Finding My Way: Getting Lost

I was sitting on my bed in my tiny Kyoto apartment, reading a few articles about how expensive graduate school was, when I decided that I would definitely not be going straight into graduate school. After all, I had no idea what I would even go to graduate school for.

Up until that moment, everything about my education had done more-or-less according to plan. I still remember being in elementary school and declaring that I would be the first in my immediate family to go to college, and I would do it on a full-scholarship — because I knew there was no way my parents could afford it.

Reality hadn’t been too far from that.

The master plan was simple: go to college.

My high school physics teacher had once told us that the best thing was to stay in school, because there were always grants and scholarships; you could be paid to stay in school and just keep learning things. That sounded like a great idea; after all I loved learning things.

And so, perhaps part of me had assumed I would be going on to graduate school to continue learning. But I learned, from those articles and from career counselors several months later that graduate school was a “career move”, something to do once you had a clear direction in mind, a means to an end and not just a way to delay your debut into the professional world.

I didn’t have an end. I didn’t have a career goal. I had never really considered having a “career” at all.

Talking to a few others in my class, I learned I wasn’t alone in this. But the knowledge that some of my peers were just as lost as I was was equal parts comforting and terrifying.

When I graduated in May of 2015, my next step was … figuring out what my next step was.

Going Home

I went home. Not back home, forward home. My parents had moved to Texas in 2013. Home was nowhere familiar, just the middle of nowhere.

The plan this time?

Work at the small health-food business my parents had been working at since 2013, make some money and build a savings while I figure out what comes next.

In theory, the company is a great business venture with huge potential for growth. In actuality — as I soon found out — the company is micro-managed hell. So many of us walk in with stars in our eyes and dreams about helping the company improve and grow, and walk out with crushed hopes and so much frustration.

I was hopeful when I started working there. The potential for growth was incredible, the idea of being part of that growth was exciting. But I quickly grew frustrated. Each and every attempt at improving anything at all was met with a closed door. Opportunities came and went; the boss simply did not want change and did not want to release control over any part of the company. Eventually it wore me out.

Home presented a different problem. For the first time since 2011, I was living with my parents again. For many of you who have gone through this experience, this might sound familiar.

Growing up, I had a single job: student. Even in college, my parents supported me financially so I didn’t have to work while studying. I also lived on-campus, which meant that my parents never personally witnessed me attempting the whole “adulting” thing.

Work stress aside, I struggled to find my place at home. I was stuck somewhere between some “child” version of me and an “adult” version of me that was barely forming and my parents didn’t seem to notice. They easily went back to treating me as they always had, but I felt changed by those four years.

I grew depressed. I was frustrated at work, frustrated at home, confused, and most of all, I felt lost.

All my life my responsibilities and forward path had been clear. I was a student, I had class schedules, assignments, projects, deadlines. During high school, the path had opened up for me to go to college. In college, I believed the next step would become obvious the closer I got to it. I thought that as long as I focused on my studies, the fog would clear. The fog grew thicker.

Before I knew it, college was over. My life was amorphous and I didn’t have the slightest idea how I was supposed to shape it. I no longer knew who I was or where I was going.

Getting Out There

I was desperate for change. So desperate that I jumped on the first idea I got.

Aha, I thought, Of course! I’ll become a librarian! I’ll have access to all the information I want so I can research anything to my heart’s content. And if I decide on studying something else later, the skills will come in handy!

Step one: Take the GRE.

We live in rural Texas, which means that any testing center is bound to be at minimum one hour away by car. It would be easier if I lived in a city.

This is where I got ahead of myself.

I researched where the top Library Science schools were and found there was one in Austin, TX. Only a 3 hour drive from home. Perfect. I could aim for that. It would be close, but also in a city.

Wait a minute, I wanted to get the heck out of this whole work/living situation, the university was in Austin, test centers would also be in Austin, why not just… go to Austin?

In December 2015, I packed up my things and moved to Austin on nothing but my savings and a plan.

Living in Austin quickly became a game of survival. The longer I spent without a job, the closer I was to running out of money. I didn’t want to find out what came after that.

I eventually got a temp position at a call center. Hardly worth the four years spent at one of the most prestigious liberal arts colleges in the country, but I digress. The commute was two hours each way. Naturally, I never had the time nor energy to study for the GRE.

Four months later I landed my second job: an office job at a luxury hotel in downtown Austin. The pay was decent, the commute was so much better, and the work suited me. It was challenging in a way that I could engage with. I still had to deal with phone calls but it was a huge improvement from where I had started.

I was good at my job. In fact, I quickly became one of the best. I knew the various software better than anyone and trained new workers as they came in. I was needed, but I didn’t feel needed. Not with how much they paid me and the workload that only grew and grew every week.

I worked there for almost two years, and I worked overtime the entire second year. During that time I never made any real headway with the GRE. Not only was the workload growing and growing, but I had come to realize that perhaps there were a few faults in my plan.

I liked the idea of being a librarian, but there were a couple of ideas I liked even better than that. For example, I liked the idea of studying literature — because I had always been a bookworm. Graduate school was still part of the plan, but perhaps Austin wasn’t.

Most importantly, this job wasn’t getting me anywhere. Sure, I could keep working in this field now that I had the skills and work my way up, but it wasn’t what I wanted. Making the people at this company or any company like it would never make me happy, and it wouldn’t get me any closer to the life I wanted.

I didn’t realize at the time that I was stuck in a never-ending cycle of burnout.

At the same time, I started noticing a pattern in myself. Some weeks, I would feel confident. I knew my job, I knew how to handle it. Maybe if I just stuck with it some doors would open up. For example, maybe I could find a similar job in a more convenient location, somewhere where I could study. The feeling would last a week or two and then, like clockwork, my mood would crash. I would feel hopeless and exhausted. I wanted so badly to leave that job that I knew was draining me, but I didn’t have the energy to even start a real job search. A few weeks later I would be back on top thinking, “I can do this”. I didn’t realize at the time that I was stuck in a never-ending cycle of burnout.

I did however, realize that it was a cycle of something and I had to get out. I just didn’t know how.

That was around the time my dad asked me if I wanted to, maybe, come back home and take a breather. If I wanted to pursue graduate school it would be better for me to study for the GRE without distractions and unnecessary stress.

I agreed. I had proved whatever I set out to prove. It was time to go home.

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