I just upped and quit. I finished the classwork for my Master's degree. I slogged through the approval process for my research design. I collected all the data and performed dozens of interviews.
Then I quit.
Because the thesis required to complete my degree was too damn hard. Once I started the analysis, the math was so much harder than I thought it would be.
I didn’t want to know some of the things that were coming up in the results.
And, frankly, I hated facing the fact that I was NOT the smartie I thought I was.
So I did what thwarted, frightened students often do. I stopped going to meetings with my advisor. Groused to my husband every weekend. Filled my schedule with other things—like going to the beach with my 74- year old mom.
Turns out my mom knew what I meant about my degree. When she was in her 40s, she finished her Associate’s degree, but didn’t go on for her Bachelor’s -- even when her instructor urged her to do it.
“I didn’t think I could do the statistics,” my mom confessed.
Statistics? Seriously? I couldn’t believe it. Even I can do statistics.
And I'm not a numbers person like my mom. She was a loan officer for 30 years. She can explain interest rates so a Pomeranian with bedhead could make a wise investment decision.
Mean, median and mode stopped my little mother from finishing her degree?
“Well, your sister was in college," Mom explained. "I had the four of you at home. I was working...”
My mom has a great life. But all of the sudden there was something unspoken on her face that made me fast forward to my 74-year-old self. I could see myself in my mom's bathing suit, sitting on a beach with my own daughter, telling her how I regretted not finishing my Masters. I could hear myself say how close I was, how I shouldn’t have quit.
I am too much like my mother to think there could be any other outcome.
So I had to un-quit (which was probably my mother's plan all along.)
My daughter offered to teach me the math I was missing. She pointed out how YouTube was full of people explaining how to use the computer program that was making me bald.
During the next few months, every time I cried over tables that didn’t work or ground my teeth over changes my advisor wanted, I’d think about my mom with her lovely marriage and her visits from grandkids and her piano lessons and her Euchre friends and her volunteer work... and her one niggling regret.
I kept typing. Kept starting. Kept relentlessly finishing.
It wasn’t that I was suddenly brilliant. I was just suddenly aware of my 74 -year old self breathing down my own neck.
I turned in my completed and committee-approved thesis for the Department Chair to sign in December (which happened to be full of insights about long military marriages I can't wait to share). I told the Chair about my mom and what a useful spur that had been.
Turns out that the Department Chair knew what I meant, too. She didn’t get her doctorate until she was nearly 50.
“The regret lasts longer than the work,” she told me. “I wish more people knew that. I wish they could see how much longer the satisfaction lasts than the pain.”
I wish that, too. Which is why I wanted to tell this story. Because I wish that for you.
Quitting an educational or professional is always an option in military life -- sometimes it is even the right option.
I just want you to know that un-quitting is also an option. Starting again is an option. Relentlessly finishing is an option.
Because turning 74 is not an option. I hope that you will be sitting on a beach with your daughter or your son and and your full life all around you someday. I hope you will have very few regrets and many, many finishes among your precious memories--just like my mom. And, maybe, like me.