Sick with Aspirations

Dear Reader,

I hope to never get “sick with aspirations.”

Starting graduate school last fall was a big step for me. Previously, I had been working multiple part-time jobs that did not allow for career growth. Researching schools, writing essays, getting recommendations, and filling out all of the applications was a months’ long process that consumed very many hours. When all materials were submitted in winter 2019, the long wait to hear back commenced. I got excited when offers for interviews were extended (more here), but also came off cloud nine when the rejection letters began to roll in. Ultimately, I did receive acceptance to a school in Boston that was a good fit for me. “Congratulations to me! What an accomplishment!,” I thought, “Now I can relax.” …oh, how naïve….

Half a year later, I began school in the midst of the pandemic. Everything was online, which had its benefits (more here), but it also came with a good deal of stress (more here). Although I have always been a planner, mapping out the course at least two steps ahead, I have decided to take grad school one day at a time. Now, I am taking classes and I will be doing so for a good while, so, I should just focus on my studies, right? Well, not everyone seems to share this go-with-the-flow attitude.

It wasn’t more than three months into my grad school program when someone in my cohort asked if any of us were applying for particular fellowships. Mired in essays and swamped with grading, I could not utter more than “…what??” in reply to the question. Apparently, others in my class were already considering their next steps. One mentioned speaking with a faculty member to begin a summer research project with the aim of co-authorship. Another student lightheartedly considered getting further certification on the side in addition to his graduate degree. A third casually asked how we were organizing our notes to study for the general exams that were to take place more than one year away. Was I the only one not thinking more than one semester in advance?

If you apply to a graduate program it is reasonable to assume that the applicant aspires to do something after the program. While having aspirations can help keep you on track to fulfill your goals, aspirations run wild can be pathological. In “Hidden Bodies,” by Caroline Kepnes (more here), the protagonist Joe Goldberg disdains Los Angeles residents who are dying to be famous, characterizing these hopeless people as “sick with aspirations.” I think about this sentiment now, as I have just spent no less than 5 hours this past few days searching for fellowships, scholarships, and other awards that I didn’t even know that I aspired to achieve. Aspirations when not genuine can be malignant to the mind. Striving and striving and striving for the sake of “more” or “better” is like rushing to the top of a mountain with no peak — impossible.

It is clear to me that others in my program have a clear(-er) picture of what they aspire to achieve post-graduation. In this way, their enthusiasm to pursue opportunities is beneficial to their plans. I have no such grand machinations. Trying to keep up with everyone else is probably not a healthy aspiration to have. For me, being in graduate school right now is enough. It may not always be, but right now, I don’t feel like I am in any rush to secure “the next thing.” I will enjoy the great here-and-now. A little complacency and contentment never hurt anyone, right?

In the end, I hope you enjoy the ride, dear Reader.



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