Oh, I'm Not Going to School
Its funny how quickly the weather has changed from summer to autumn, and how perfectly the fresh chill of fall arrived with the start of the school year. The University of Minnesota's semester started a week ago. Friends are already talking about all of the reading they have to do. The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting cooler, and like geese who know it is time to migrate south I feel an instinctive need to buy books and flock to a lecture hall.
For nineteen of the last twenty years I have been in school. The one year I wasn't in school, I spent fall applying to schools. For the vast majority of my years, school has been the structure of my life. It has set my schedule, defined commitments, created my goals, and provided me a social life. Through all those years, the structure of school has been remarkably consistent: September was always the "beginning of the year"; classes always lasted 4 or 9 months; my goal was always to understand a new topic or at least write passable papers and exam responses; and my friends were always among my classmates or housemates. Given all these years of repetition, its no surprise my natural response to fall is to think of school.
So I'm entering this September feeling a little sad and very anxious. Nostalgia is fueling the sadness, as this weather makes me think of friends and fun from past school years. But the sadness is little because I know I can and will see my old friends again. The anxiety comes in large part from the loss of this familiar structure. What schedule do I plan my life around now? I don't know if I'll be working on today's projects and job for four months or four years. How do I manage the myriad goals now presented to me? And as an introvert who works from home and coffee shops, where do I meet new friends?
The lack of structure is stressing me out now, but I know that will pass. The comfort of school comes with a lot of restrictions, restrictions that I have outgrown. I recognize the freedom I'm now living in. Once I embrace it, I know I'll be able to define my life the way I want to. Without a school provided structure, I'm free to set my schedule, my commitments, my goals, and my social life. I have the freedom to create my own structure. But right now, that freedom is a little scary.