My ego is not cool with me admitting this, but it’s happening anyway: I did not finish my degree.
I used to be so ashamed of that fact. So much so that I hid it and even lied about it for years.
I thought the fact that I didn’t complete my degree meant I was a top-tier failure.
I spoke about my college years a bit in this post, but for those who haven’t read it and want the crib notes version, I’ll summarize:
I was really desperate back in the day to get a degree so I could say, “See? I matter.”
The problem was, I was enrolled in a program I didn’t like, was severely isolated, living in a city I wasn’t happy living in, and in full-out denial of the fact that I had an actual choice in the matter. Ie, that I could make a change.
I also had a shit load of toxic beliefs that needed to go, but I waited a while to tackle those (message to all: don’t wait, deal with them now!) And I was perpetually percolating on this thing I couldn’t name but which I now know was unresolved trauma (Check out this post from my resource page to learn more.)
Long story short I ended up taking my already heavy drinking habit to the next level. And though I tried over the years to finish my degree, with an addiction strapped to my back, zero self-worth, and a slew of other variables, it just didn’t happen.
So I didn’t graduate. Big Whoop.
I say big whoop because the few people I’ve disclosed this to have been unable to hide their shock when they find out just how close I came to completing my degree. It always irks me and fuels that deep-rooted wound we all have to some extent or another, that tells us we are not good enough, as is.
And it reminds me of that time at the ship and anchor pub in the early 2000s, when I judged someone for not completing their degree. Yeesh.
People are super invested in credentials. It’s lame.
I get it. Some days I’m super invested in credentials, too. Since my shrink mentioned it might be a good idea to finish up my degree a few weeks ago, I’ve been wondering if I should investigate at the local university, to see what my options are.
It’s no longer as simple as just finishing one more course, however. The program I was enrolled in has been dismantled. I’d have to see what credits would be validated locally, then figure out which degree would be a good match, which would likely entail a whole bunch of new courses.
But more importantly, I’d have to ask myself the question, Is getting a degree worth it for me?
Old school scholars might wholeheartedly agree. And daydreaming of how it would feel to walk the stage in a cap and gown for commencement does have an air of appeal.
But will taking that walk help me get better, or feel better? As I wrote about in a recent newsletter it’s important I know the difference and act accordingly.
Am I just doing what 20-something me was doing, chasing societal acceptance, status and a semblance of self-love? Or do I genuinely think getting a degree will help me?
Thinking about the end result feels good, but what about all the in-between? Will writing essay after essay, trying to please professors who have no inkling of understanding about the inner workings of me, serve me?
What I remember vividly about college is being unhappy. And while it’s true us humans have a propensity for revisiting the negative over the positive (blame your amygdala) I have to be real:
College wasn’t that great of an experience for me, mental-health wise.
It felt like I was trying to fit a mould that I could never fit, which my soul voraciously rejected. I spent a lot of time in lecture halls and computer labs feeling uneasy and pissed off because of it.
I’m willing to acknowledge that the four-ish years spent in school wasn’t all bad: I learned copy-editing, web design and become a better writer in the process. That training has served me.
But I have to acknowledge the sacrifice I made when I abandoned my right to be happy and healthy for the sake of a patriarchal idea of success.
For some people, finishing their degree might be a really great idea, but for me, it’s not.
While I am moving steadily away from the need to justify my decisions to others, at times it’s important to do. Particularly if it helps someone understand something they might not otherwise understand.
More Understanding = More Compassion for the Self and Others = Healing.
We need to dig in to Understanding. We need to eat it with every meal.
I tried like hell to finish the required credits for my degree. I plugged away over the years, finishing 4 of the 5 – all while dealing with addictions, severely dysfunctional relationships not only with others but with myself, a traumatic ATV accident that left me with two crushed vertebrae and serious soft tissue damage that no doctor would validate as existing, an interprovincial move, an economic crash, severe depression and anxiety, crippling debt, and the inability to hold down any of the shitty jobs I did get due to unresolved trauma and it’s counterpart, addiction.
A fourth-year computer science major computer networking course that was way beyond my skill level also got in the way. Slim pickings for approved credits when you are trying to finish an on-campus degree remotely.
Are these excuses for why I didn’t get my degree? Yes.
Are they excuses that acknowledge my struggles by way of compassion and kindness? Absolutely.
Lying about my credentials was born of me being a human being who was conflicted by opposing beliefs.
On one end, I believed all that mattered was having a degree in order to legitimize my worth and get a good job.
But I was perpetually conflicted in doing so because on the other end of the belief spectrum, there was a tiny part of me that knew it was all bullshit.
A tiny spark of self-worth that existed below all the self-loathing was what propelled me out of the belief system that told me I needed to sacrifice being happy in order to fit a patriarchal ideal of success.
It took a while to get here but coming home to acceptance of the fact that a degree isn’t for me reminds me that my mental health matters more than other people’s opinions.