Back to school season always hits the retail business hard, my store especially so. The line to check out stretches all the way to the back and then twists and loops its way around the store as new and returning students take their first of many tests in patience.
Every register is open. Someone made sure they all got the necessary repairs to be functional during this crucial two week period. The new cashiers struggle with how to do split payments, and a supervisor shuffles around fixing small mistakes that could have far-reaching ripple effects. Someone at register six wants a purchase delivered, the cashier in charge of alcohol sales needs to know if we accept driver’s licenses from Puerto Rico for the fifteenth time, and the number of customers at the returns desk who don’t have their receipts only grows exponentially.
I arrived an hour early because I finished my other errands and it is too hot to sit outside.
My mood is off because I stayed up until three finishing one of the books I was reading. I can’t go to work today tired and angry because the students’ and parents’ patience will already surely be running thin.
I purchase a very large hot chocolate and sit at the window, in the air conditioning, to drink it and put some of my emotions down on paper. It helps. A playlist blares through my earphones and drowns out the chaos behind me. The hot chocolate soothes my soul in a way that coffee just can’t, and the words flow out, tumbling over one another to bring you this story.
A few moments of peace to put my mind and body back in order, centering my soul. And then it is time to dive into the fray.
Yesterday in church, a visiting priest spoke to us about how this week is Vocation Awareness Week. It was perfect timing because I’ve been questioning everything lately.
Grad school is going well, but whether it’s because I’m only taking two classes a semester, or because a lot of the publishing material is the same as what I covered studying broadcasting, public relations, and general communications during my days as an undergraduate, I realized last week that I am profoundly bored. I know, I’m as horrified at the prospect as you are. Mostly, I can’t figure out what, aside from teacher insight, I’m getting out of the classes that I couldn’t get on my own. Graduate school isn’t worth it just for the degree and the name of the school on my resume.
When I was first earning my bachelor’s degree, I was convinced that the right school on my resume was my ticket to the Best Job Ever. After transferring to a smaller school and getting a better education there, I realized how ridiculous that idea was. It’s never been about the school name, it’s always been about what I can learn from the program. That’s why I chose Emerson College. It is supposed to be the best graduate publishing program in the country, taught by current professionals, and my ticket into the industry through networking.
I am enjoying my copyediting class, but that’s because the teacher makes it interesting, and the textbooks are a little dry for me to work through on my own. We also have to take overview classes in book, e-book, and magazine publishing. I was assigned to take magazine publishing this semester, and it is almost exactly the same as three different classes I had to take for my bachelor’s. The teacher is lovely, but the material is nothing new. We also have to do interviews with magazine professionals for this class, and for all of my googling/emailing/twittering/calling, I have yet to get a response from anyone I have reached out to. And the lack of interviews, even though I don’t have control over that, actually affects my grades, which is just terrible and makes me incredibly sad.
So, what am I getting out of graduate school? The truth is, I don’t know. My apartment lease is good through August, so I am going to keep at it for another semester and try to take more classes in book publishing specifically, but if it doesn’t get any more interesting then I don’t see the point in sinking myself into more student debt if I don’t need to.
I spoke to an associate editor back in September at the Boston Teen Author Fest, and while she has a master’s in publishing, she said that if she could go back and do it over, she wouldn’t. She would apply directly to internships instead and get involved in the industry that way. Because you can get as educated as you want, but at the end of the day, the industry is small and the only way in is to know people who will want to hire you. Every day that I’m bored with my classes I feel her advice more strongly.
If I choose not to stick with graduate school, the next question becomes, of course, whether I want to try for internships here in Boston, or in New York City? My parents live about 90-minutes from NYC, so moving back in with them would make it possible for me to work a part-time job locally and go into the city a couple days a week for an internship.
On the other hand, I love Boston. I feel at home here, and I rarely feel at home 5+ hours away from my parents. Maybe it’s because I have family nearby if I need them? My aunt, uncle, and cousin live here, and my great aunt and a slew of second cousins live just north of the city.
In 2015, I traveled to Portland, Oregon, for a public relations conference and fell in love with the city. My favorite parts were the lack of nightlife and the abundance of green space. It felt like coming home, except it was on the other side of the country. That’s what it felt like moving to Boston. There are parks everywhere here, and New England is almost as friendly as the Pacific Northwest. I have a profound desire to live within walking distance of bookstores, coffee shops, and museums, and I have that here in addition to a church I really like. This city is huge, but at the same time, it is incredibly small. There is a reason the Boston Marathon starts in another town. The entirety of Boston proper is maybe three miles by five miles, and the extended Boston Area is about ten miles by twelve miles. There is always something going on, and that drives my curiosity and my imagination constantly to new heights.
Moving back home requires me to give up all of the coffee shops, bookstores, museums, and my church, and moving near New York City would require me to give up all of my parks and outdoor space as well as my church community. I am at an impossible crossroads.
When the priest spoke about vocations yesterday, a couple things clicked in my mind. I started thinking about my life as it stands now, what I can and cannot live without, and what I can see myself doing for the rest of my life.
I’ve never really wanted to be a nun. In fact, until the spring of 2016, the only thing I definitely wanted out of my life was motherhood. I wanted to raise babies with the love of my life, teach them how to survive in this crazy world, and watch them fly. Admittedly, I went to college because I needed to do something and get a job to pay the bills until the day I got married and had babies and could be a stay-at-home mom, and also to have something to go back to after my babies were grown. But I didn’t love anything like I loved the idea of motherhood, and I think that is one of the primary reasons why I floundered so much during college. By the time I transferred schools at the end of 2012, I was completely lost and unsure if I would ever get married, let alone date, and I threw myself into studying communications at my new school in part to distract myself. I enjoyed communications. It was logical, it was scientific, but it was also at the root of what I loved as a child: creation and creativity. Studying communications brought back my love of writing, which had been missing since I started high school.
I graduated with my bachelor’s in Communication Studies, and then I started looking for a job. I quickly realized that none of the companies that could pay me any livable salary had ethics that I could live with or worked with brands that I could get excited about. It was a sad day when I realized I was back to square one. No potential jobs, no potential relationships, and a fat lot of nothing to show for the last five years of my life. I was lost again. I job searched for six months while helping to plan two weddings, and then I took a retail job. I enjoyed the job and wedding planning, but they didn’t change my life or give me direction. After the weddings, I moved to Boston and became a nanny for my baby cousin. I loved that, too, but it also opened my eyes to the trials that would come with motherhood. For one, you can’t turn it off, and I don’t think I ever really thought about that before. I wasn’t even his mother and the worry was almost crippling. The good days were amazing, but the hard days were harder and more exhausting than anything I have ever experienced. It showed me that I’m not quite ready for motherhood; and that finally allowed my heart to consider other options.
Options. There were many of them at the time. I could move home and get another retail job and exist listlessly while I saved up money for an apartment and then some unfocused future doing who knows what. I could get a job in Boston and stay here, doing the same thing with less of a support network. Or, I could consider graduate school in something.
As a child, I wanted to be in school forever. I wanted to possess all of the knowledge of the universe. I really couldn’t blame Eve for trying that apple, because knowledge is intoxicating. While getting my bachelor’s degree, I decided that I was firmly against going to graduate school. I didn’t want to be a teacher, and if I wanted to study history there were a thousand ways to do that without getting a degree of some kind.
Then I discovered publishing through a YouTube video. Ironically, this is similar to the way I discovered public relations, except that that was through Twitter. After a year of praying over it and processing the idea, I applied, thinking I would have to apply for multiple years before I got in. I was accepted on the first try, and now I’m in the thick of it, but I’m still questioning.
Discovering publishing didn’t suddenly make me want to be a writer or an editor. I’ve always loved those things, but it never occurred to me that I could make a career out of it. When I found publishing, I thought a master’s degree was my only way into the industry. Since getting accepted in March, I have learned so much about the ways into the industry, but the doors themselves are still very much closed to me. I hope to crack them open next semester when I take my book publishing classes, but it is becoming more and more clear to me that opening these doors isn’t something anyone can do for me, but something I have to do for myself, in my own way, and with my own timing.
All of this questioning started a couple weeks ago when I finally landed a new job. I’m working in retail in what I guess could be described as head cashier position at a superstore that I won’t name for security reasons. My first day was interesting enough to keep me engaged, and then the morning of my second day I sprained my foot/ankle. After nearly two weeks, I returned to work a week ago for my second day on the job, and everything has been hunky-dory since then. I’ll never know if it’s because I’m on crutches or not, but everyone has been especially kind and calm when I ask questions, and so many people have come up to me and introduced themselves that after only six days on the job I can now tell you the basic hierarchy of the store and who is in charge of which departments, as well as point out the store manager, the HR manager, and the regional manager upon request. It’s amazing to me how quickly the acclimation process is going, and just how much I am enjoying it. I get excited to go to work, even though it means being on my feet/crutches for about eight hours and dealing with a handful of frustrating customers each day. I love serving people, especially when I can serve not only the customers but also my fellow employees in some sort of leadership position.
So, in the middle of yesterday’s mass, I realized that motherhood wasn’t my only calling. I can’t live without books. The writing, editing, and creation of them as well as the consumption of them. I adore working with people, whether in a customer service or leadership capacity. I also have a dream of being a Girl Scout Leader someday. I was an assistant leader in middle and high school, and it’s life-changing to help young people discover their strengths and the confidence to pursue their dreams. I want all of these things, and where I live won’t change them. These are my vocations.