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After two weeks of post-workday-studying and one particular mind-numbing GRE study session, I have a complete meltdown. After, I lay numbly on the couch. Visions of advanced algebra, quadrilaterals and vocabulary words dance through my head. “I need a hug,” I mumble to no one in particular. It occurs to me that this is what life would be like, if I move forward with getting my doctorate. Working all day and then studying all night. Unable to answer, “What the hell am I even thinking?”, I make myself some eggs and pop in a movie, a documentary about dancers on Broadway.
As the film plays on, I get to thinking about how many times things in life feel like trying out for something. School. Job interviews. Dating. Life, it seems, is a constant stream of auditioning. I realize then that in my youth it was all about making it: making the team, getting the interview, landing the job. What hits with me with absolute certainty is the realization that now it’s no longer about getting the thing, it’s about who you call when you find out. Who you call when you get the job. Or when you don’t. And how you come to think about yourself either way. Still, I can’t help but wonder what the reality of life will be like. Managing being alone in a new city, working full time, and getting a graduate degree. Can I even hack the program, I wonder. What if I move to New City, start over by myself and then can’t manage it? “Then come back,” a dear friend tells me, simply. I realize then that it’s the story I tell myself about what coming back would mean (failure) that has me feeling overwhelmed. Suddenly I realize that I have put the weight of it all on my own shoulders. And that the story I have told myself up to this point is that being single means that I’ll be alone forever, or worse: there’s something wrong with me.
Later, on the afternoon of upcoming girls night, four people throughout my day tell me that my whole face is lit up. I explain that I’m going out with my girls and there simply isn’t anything better than that. I ponder this later and realize that it’s not just a night with my girls that has me so happy and free. It’s the way the approach feels: like the night is an adventure and I never know where it’s going to lead. Life, it seems, is not all that different; ever changing, a constant adventure that you can’t control.
As the test date approaches and the realization sinks in that letting go and just going with it really works better for me than all that pressure (duh!), I’m reminded of running. In October, I ran a half marathon on torn calves. This was not a badass thing to do. It was stupid. I had to take the next 3 months completely off running. And worse: I couldn’t wear any of my favorite shoes. No matter, I decided, I would be healed in time for the Carlsbad half marathon, which I sort of was. But then I got sick. Twice. The last lingering on for a couple weeks. Then my calves started messing with me again and I didn’t have time to get in enough long runs. And so, I arrived at the Carlsbad start line literally taped up with bright pink kinesio tape like humpty put back together. I told myself I didn’t really even know if I could run the thing, but I’d do my best. And somehow, in the end, I crossed the finish line faster than my best race time.
The GRE, I decide, life, and maybe even relationships, are like these running races: I just have to let go of the pressure and the need to reach some goal and do my best. See what happens. Why is it that that idea is so like, well YEAH! But so very hard to live by? What is it in us that wanders into the pressure-cooker-putting on ourselves feeling that in the end, only causes us stress? When despite it all, my dear friend is right. So what? Come back. Slow down. Don’t run. Be single. Or not. Take a risk. Psssshhh! Maybe we should be more skeptical of our stories. No pressure and just see what happens.
The morning of the test I sit drinking coffee in my car before finding my way to the test center. I’m not nervous and kind of don’t care about the whole thing anymore. And so, I spend the next 4 hours writing essays, reading paragraphs, solving math problems, analyzing arguments, and figuring out analogies. The computer autoscores my results and I’m shocked at the realization that I may have actually done well enough to get into the graduate program. This is nothing shy of a miracle, I decide, just like running a personal best post injury and illness. As I walk back to my car, I am pleasantly aware that I’m okay with not calling anyone. That I am not judging myself for not having a girlfriend to call and boast to. In fact, I’m so brain dead that I’m happy to spend the rest of the afternoon in mismatched pajamas on the couch, watching stupid funny movies. And thankful that the only witness to my little lazy at home fest is the delivery boy, who, after staring uncomfortably for a moment says, “Uh, you have something in your hair.” As I pull the eggs out of my hair I laugh, explaining simply, “I took the GRE today.” We nod a silent, mutual understanding of suckiness. I close the door and plop down on the sofa, pizza box in my lap. I sit for a moment, breathing in and out. I say a silent toast to all those embarking on an adventure, and wish positive energy to anyone who needs it, the courage to slow down. To be single. Or not. To stop running. To take a risk. And when necessary, to just come back.