How on Earth I Got My Master’s Degree

Hi, my name’s Carrie and I have my Master’s degree. I’m Carrie and I have an MSW. Hi there, I finished my Master’s is Social Work degree last fall. 

WHAT. Regardless of how many times I say it out loud, it still feels odd to me. The fact that somehow, over the course of the past eight years, I actually graduated (twice) and earned a Master’s in Social Work degree. How on earth? 

Beginning with my undergraduate degree, I had many definitive moments during this process when the concept of having a degree in my hand felt near impossible. There were medical leaves, semesters of only one or two classes at a time, a school transfer to a college down the street from my parents’ home, and more trips to the Emergency Room than I can count. All of the above left me wondering why on earth I was even trying to finish college when the prospect of ever maintaining employment and applying a degree seemed slim to nothing.

How did I make it? It’s still a mystery to me, but I do know the following practices and thought patterns helped me immensely. I also know that most of them are privileges that, for one reason or another, have been granted to me. I don’t know why this is the case, but every day I’m grateful for that fact. 

#1: ONE DAY AT A TIME. Actually, make that one minute at a time. As cliche as it is, this is seriously the only way I ever accomplish anything. If someone had come up to me while I experienced my first headache during my sophomore year of college and told me it wouldn’t ever go away, I would have surrendered quickly to my bed before they finished talking.

When you are suffering intensely, it is far too overwhelming to think about what the future holds. I truly believe the only way through is to trust that there is grace to carry out whatever it is we are being called to in the present moment. Practicing this lesson has blessed my life tremendously. 

#2: PRIORITIES.  Throughout my entire educational journey, I had to constantly coach myself on my priorities. Over and over again, I chose to put all my effort into two things: 1) finishing school & 2) maintaining my prayer life. This meant making a choice not to live with the group of girls I wanted to live with for most of my time in grad school. It meant taking a couple months without working at all and only going to my classes to be sure I could manage. It meant using a lot of my weekends to do homework, laundry, and cooking huge batches of food I can eat in order to allow as much extra energy as possible to get through the school week.

Accepting that it was a season I may not thrive in other areas of my life made it seem like such an added blessing when I was able to go to that party or work a few hours or even sing at church on Sunday. Maintaining this perspective was difficult, but I knew that it was temporary. 

#3: People. That being said, finding some way to maintain connection with those closest to me, despite my death to a social life,became imperative to me. Whether it be a neighborhood walk or a phone conversation with one or two friends throughout the week, these connections provided me encouragement and space to be honest as well as an opportunity to think about someone else’s life for the time being. Connecting with my classmates whenever possible became a similar source of life for me. 

Ultimately, it is also no doubt I would not have made it without a supportive family. My parents provided help with meal planning, rides when I was incapable, a quiet home to rest, and pep talks almost daily when all I wanted to do was quit. Between each of my sisters I was frequently offered couches to nap on, food I can eat without me asking for it, opportunities to call and vent when I needed it. I made an effort to keep them updated as much as possible. 

#4: Communication. To be a part of the social work world means to be in a field where compassionate, understanding people are not hard to come by, and I honestly don’t know if I would have made it in a field in which this wasn’t the case. From the start of each semester to my very last day of clinical, I frequently kept my professors and supervisors updated on the state of my health. In grad school and undergrad, I had supervisors who knew to check in with me and made an effort to be sure that I was learning what I needed while also taking care of myself. This was a major gift and wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been up front about my capabilities–particularly in regards to attending class and meeting deadlines during hard weeks. Support through the Office of Disabilities to receive accommodations in this way from each university I attended was essential to this process. 

#5: Good Doctors. Although they have yet to completely fix me, finding the right professionals and medical care to support me (through prescriptions, knowledge of my condition, etc.) became another necessity to me. Diet, yoga, and regular sleep are three additional areas they encouraged me to incorporate into my life that became gamechangers for me.

And finally: Hope. Above all else, it was choosing to believe that there was purpose in my suffering, even in the way it drastically impacted my productivity, made me way less cool, and left me doubting my own ability to do anything, that really got me out of bed in the morning. Without this hope & belief in my own dignity, there was no point trying. Holding on for dear life to this hope was not only the underlying strength that carried me, but even allowed me to discover unexpected joys along the journey. 

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