Recently I made a big decision. Not a particularly life-changing one at this point in my life, but it is a big commitment of time and finances. It’s a bit of unfinished business from a time in my life when everything went very, very wrong. It’s a decision that under most circumstances should be applauded. But, instead this decision means I have to tell the truth and face the shame of having misrepresented myself for most of my adult life.
I have decided to go back to school to complete my Bachelor’s degree.
Even now that’s hard to write. In telling even my closest friends it feels like a coming out of sorts. It’s hard to admit to others that I didn’t finish my degree. Most people thought I have, and I have made no effort to dissuade them from that notion. When people talk about college I have always said with confidence “I went to Berkeley”. I don’t say I graduated from Berkeley, nor do I tell the complete truth that I dropped out from Berkeley in the latter half of my senior year. Well, that’s not entirely true either. Since I’m being honest, I have overtly lied about having a degree. When I was much younger I lied on my resume and said I had my BA in Film Studies. I figured a) being only one semester away from graduating was close enough b) they wouldn’t check anyway and c) no one was going to hire me based on a degree in Film Studies, for fuck’s sake. But still, it was a lie and lies have a way of weighing on your conscience.
The decision to go back to school was a relatively sudden one, not something I’ve been ruminating on for a long time. It never seemed necessary. I’ve made my way through the working world based on my smarts and initiative, not on a couple of letters after my name. Yet, after some long, deep discussions with a colleague of mine about our accidental careers, I realized I had painted myself into a corner. Granted it was a comfy corner with good pay and benefits, but it was still a corner. Will a BA open up whole new career horizons? Especially a BA in Humanities? Maybe, but probably not, especially not at my age. But, at least I won’t think twice about applying for jobs where a BA is required. Also, should the foolish notion of graduate school cross my mind, at least I will have met that whole “graduated” requirement.
I will be attending an evening BA completion program at a lovely, small, and well respected private university that is with only 7.5 miles away from my home. Rather than doing an online program, I wanted to have that human touch (after all, my degree will be Humanities) and to be in an environment where studying non-career enriching topics such as literature or art history is valued, not questioned, as in “how on earth is that going to help you in the real world?”
So far everyone I have chosen to tell has been very happy for me. A couple of them were downright verklempt. And as I have started to free myself from this lie I had to told to others (but mostly to myself), I am finding myself feeling oddly vulnerable. I am stripping off a layer of identity – “Berkeley graduate” – that I had taken on even though it was a lie. And under this layer of faux identity, I am finding the skin is very pink and tender.
And it’s OK. It’s amazingly OK.