I'm not sure how old I was when I started to feel that my value was measured by my intelligence. My parents never did anything to pressure me or make me feel that I had to perform well in school, so I can't say that it came from them. Perhaps it was because I was the youngest, with three brilliant older siblings to follow. At the beginning of the school year, the teacher would say, "You're a Wuth?!" From the shining, hopeful look on their faces, I knew they were expecting me to be just as smart to uphold that Wuth name.
I'm sure part of it had to do with my own perfectionist personality. When I was in fourth grade, my dad called my teacher wondering why I had been assigned so much homework. My teacher met with me and went over my work and told me I was going far above and beyond what was required, and was actually creating more work for myself than she was expecting. I was simply doing my best, what I thought I needed to do to be successful, and apparently was doing too much. I felt I was letting my teachers down if I didn't get the best grade on a paper, or finish math tests with the best time. My teachers never did anything to intentionally pressure me, but their reaction to my work accompanied by their praise became something I felt I needed. If I wasn't getting the best grades, I thought they were disappointed in me. This continued into my high school and college years. I remember when my college advisor told me I needed to get my first B, so that I could see that life still goes on without a 4.0 or better grade point average. But for some reason, I felt that if I wasn't known as smart, I didn't have much else to offer.
I had to drop out of college for reasons I'm not ready to talk about on my blog. Looking back, I might have been able to stay in, but at the time I didn't see how it was possible. I signed over my full-ride scholarship and assumed I'd never return to school again. I thought I had let down my teachers and principals, all those people who had invested in my education. I thought I was such a joke - a valedictorian, dropping out of school halfway through her sophomore year.
I try not to think about the fact that if I'd stayed in school at Long Beach State, I would have had school completely paid for, and wouldn't have student loans looming over my head. I try not to think about the fact that I have enough credits to graduate, just not all in the same degree focus. I try not to think about the fact that by now, I could have two bachelor's degrees and a master's degree. I try not to think about the fact that if I'd stayed at Sonoma State, I would have graduated a year ago. I try not to think about the fact that when I left SSU, I only had nine classes left, and due to transferring to a different school, I suddenly needed seventeen classes to graduate.
I try not to think about those things, but obviously I do. Each thought carries the weight of regret, the shame of what I feel were bad decisions made in my youth. Sam reminds me that if it weren't for all of those things, he and I probably wouldn't be married, and I certainly wouldn't be pregnant with our little girl. I wouldn't change either of those things; I just wish it didn't seem like I ruined so much of my future.
I feel that until I have that silly degree, that stupid piece of paper, no one will think I'm smart. People will just assume that since I'm not a college graduate, I don't have the intelligence it takes to finish school. Unfortunately, I know too many college grads who aren't that smart, who simply passed their classes and had the means and opportunity to go to school. So I know that's not true; but still, I can't help but feel this way. It's completely a pride issue. Why do I care so much if people think I'm intelligent? Why does the opinion of others matter so much? And why am I still holding on to that false belief that I'm only as good as how smart I appear to others?
Sam and I have been taking Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace classes, and have been really motivated to be wiser with our finances. Last night we came to the conclusion that the best thing to do right now would be to hold off on school. We don't want to take out any more student loans, so until we can pay for it outright, it doesn't make sense to continue with classes. And at this point, I'm planning to stay home with Ellery, so it's not as if I need a degree in order to further my career. I do hope to have a career one day, hopefully in publishing or editing. (Sam promised me that if I get a good job with a publishing company in San Francisco, we can move back to my beloved California, and glorious Sonoma county.) That's still my goal, but I don't feel the desire to pursue that type of career until all our kids are in school. So really, there's no rush at this point to get my degree.
When I think about it logically, it makes sense. And yet when I realized that I'd be putting off school for even longer, I was very sad and disappointed. I felt that I was finally taking those last steps toward graduating, and now I would have to put it on hold. Ultimately, I know we're making the best decision for our family. It's very important to me to stay home with Ellery, to be the one to teach her and train her, and I'm so thankful Sam supports me in that. It seems selfish to be using that money and accumulating more debt just for my own pride issues, especially when I won't be bringing in any income myself. I knew that if I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom we would need to make sacrifices - no extravagant vacations, no buying a house yet. But those aren't really things I care about anyway. Giving up school was what hit me the hardest, and it didn't occur to me that it might be a sacrifice I would have to make if I want to stay home to raise my daughter.
But after some tears and comfort from Sam, I was able to see how this could be a good thing. I've really been using school as a crutch, and an excuse not to write. I feel so busy with writing papers and reading materials for school that I don't feel I have the time to be writing creatively, or reading those things that inspire me. My coworker keeps hounding me to write, but I say I can't, really, until I finish taking all those creative writing classes. That's when I can write, when I'll know what I'm doing. Nevermind the fact that I've learned more about writing from reading Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird than in any creative writing class I've taken. Nevermind the fact that writing doesn't demand a college degree. Nevermind the fact that some of the writers I love the most, like Lamott and Ann Voskamp, don't have college degrees either.
I needed to write all of this out to remind myself again what my priorities are, and where my value lies. I must forgive myself for my past mistakes at some point, and accept where I am and make the most of it. Here's a small step toward making that happen.