Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Dear University: I'm breaking up with you...

Dear University,

It has reached that time again. This isn’t the first time but I do so hope it is the last…Remember: it’s not you, or even me, it’s this relationship. Our relationship. 2 years down the line from our first goodbye, I thought we might have changed, but the feelings are still the same. We’re still not right for each other. The chemistry just isn’t there. If you were a cat, I’d be a mouse and I really didn’t feel safe around you. Mentally, anyway, and emotionally.

I know emotions are sometimes tricky to explain. So are thoughts and worries. They’re tricky for people on the outside to understand. Those friends and family watching our relationship struggle through its ups and downs. They can see some things but they can never fully understand what is going on inside. So, over the last few weeks, I have collected some metaphors. Some have developed from the words and ideas of family observers, some have come from my own head: 
  • Firstly there’s the meadow…the beautiful meadow full of flowers. Or as I see it, the giant pit of burning lava and flying rocks. On one side of this space, whatever it may be, is me. On the other, is my mum and other friends, family and tutors. They are beckoning and calling to me, encouraging me across the gap dividing my current life to one post-degree: “come on over here Ellie, it’s beautiful over here on the other side of the…”. Now, here is where the others and I part views. For others, the gap is a beautiful meadow, something lovely and beautiful that I need to cross to get to them. Their words are encouragement, calling me to their side. Whereas from where I stand, looking into the distance towards them, between us stands a pit of fire. Like that scene in Shrek when he’s almost reached Princess Fiona. The lava is hot and unappealing, I don’t have a bridge in my image but instead, very precariously placed rocks to act as stepping stones. At any moment, any of these stepping stones could be submerged by an explosion of hot molten rock…And there the rest of the world stands, on the other side, simply calling to me but with no clear instructions as to how I get through the fire to reach them. Meanwhile I stand on my side shouting, hoping to get a clear response: “what’s so special about the other side? On my side there are cute babies who need looking after, children I can care for! Is your side so much better than mine?”. I hear only muffled replies, and the echoing of “degreeeeee, degreee” carried across the chasm.
  • Then there’s the wood, the deep dark wood…I can’t go over it, I can’t under it, I can’t go around it….anyway, you get the message. I devised this one myself when my counselor sent me asked me to describe how I felt when around your book collection – library, if you will. Afterwards, I realised this metaphor could be extended to how I feel generally in your presence. Imagine someone has led you to a wood and sent you inside. The reasons they give are that somewhere, no more specific than that, in the wood, is a tree. And on that tree is some fruit. That fruit will help you do wonderful things in life. You’ll be happier and go further if only you found that tree and that fruit. Yet, were you ever given a map? No. Were you told where to find the tree, where the fruit is, how much fruit to pick and what to do with it once you have it? No. You were not. Yet you’ve been told, with great certainty, by people all around you, that this is where you should be. That being here is good. Being here is important. In the wood. Where the trees are so big that they block out the light, where you don’t know which path to take.  Where, when you consider leaving, the person that sent you there, stands at the exit telling you that if you leave, you’re just losing precious time you could be spending finding and picking this magical fruit. Meanwhile, as you sit huddled in a ball on the woodland floor, crying silently to yourself and feeling horribly alone, there is laughter around you from groups happily picnicking. They sit in patches of sunlight that I can’t reach, eating sandwiches and cake with friends. They, somehow, appear to know what they’re doing in the wood and they aren’t afraid to be there. You are…I am…lost, alone and confused.
  • Finally, there’s the “life’s a journey” metaphor. Most know this one, but my Boyfriend has a wonderful way of putting it. He drew me a map with me at X and another point at Y…Who really knows what Y is? In this day and age Y is constantly moving and there isn’t one set destination for where the journey end. The point of the metaphor, however is the multiple routes available to get anywhere. I began mine and reached a deep dark wood, a lava field, very much not a meadow. I looked ahead and decided “no thank you, I don’t like the look of that path, I think I’ll go the other way”. I turned right and I’m heading around. Taking the diversion. It’s not the route prescribed on the map and it may add extra minutes to my journey or take me through places I wasn’t expecting, but the point is, in the end, the destination will be the same. If the destination is just finding a job that I enjoy, working with children and not crying every day then surely it shouldn’t matter which route I take to get there except, personally (and I don’t know if you’d agree) I’d rather avoid the burning fire pit or dark, scary wood.
Life's a journey...(Really I just like this photograph)

When I’ve explained to others about all these metaphors, about how I feel about us, they want to check just one thing. They want to know that our relationship is ending because I want it to and not because I feel it’s doomed to fail. I can do it. I could keep seeing you, day by day pushing myself to drag my legs through the boiling lava. I know I could. I just. Don’t. Want. To. I’ve calculated that what I’ve achieved so far is more than I ever had in my mind. I’ve calculated that I began my plan to avoid university at the age of 14 and that I’ve therefore done exceptionally well to get where I am. I’ve calculated that when I started my 2-year Montessori Foundation Degree, I said finishing that would be my goal and that goal has been accomplished. I even have the silly piece of paper to prove it. I’ve done what I said I would and I am not willing to sacrifice my mental health any more than is necessary to do something I always told myself wasn’t right for me.

When I had my letter of deferral from the university signed, the tutor signing it tried to persuade me that people would respect me much more if I had a piece of paper hanging on my wall. She specified that the piece of paper be a BA and that the letters I have already achieved are not enough. She explained that people would listen to me much more, in the world of children, maybe even the world in general, if only I stayed in this relationship just one more year and got myself a piece of paper. A different piece of paper from the one I’ve already worked 2 years for. To all that, I say:

If the world decides to judge me by my ownership, or lack of ownership, of a very specific piece of paper, then that is the world’s problem, not mine.

Is this piece of paper not good enough for you?
Back to the journey analogy: I may not know where the path I’ve taken is heading or what I’ll find on the way, but what I’m doing is moving away from the pit of fire/the deep, dark wood that was standing in my way. I'm not stopping. I'm still moving. I'm just taking some time to look at the map while I investigate a side road.

So, what is it about the deep, dark wood that I dislike so much? For me, it’s the lack of a map. It’s the way that the wood is made to sound like somewhere important that needs to be visited: An important obstacle to cross in order to gain future success and happiness. For many, they sell it as “the best 3 [sometimes more, for the super crazy] years of my life”. I, for one, hope that my experience with you is not the measure of happiness by which the rest of my life is to be compared to.

But hey, let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you are important to my future success and happiness…if that is the case, why leave me without an instruction manual or a map? I, or the government on my behalf, are paying you a lot of money. Help me to see your value. If I’d continued as I was I’d have been spending £9000 seeing a ‘lecturer’ for 6 hours a week then crying in the library for the rest of it…that’s some pricey tears. I could cry at home, watching E.T., in my pyjamas, for free.

What you make me feel is that I need you in order to be judged worthy of working with children or doing what I love. You make me feel like everything else that I am made of; my personality, my experiences, are all worthless without you. When I saw my counselor the other day, she introduced me to the idea of a Ta-Da list. A list of achievements and things I already possess as opposed to those I still want or need. Here’s mine:

  • ·         I’m strong and determined – I know what I want and what I need and what I’m willing to do to get there and if that means fighting the system, so be it!
  • ·         I’m a fighter battling with my mind everyday to believe that I’m doing great as I am
  • ·         I have achieved a foundation degree in Montessori and Early Childhood and I did it with Distinction
  • ·         I’m a great cook
  • ·         I’m a not too shabby writer (if I don’t say so myself)
  • ·         I stay in the lines when I colour
  • ·         I make my friends and family laugh
  • ·         I spend time others might choose to spend relaxing at home, entertaining children and teenagers in Hospital and putting a smile on their faces
Plus...I can really rock the onesie, giant glasses and clock look...

And when it comes to this degree melarky, the truth is, I am great with children. TADA! Is that not enough? I already have the skills. And I have the experience: 4 pages of a CV worth of experience and skills. Too much. So much I had to work to figure out what I could remove. 4 pages of work, volunteering, random training opportunities I’ve chosen to go on. I’m a doer you see. And I’m determined.

Have I written a dissertation? No…

Have I had to cut down a 12,000 word essay about Early Years Education because it was only meant to be 6000 words but I had so much to say and argue? Yes…

Was I asked over the summer why I couldn't follow my part-time nannying family back to the USA to continue being their nanny there instead of studying...Yes....

I have the brain and I have the heart.

In the words of A. A. Milne: ”You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think”. And I am.

So, University, please just let me go. Let someone else, somewhere else, give me a chance.

All the best,