My heart started racing, not the bad kind of heart racing, like, I’m going to die. But the good kind of heart racing, like, ‘Hello, can I help you with something? If not, please step aside because I’m about to kick the shit out of life.’ ~ from Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple
On May 18 I graduated with a master’s degree in public administration. During the last few weeks, I’ve had lots of people congratulate me, give me advice, or tell me what this degree means for my future. I’ve realized that, despite their good intentions, not a lot of them understand what this degree really means to me.
Yes, I can now apply for jobs that I wouldn’t otherwise be qualified for. Yes, I might be able to negotiate a higher salary for said jobs. And yes, society now views me as an “academic,” someone who has chosen to invest in education. The thing is, after 3 years of reading, writing, discussing, analyzing, collaborating, and listening, I don’t care about any of those things as much as I did when I started my MPA program.
In the last 3 years, I have learned just as much, if not more, about myself as I have about public administration. Sure, I learned about the necessity of public, private, and nonprofit entities to collaborate to provide adequate public services. But I also learned how I work best in collaborative groups, and what types of services I think every human being should have access to, regardless of race or economic background. I learned about balancing efficiency and equity in tax policies, but I also gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of my own values.
As cheesy as it sounds, I think, in my case, MPA could stand for Master of Personal Awareness. I didn’t just invest in education or job security, I invested in ME. I didn’t just commit to studying, I committed to expanding my worldview. Getting this degree has been a life-changing experience. I don’t just feel like a better job candidate, I feel like a better person. I feel prepared to take on whatever life throws at me next, because I understand myself better. It’s pretty damn exciting.
So, I suppose what I’m trying to say is: do something because it matters to YOU. Not because of what other people think you should do, or because you think something is supposed to matter to you at a certain stage of your life. Become a master of yourself, no degree required.
I also want to take this space to say a big huge THANK YOU for all of the support and encouragement from my family and friends during this 3-year journey. I’m particularly humbled by the patience, love, and support of my husband, who encouraged me from day 1 to pursue this degree. He has put up with a lot: me being gone an extra 3 hours after work for night classes, locking myself in my study to do homework on weekends, and having an occasional mental breakdown. Love you, hubby. xoxo