Early on this year, I was in such a funk. I was so stressed from school, family, and friends. I had no idea what to major in, was dealing with some serious family and financial problems, and since then drifted away from some of my closest friends. I was feeling really alone and overwhelmed, so I decided I needed a break from school. I’ve since done a lot of self-reflection and made a great turnaround from where I was.
My only thing is, I can’t help but feel like I’m so behind with my progress in school now. I want a degree and am excited now that I am more focused, but I don’t want to be graduating at a time when I feel I should already be making moves toward a career.
You think you’re “behind”? Far from it. You knew you needed a break—and you took one.
You identified a problem and took care of yourself in a compassionate way. That takes an incredible amount of wisdom and maturity—more than most people your age have.
Do you know how many young women don’t listen to what’s going on inside of them? They go to college, or whatever next big step they’ve chosen, and they feel miserable. But instead of listening to their feelings, do you know what they do? They beat themselves up for suffering. They say terrible things to themselves, like, “Everyone else is doing it, so why can’t you? What’s wrong with you? Why aren’t you strong enough to make it?”
I should know. When I was 24, I won a Rhodes Scholarship. Not to brag, but that’s kind of a big deal —only a very few super overachievers get one every year—and when you get one of these fancy scholarships, you get in the newspaper and your college puts you on their admissions literature and your parents explode with pride and your siblings go to therapy (kidding). Except that when I got to Oxford University in England, I crashed hard. I hated it —I mean, hated it. I didn’t connect with the people, my professors weren’t into my feminist political theories, and I got depressed.
All I did was tell myself I was weak and a quitter. I just sat around and lacerated myself for not being strong enough to make it through graduate school in another country. It took me an entire year of staring at the wall for hours on end and crying in the hallway outside my room and having my one really close friend finally sit me down and tell me I was going home in order for me to finally give up.
You know what? Quitting was the best thing I ever did.
I realized that I wanted a Rhodes Scholarship not because I wanted to go to graduate school, but because I wanted to win a famous award. Quitting forced me to realize I was on the wrong track and that I had lost touch with who I was and what I cared about. That’s when I decided to start researching how mean girls could be to each other. And that’s how I ended up writing my first book – and having an entire career doing what I’m passionate about, including writing this column.
I couldn’t have done it if I hadn’t quit.
So, Helen, it’s easy to think life’s a race, and that there’s a proper time to start your studies and go to work and meet your spouse and have your kids.
But none of that matters one tiny little bit if you are not feeling good about yourself the whole time.
You will waste your education if you rush to finish it just for the sake of being done and being on time. Self-knowledge is the foundation of real success. I am so proud of you for not only being connected to your feelings, but for taking care of yourself in a loving way. That makes you smarter than any degree every could. You go girl. You’re kind of my hero right now.