graduate school studentFor years, I dreamed of going to graduate school.

During my lunch break and—let’s be honest—during the time that I should have been working, I spent a lot of time researching doctoral programs in Women’s Studies, Sociology, African-American Studies, and Creative Writing.

After secretly printing out the schools’ course catalogs and stuffing them quickly into my bag for later review, I would sit there daydreaming about the things I would learn, the interesting people I would meet, and all of the free time I would have to attend to my interests in yoga, veganism, and blogging.

But after years of vacillating as to whether or not to apply to graduate school, I had a realization that was at once sobering and honest and clearly unearthed why I was fantasizing about leaving my job to walk the walls of academia: I was turning to graduate school as the solution to the monotony in my life.

Restless in a Mid-Career Lull

I was looking at graduate school as an out: I wanted an escape from the responsibilities that many working adults have to shoulder—unnecessary meetings, questionable colleagues, routine, and having to think about “what’s next?” I was experiencing a case of what I like to call RSS—or Restless Soul Syndrome—which occurs for many mid-career thirty-somethings experiencing a lull in life.

I was just bored to tears with the monotony and staleness of the work-gym-home-browse-the-internet-sleep-in-on-Saturday treadmill that had become my life after securing all of the education that I really needed to take myself to the top of my career.

Graduate School Won’t (In Itself) Make You Happy

The reality is that many graduate school students hate their lives until they graduate. In my graduate school reverie, I intentionally overlooked the high cost of being a doctoral student, the reduced standard of living, the reading and writing demands, the possible department politics that I would have to navigate throughout my program tenure, and the numerous other financial, social, and emotional inconveniences that come with being a being married student returning to school in her mid-thirties.

When faced with these realities, I had to admit it: I really did not want to be in graduate school.

Deciding In Favor of Real Happiness

As an alternative to my fantasy about graduate school, I chose to take an educational leave of absence from my job beginning in September. I am planning on taking three courses at a local community college. I’ve also secured an internship at a multicultural marketing agency to gauge whether or not I will make a change in career.

I also plan to travel, mend relationships, and make new friends. I’ve saved up two years’ worth of living expenses to pursue these goals.

Options Besides Graduate School

If you’re also suffering from Restless Soul Syndrome and are stuck feeling like graduate school is the only cure, here are seven things that you can do instead to satiate your need for novelty.

  1. Apply for a leave of absence or sabbatical from your job. If company policy allows you to take some time off to pursue a passion, then take advantage of it. Many sabbaticals and leaves of absence are unpaid, so make sure you have enough saved up before you take the plunge. Mine begins this September.
  2. Take a non-matriculated course at a university to give you a taste of graduate-level work demands and writing expectations. You may find that one course is enough to satisfy your need for intellectual stimulation and college life.
  3. Join a meet-up.  Meetup.com is a great way to meet new people and try out new things with little or no cost to you.
  4. Use your next vacation to volunteer abroad. Seeing the world as a volunteer with a purpose-driven organization can help you reframe your thinking about the world, help you identify a new direction, or help you become more appreciative of what you have.
  5. Take free online courses from some of the best universities in the country. On my site, I wrote an article that provides low-cost and minimal time commitment alternatives for those of us that are life-long learners but do not miss the papers, group projects, and late night reading of school. Click here for that post.
  6. Switch jobs. Sometimes, a new challenge is what you need to find your groove.
  7. See a therapist or life coach. Sometimes you need someone to talk to help you de-clutter your mind and get you unstuck.

Photo Courtesy of Basheer Tome is licensed under CC BY 2.0