Twenty years ago I was at a cross-roads. I had been laid off from a company that had since closed and was working three jobs. The jobs were all related: I worked at a catalog horse supply company full time, a tack shop and a stable, both part time. In between I spent my time at a different stable, working for training time and riding horses. I was happy but tired. In my early twenties it was barely sustainable. But I knew what I wanted to do, I wanted to ride horses.
I’m not a competitive person by nature (although I do like a good intellectual discussion, which some have referred to as arguments), so my interest in riding was personal, not professional. My ambition at the time was to find a way to support what made me happy. Who knew that at such a young, exhausted age, that I was right.
My mother suggested grad school, specifically going for a degree in Social Work. It seemed great. At the time I was based more or less in NY and with an MSW I would be able to put our a shingle and be a therapist. I could be my own boss, set my own hours, get paid to tell people they were screwed up, and regularly have my own sanity reaffirmed by comparison. Clearly my motivations for choosing that path were not in line with the field, but that is immaterial.
The application process required references, so I contacted a former boss who gladly gave one. As it turned out, he lived less than a mile from the stable I rode at and offered me a chance to do freelance work. Another part time job, but unrelated to horses. I jumped at it. Within two months that freelance work became nearly full time, and one of my part time jobs had to go. I quit the furthest stable, and then not long after the other full time job. I continued working at the tack shop, and kept my personal riding schedule as much as possible. It began to dwindle from a daily schedule.
As the time to enroll in grad school approached I was faced with a choice. The freelance work we were doing required incorporating, and I had to decide to go with the business or go back to school. I took the chance to defer admittance for a year, delaying the decision. Our business grew. My tack shop days ended, and my riding schedule became a source of unspoken contention between me and my business partner. It dwindled even further in a final compromise, to twice a week, including weekends.
Summer approached and I was with my dad. He asked about my plans for grad school. I didn’t know how to answer. I didn’t know. I rationalized that I couldn’t afford to go. He watched the internal dilema and let me go on talking about the costs a bit more. He said ok, take the financial aspect out of it. If you want to go to grad school, I will pay for it. We stopped walking. I hadn’t actually thought about going or making a decision. The excuses were too easy, but he took them away. He wanted me to make the decision for me, and not use external forces as excuses.
I guess my reasons for going no longer existed, since they weren’t in line with the study of social work. The career in social work was not the goal, only what it offered was. He said fine, then asked what it offered. A career, a future, I answered. It was years before I recognized the look he had on his face when I said that. It was too late, I was no longer making the decision for me. He had to let me choose my path, and politely chose not to point out that my initial reasoning for going was completely different than the one for not going.
I suppose it’s the age old struggle of doing what is right: does one go for the appropriate choice or the one that deep inside you know would give you the chance to make your own happiness. I didn’t realize at the time how clear it had been to me just a year prior. Instead of chose the other path, the one most taken, the easier one. I kept rationalizing that the MSW was merely one way to get the end result, having a company offered the same thing, potentially, and this was already in progress.
I didn’t go to grad school. The company alternately didn’t do well and did. We eventually sold it and my business partner and I went our separate ways. I haven’t ridden a horse in 16 years.
Sometimes I wonder what life would have been like had I chosen to go back to school. I look at the life I have now and I have no regrets, but it doesn’t stop me from wondering. My choice allowed me to be a corporate owner at a young age, and benefit financially. I moved to a condo, not far from which I met a guy. Several years later we had a child. We have a great life.
My husband is now in graduate school to get his MSW. It doesn’t sting. He will be amazing in it. He chose Social Work for a variety of reasons, but he included the right ones, to make a difference and help others. My choice of that field had been only to help myself. I would have been a good social worker, but he’ll be better. And had I chosen that path I probably wouldn’t have met him.
I like the responsibilities I have now, in my personal life, and the choices I have made, not just the grad school one, have allowed me to have this life. I’m not my own boss, I don’t make my own hours, and while I don’t get paid for it, I do get my sanity reaffirmed on a daily basis by comparison.
Now I just need to get back to riding horses.