Tag Archives: happiness

An Actually Informative Post About Internship Match Day, North Carolina, and the Nature of Happiness

4 Mar

So here’s how it all went down.

Rewind to February 23: After a productive week of worrying, I spent the evening at a potluck at a friend’s house, where I ate baked ziti and watched the latest Twilight movie with Rifftrax and pretended that the Match process was just an uncomfortable dream sequence, like the eighth season of Dallas.

Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1 was largely unbearable (see fine review here – it starts about a fourth of the way down the post) but turned out to be an excellent choice for Match Day Eve, what with all the soothing dialogue-and-action-free segments. I had this idea that I’d be lying awake in bed for hours that night, but the movie eased me into a blissfully somnolent state. Also, who am I kidding, I am really good at sleeping.

Before bed, I made a list of all the reasons it would be good if I didn’t get an internship and stayed in grad school another year (i.e., continued proximity to my friends here, more time to sell the house, ongoing access to my favorite cupcake shop). I also performed a rigorous emotional readiness exercise on my dude. “Let’s say I roll over tomorrow morning and tell you I matched in… VIRGINIA. How do you FEEL?!” “Fine. Excited.” “OK, I roll over tomorrow morning and tell you I matched… NOWHERE. How do you FEEL?” “Fine. Not as excited, but fine.” “OK, I roll over and tell you I matched in… INDIANA. How do you FEEL?” “You didn’t apply anywhere in Indiana.” The boy is good. Anyway, the point is that he was emotionally prepared, thanks to me and my fab psychology skills.

Applicants were told we’d hear about our match status by 8:00am MST, but a couple more advanced students in my program recalled receiving their notification emails earlier than that. I set an alarm for 6:30am, dreamed something about chapstick, woke up to my Super Mario alarm and checked my phone. No dice. An APPIC email had arrived when I checked again at 6:45, and I told Ted with bleary happiness that I had matched to one of my top sites in North Carolina. Thanks to our emotional readiness work, he was able to handle all the joyful feelings. Family members were called, friends were alerted, and my cohort-mates (whom, I am thrilled to say, all matched) and I swapped text messages. Most communications were excited, but there were also conversations that were mixed or sad… a conversation with best friends we’d hoped to live closer to; texts with friends from my cohort who hadn’t gotten the matches they’d wanted most; chats with people out here in Colorado that I’d have to leave behind. And as the initial high wore off over the course of the day, the Kitten Principle kicked into action.

When you decide that you want to get a kitten, you start thinking about all the things your kitten could be. Your kitten could be striped, calico, gray, black, green-eyed, yellow-eyed, short-haired, long-haired, feisty, snuggly, male, female. You imagine yourself playing with your long-haired black kitten or petting your blue-eyed Siamese kitten. Then you get a kitten, and he’s striped and long-haired and green-eyed and purry, and you love him. But because he’s striped, he can’t be calico, gray, black, or Siamese, and the little dreams you had involving hypothetical calico/gray/black/Siamese kittens will never be realized. Doors have closed, opportunities have been lost, and while you have a beautiful striped kitten, the reality of owning him includes some things that didn’t appear in your daydreams, such as him peeing in the sink and attempting to sleep on your face. You know you should be 100% happy with your striped kitten, but there’s a part of you that feels a little sad about the hypothetical kittens you missed out on, even though you know that if you’d gotten a calico kitten, a part of you would be mourning the fact that she wasn’t a striped kitten. That’s the Kitten Principle: the idea that the time of indeterminate possibility can be happier than the initial time of determined reality, even if reality gives you exactly what you want.

Now obviously, the Kitten Principle is not a new idea: it’s just a more adorable way to conceptualize what we already know about the negative effects of “choice overload,” the psychological impact of opportunity costs, and our bumbling incompetence when it comes to predicting how happy we’ll feel after future events (Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness does a nice job of covering this). Kittens… super cute, right? Not so cute when they’re peeing in your sink, let me just tell you.

The Kitten Principle has largely resolved itself now that Match Day is a week behind me, and I’m feeling super excited about moving to North Carolina. Extensive Wikipedia research this week revealed that North Carolina’s state mammal is the Eastern Gray Squirrel and its state vegetable is the sweet potato, which explains a lot about the mystifying Microsoft Word clip art in my last post.

FUN FACTS, North Carolina Edition:

  • The State Beverage is milk. THAT’S RIGHT. While you’re drinking your orange juice or whatever stupid beverage is beloved in your state, I’ll be sucking down a cool glass of milk.
  • The State Blue Berry is… the blueberry. North Carolina, why did you even create this category?
  • The State Carnivorous Plant is the Venus Flytrap.
  • Home of the Mullet Festival (I think they mean the fish, not the hairdo, but it’s probably best to show up in a mullet just in case), the North Carolina Pickle Festival, and the previously mentioned Woolly Worm Festival

I’m sure there are many more fascinating NC tidbits out there, but I got Wikipedia fatigue and stopped searching. Anyway, I’m really looking forward to starting the next chapter of my life in North Carolina. Keep this on the DL, but my dude and I are thinking about taking the plunge into family life and adding new members to our household.

Specifically, we’re thinking a puppy and some chickens, although we may also be willing to consider some button quail.

Next steps: finishing my dissertation, staging the house, selling the house, terminating with clients, and closing out client files.


A Confession

21 Nov

I like grad school. Kind of a lot.

I probably shouldn’t tell you this. It’s common knowledge that graduate students bond with each other by complaining about grad school. A random sample of any graduate gabfest will invariably include references to a) sleep deprivation due to grad school, b) the morale crushing behavior of [insert professor/supervisor here], c) wistful visions of life after grad school, d) fears that grad school may never end, or e) all of the above. I participate in discussions like this in an enthusiastically indignant/wistful manner – my social life would be hobbled if I didn’t, and I never have trouble scrounging up something to complain about – but in all honesty, on a happiness scale of 1 to 10, I’m in the neighborhood of 9.5, and that’s only because I feel the need to reserve .5 in case something fabulously awesome happens. I enjoy being in a counseling psych Ph.D. program. I like what I’m learning, I like the people in my department, I like my clients. I kind of…and seriously, let’s keep this on the DL… don’t feel ready for grad school to end.

It hasn’t always been like this. My first two years in my program were fairly traditional, meaning that I spent a lot of time attempting to be perfect at everything, moping, daydreaming about dropping out of grad school, researching careers I could have if I dropped out of grad school, looking up median salaries for “professional cupcake baker” and feeling disappointed, etc.

During my third year, everything seemed to click into place, and suddenly grad school no longer felt like a bed of sizzling coals I had to race through to get to the life I wanted. I was, I realized, living the life I wanted. It was not a life that contained every dream I’d ever had, but it was a life that included all the most important things I could have asked for at 25: great relationships, client work I cared about, a constant stream of opportunities to learn interesting things,  enough money to pay the bills and have some left over to play with, and room to work toward all the other dreams that were still unrealized. (Well, maybe all of them except the ones featuring me nonchalantly saving the universe using beams of magic I shoot out of my hands. If anyone knows what the first steps are for working toward those dreams, please contact me.)

Third year was also the year that I got the hang of “strategic caring.” My weeks were stuffed with individual client sessions, couples’ counseling, group counseling, assessments, consultation work, clinical supervision, thesis research, funded research unrelated to my thesis research, coursework, outreach presentations, scholarly reading, and ambitious caffeine consumption, plus all the stuff that comes along with everyday living: maintaining relationships, laundry, grocery trips, pet care, home maintenance, cleaning, cooking, money management, some semblance of hobbies, the works. It was not possible to care about everything. In retrospect, it was probably never possible to care about everything, but prior to this revelatory time, I had convinced myself that it was. I would beat myself up ferociously whenever inevitable screw-ups happened, tell myself through gritted teeth that I just needed to care more and work harder, and carefully steer myself into misery. I’m not saying that I enjoy screwing up now, but I’ve sorted out which things are worth caring a lot about (relationships, clients, broad movement toward long-term goals) and which things aren’t (grades, getting my oil changed exactly when I’m supposed to, producing flawless research drafts, eating well-balanced breakfasts). I’ve learned to allocate care accordingly.

I’m halfway through my fourth year now, and hopefully I’ll be moving on to an internship next summer. (“Hopefully” being the operative word, what with the current shortage of APA-accredited internship programs… more semi-panicky musings on that later.) As excited as I am by the prospect of starting the next chapter of my life, I’m sad that I have to end my graduate experience so soon after I discovered it was possible to enjoy it. Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and tell my newly-minted graduate self to lighten up, but I’m pretty sure that if I did, my past self would become convinced that she was experiencing psychotic symptoms and leave the program immediately.

None of this is meant to downplay the struggles people face in grad school. I know intimately how much it can suck, how overwhelming and pointless and thankless it can feel sometimes. And I’m also aware that many of the things that contribute heavily to my current level of happiness – a husband who is both emotionally and financially supportive, good health, sane and caring family and friends, few sociocultural barriers – have nothing to do with grad school at all and are not a given. But I do want to put it out there that I don’t think grad school has to be a hoop we jump through on the way to our real lives. If you’re currently in a grad program and think of life as something that starts after grad school, it might be time to re-evaluate your values, figure out which of your needs aren’t being met, and make tweaks where tweaking is possible. Five to seven years is a long time to put off living.

Does anyone else out there secretly (or openly) enjoy grad school? What did it take to get you to that point?

%d bloggers like this: