesting about yourself. We can only change what we can first identify as a problem. Personally, I think this is a process that will never end. If we’re not growing, we’re stagnating or going backwards – neither is something positive.

Reference:

Corey, G. & M. (2006). I Never Knew I Had a Choice. 85, 86

Long Absence

It’s been a wild month! It’s the last part of the semester so I’ve had final projects and papers coming out my eyes. I’m down to the last two weeks – four finals to go, but I’m feeling well-prepared so I’m starting to breathe a little easier. Then I get about 3 weeks off before diving into the abbreviated summer term.

My Other Bit of Good News

My other little triumph was — I was invited to join Phi Theta Kappa – the national honor society for junior colleges.  I knew I would be invited since the invites are automatic with a GPA over 3.5 after completion of 12 credit hours (mine is currently 3.92) but this past week was the orientation.   The induction ceremony is April 4.

I really didn’t know much about honors society other than that there is additional scholarship money available to honor society students.  And believe me, that is definitely one of my motivations!  I need every penny I can get because I can’t pay for school.  I didn’t know being part of Honors would also increase my options when transferring to a four year school after next year.  From what I heard, this will give me a lot more choices, potentially with full-ride opportunities if I keep my GPA like it is.

So I was excited to see the opportunities involved and available.  I’ve also been wanting to plug into the school community and particularly would like to tutor and mentor.  There’s a part of Honors that does that!  One of my “things” is that I think anyone with an average IQ can succeed.  But I think a lot of people, especially from difficult situations, think they can’t.  All they need is to learn to believe in themselves and get a little help – like learning how to study and how to write papers.  I can help with that!

Cool Little Moment for Me ;-)

Completely departing from the big issues of life, I’ve had a couple neat things happen recently.  I’m going to spread out the celebration and make two separate posts of it.  😉

I got a phone call the other day from the school where I took my GED last summer.  The story on that was, when I applied to college I discovered that my high school “diploma” was not valid.  The school which issued it was not qualified to grant a diploma, so I did not have one.  That was a stressful day! 

Anyway, they were calling to tell me I got the highest GED score in Georgia last year (standardized score of 3980 out of 4000 – as a perfectionist, I’m dying of curiosity to know what I missed; and I want to know who got the highest nationally and what their score was).  The national GED organization wants to give me an award and the school where I took the test wants me to come speak at their graduation in May.  The woman I talked to said there will probably be other speaking opportunities as well.  How cool is that!