That one time I was in graduate school

I graduated college with the intention of working with teenage girls. This led me to a graduate program in Memphis that offered me a 75% discount on tuition based on my grades (and let’s be honest – my family connections probably helped since my grandmother worked in the library at this graduate school for 26 years and my mom worked there for 2). During my second semester in the spring of 2009, one of the professors talked me through the number of years I had between current day and when I would actually be practicing what I wanted to do. And I realized that 6 years was too many to wait. I wanted to be working with teens now.

usUs taking our daily evening stroll around the grad school campus in 2008. We were so young!

But I was worried. Oh how I worried. I worried that I would disappoint my family by being a drop out (spoiler alert: they were super supportive and I had nothing to worry about). I’d never quit anything in my life and I hated the idea of quitting. Even though my grades were great and I was excelling in my classes, I felt like I was failing by not finishing out the program. But thankfully I had a supportive husband who walked me through the process. He encouraged me to not worry so much about finding “the perfect job” working with teens, but to instead start volunteering with teenagers. Who says you have to be paid to do what you’re passionate about? It was the best advice ever. After three semesters, I quit graduate school in 2009.

rach and abby in the libraryMy sister, Abby, visiting me at the library on campus where I worked in 2008 (the same library where my grandmother & mom worked!)

You might find it odd since I ended up dropping out, but I am so grateful that I went to graduate school for that year. When we graduated college we were looking at Florida, Colorado, and Tennessee as possible places to move. When I was offered that awesome scholarship, our decision was made easily. We would go to Memphis for me to attend graduate school and then after I graduated, we’d move somewhere else. Well, what do you know, I quit after a year and already we had found a home here in Memphis. I don’t know that we’ll always stay here (our hearts are really pulled to both mission work and the beach), but I know that for the past nearly 8 years, Memphis has been home. And I’m so glad that graduate school brought us here. 🙂

dinner with friends grad schoolDinner with friends in the courtyard on campus in 2008

We also had a lot of fun while I was in grad school. We lived on campus which meant that we lived in close proximity to all our new friends. We were always together all the time which was just really wonderful. Oh, and I was on the Student Association Counsel because I’m totally that girl. Which meant that I was part of making a couple of promotional videos for our school. I know you want to see them. My favorite one is absolutely the Popcorn Day one. I’m wearing a purple shirt with a white scarf. You can see it here:

And if that isn’t enough for you, you can also see this video where my acting skillz are really put to use (near the end of the first minute). Why I’m sharing proof of my lack of acting talent with you guys, I really don’t know. Other than that they strike me as funny. So enjoy. 😉

Recently I ran across those videos again and it had me thinking about how grateful I am that graduate school brought us to Memphis. And how grateful I am that I had the courage to quit after the first year even though I was so worried about what people would think and about what I would do with my life. Immediately after quitting graduate school in 2009, I began volunteering with a group of 7th grade girls. Those girls graduated high school last year and despite all my protesting that I’m too old for this, I find myself still mentoring teen girls (just a different group now). I am so very grateful for the way it all worked out. I volunteer for a couple of other organizations, nanny part time for two of the best kids ever, and have a full time photography business. Life is so much better than I could have predicted.

rachtopher choose901

How did you end up in the city where you currently live? 

Have you ever quit anything?

Do you use your college degree (either by work or volunteer work)?

Love Rach


38 responses to “That one time I was in graduate school

  1. i love that you listened to your heart and did what was best for you. and it all worked out in the end!

  2. It sounds like Memphis was meant to be and graduate school was the means to get you there!!! I love that your family and husband were so supportive of your decision. That is everything!!! I also love your popcorn video!

    I moved to Birmingham because when Chris and I started dating, I lived in Atlanta and he lived here. Chris is from Alabama and all of his family is here within a 15 mile radius of each other. My parents had actually moved to Alabama while I was in college, though they are about 45 minute away from me. It made sense when things started to get serious, that I be the one to make the move.

    I actually use my degree. I graduated with my BBA in Real Estate way back in 2005 and I have worked in the real estate industry ever since! I have worked in property management, a brokerage office and now I am working on the appraisal side of things.

    • That popcorn video makes me smile every time! It’s just so silly! And staging it was hilarious! Ah, good memories. 🙂

      Oh wow, yeah, it sounds like Birmingham made perfect sense for you! So awesome that you guys live close to both your families! My parents moved to Alabama when I was in college too! They are down close to Gulf Shores so it’s perfect for us since we like to visit the beach so much. 😉

      I love that you actually use your degree! I know so few people who do (other than my friends in the medical field). Christopher is an accountant who studied accounting and has always done it for work, but other than him, not many of our friends have careers within their field of study. It’s always fun to me to hear about how people end up where they are. I love that you picked something in school that you were able to make a career of! 🙂

  3. Confession: I quit the masters program after only 9 credits but I too landed where I am meant to be, my career is not what I envisioned but it works for us. Everything happens where a reason and I love that you have no regrets and are exactly where you are suppose to be!!

    • Yes! You are right with me! It’s such a weird feeling to quit something you start (especially when other people know about it), but it’s absolutely worth it when you end up where you need to be in life! So glad you are in that place! 🙂

  4. Your heart is in pineville! Remember??? Insider know about graduate school!!! That’s awesome! I watched the one video, but never saw a purple scarf. You are in so many promo things! Ha! I love it!!

    • Haha! YES! Of course, how did I forget to mention that my heart is in Pineville?! 😉

      Sorry, it was a purple shirt and white scarf. The way I said it was confusing so after your comment I went back and fixed it. So watch Popcorn time again… you’ll see me a ton! 😀

  5. Things worked out just the way they were supposed to! And I’m so glad for you for that. 🙂

    I came to Abq to work at my uncles company temporarily after China while I decided where to go next (I remember I was considering Korea). Well I stayed at my uncles company 6 years. 🙂 Through three boyfriends, my wedding, two home purchases and three moves, then a new job…I guess life kept me here and I’m very glad it did.

  6. Confession I never went to college. Isn’t it amazing to look back and see how you got where you got in life.

  7. I LOVE this story, because it’s just further proof that God works all things for good. 🙂 You had a plan, but you knew in your heart that it wasn’t right… You changed course, and you did what you knew in your heart to be right. We can’t ever see the future, but God really does guide us in our choices along the way. Some people would see ‘quitting’ as a failure, but it wasn’t. It was just changing course and knowing that God was leading you elsewhere. And look how well it worked out! You have had such a positive influence on teens already, and you have loved life in Memphis!
    I think that we all so often put so much pressure on ourselves to make THE right choice every time… When in reality, we have to trust that God really will help guide us along the way.
    My degree is in journalism, and I did write for a newspaper for a couple of years after graduation. BUT I graduated during a hard time for the newspaper business, so it wasn’t easy to get a job in writing. I ended up doing something completely different, obviously! I teach piano, using my 13+ years of private lessons. AND I blog as a writing outlet… 🙂 I never would have imagined that this would be what I’d be doing, but I love it! And I don’t know if it’ll be forever, but – for now – it’s where I’m supposed to be.

    • (AND blogging helped me realize that my passion is creative writing, not journalism after all. So while my English degree did help strengthen my writing, blogging helped me discover my voice). 🙂

    • Yes, yes, yes! Exactly!

      And I have so loved getting to see you go through life stages through the length of our friendship. You obviously excel in writing when it comes to blogging and your passion for it shows! And of course the fact that you are now tutoring piano… I just think that’s the coolest thing ever! I was SO proud of you when you made the decision to change to that and I have loved seeing how much you love it. What a blessing you are to each of those children! 🙂

  8. I am so glad that you posted this! It’s a really great reminder that sometimes quitting is not giving up or wimping out, it’s just following the plan that God has for us. Right now I’m facing the decision of whether or not to quit my job since I will have TWO littles at home next year. It’s a really hard decision because my job has been going SO well, and I really find my identity in being a teacher. But I have to remember that this is just a season of life, and there’s no reason I can’t go back eventually!

    • Oh wow! What a tough decision! I know how much you love being a teacher and how great your school is! But at the same time, being home with your boys would be such a blessing too. I’ll be praying for you as you decide! 🙂

  9. I love this post 🙂

    There are so many times I thought I wasn’t doing the “right” thing or making the more popular decision, but at the end of the day I was doing EXACTLY what I needed to in order to get to this point in my life. It’s amazing how much God can see behind the scenes, right? 🙂

  10. It must have been tough to leave grad school! But, you obviously made the right decision. Someone told me recently the quitting actually isn’t a bad thing. In fact, quitting something that isn’t making you happy/a better person in some way is actually the right thing to do!

  11. I’m glad you were able to figure out your path, even if it wasn’t the most traditional one! Clearly God had a plan for you in Memphis, even if it wasn’t grad school!

  12. It really takes courage to quit a program like that! It’s amazing how things can work out when you follow your passion and walk away from the things that don’t feel right 🙂

  13. I started off a a biomed student but ended up switching to majoring in English, French and history. But I don’t actually DO anything with that degree now… I sometimes wish I would have stuck with my first choice. Could have been a vet now.

  14. That’s amazing. I know long schools are for some people, but I’m with you. Sometimes it seem too long to put your life on hold. I’ve thought about grad school but I’m pretty happy with life as it is. It never turns out how you planned it but it turns out okay anyway sometimes :).

    • Yes! It was definitely too long to put my life on hold! I remember when last year rolled around and I realized that if I had stayed in that program, I would only just then be able to start doing what I wanted to do. That’s just crazy! I’m so glad I quit when I did. 🙂 By the way, welcome to the blog! Thanks for visiting! I’m excited to check out your blog now and get to know you more! 🙂

  15. I am totally a everything happens for a reason kind of person. Sounds like you took the perfect path for you. My husband put two years towards a PhD before leaving it. Best decision ever!!!

  16. I totally know what you mean! Quitting feels instinctively wrong… but it may not be!

  17. “Who says you have to be paid to do what you’re passionate about?” — I loved this. I’m the Youth Ministry Director at our church, it’s been what I’ve wanted to do ever since I was in high school myself, and working with teens is exactly where my heart is…and it’s a volunteer, un-paid position and that doesn’t make it any less worth doing. 🙂

    I’m really glad you shared your story of quitting–Angel was in grad school to be a Nurse Practitioner when he felt called to embark on our current lifestyle. He’d completed the first year, and dropped out fearlessly when we realized that Nurse Practitioners don’t exist in this part of the world, and even if he finished school, he’d still need to work for a while to cement his licensing, and we didn’t want to delay on what we knew we were supposed to do right now. I’m so proud of him for quitting, because that was honestly the much scarier choice. I’m not saying there’s moments when we question our sanity as to why he quit a good job as a nurse and his path to being an N.P. (whose salary is about double a nurse’s) to move to SE Asia and work as an English teacher making about 1/3rd of what he used to. But this wasn’t a choice made based on sanity–it was made based on a call, and I’m glad we chose to obey, because we’re thriving in this lifestyle.

    I majored in Mandarin Chinese, which I used a whole lot during our teaching jobs in China, and just last weekend I had a 20-minute Mandarin convo with the parent who doesn’t speak any English at all…so language skills still comes in handy. For actually adding to our family budget, I do private education for preschool-age kids and after-school tuition for highschoolers–I think the writing skills I learned in college definitely help with teaching those high school kids! I sometimes toy with the idea of getting my Master’s (it would be in English Education), but realistically, the only affordable option would be moving back to the States, and we’re not planning on that anytime soon. My parents always talk about opening an education center someday, and if we do want to start a family business, it would probably be a good idea to have some official-looking credentials….but actually getting out there and working with kids and teens is kind of a lot more rewarding than merely studying about it.

    • Christopher is a wise one. There have been a couple of different times over the past 12 years when I’ve agonized over a decision and then he has said the simplest thing (like “who says you have to be paid to do what you’re passionate about?”) and suddenly all the pieces fall into place for me. I’m definitely an over thinker and he’s not. We balance each other well (mostly he is balancing me, ha!).

      I love that you and I share such similar passions! The job you describe is a full time paid career here in the States. And it is actually the one I originally was pursuing while in college (like you I decided when I was still in high school that I wanted to work with teens!). Anyway, at the churches I worked with a youth minister/pastor’s summer is packed. Like, they are gone constantly. And after my first internship, I realized that I didn’t want to be gone from my future husband/kids that much. Which is why I chose counseling as my follow up field. I could still work with teenagers, just more in an 8-5 sort of way. And then you know the whole thing about why I quit that. But still got to follow my heart and do what I love — just not being paid to do it. So very similar to you! Though it sounds like you have a LOT more responsibility than I do! I bet those kids love you! 🙂

      Wow, it’s incredible that Angel chose to sacrifice his original chosen field when you guys realized that your call was elsewhere. Well, really it’s incredible that you both made that sacrifice. Living in the States, there is so much emphasis on how much you make and being sure to choose jobs that make lots of $$ so I always love hearing of families who chose a different path because they heard a call. I grew up in a family with parents who made a lot of money, but I never saw them. Then they sold everything and moved our family overseas to be English teachers in China. That definitely didn’t pay anything like what they were being paid in the States as restaurant managers. But they heard a call and they listened. 🙂

      It’s amazing how useful language can be! I haven’t kept up with my Mandarin at all so here I am, a dozen years later and I can still sing a few songs and could maybe (MAYBE) communicate with a 3 year old, ha! So I love that you get to use your Mandarin! An education center would be so amazing! I look forward to seeing how that plays out in the future!

  18. This was so lovely to read! I had always wondered about the story behind you going to grad school! I considered going, but then I thought that I didn’t want to be in school for another day, haha. I just didn’t know if I would have kids and settle down… and then pay loans on a degree I wouldn’t use. Tough life choices! Maybe one day I’ll go back to school. I guess you never know what God has in store for us!!

    I’m so glad God has guided you and that you’re able to volunteer with teen girls and impact their lives!

    • You were wise to consider that! I can’t regret that year in grad school because it brought us to Memphis, but it would have been smart of me to ask that question before starting the program instead of after the first year, haha!

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