I grew up with a lot of “potential.” A lot of folks thought I was clever enough to literally do whatever I wanted to do, academically. As a child, I had my microscopes, my encyclopedias, my copies of Tolkien, and wonderful test scores at every turn. None of that matched my school experience. For me, school ended up a place filled with bullies and a place that kept me from studying the things that fascinated me. The subjects were boring, the classes went slowly, and the subjects lacked ambition and interest. I had so many questions and interests that the school simply seemed to refuse to address. As I got older, I spent more time in the library and less time in class. And the re-occurring theme seemed to become, “but you have so much potential.” My grades were terrible, almost exclusively because I refused to do homework. I was failing classes left and right, yet my test scores were good enough to get me into programs like one that Johns Hopkins had way back when, that selected young kids to take the SATs in middle school.
Over time, I had pretty much withdrawn from the school experience. I pursued my own studies and interests, though I would never get credit for them. The interesting thing is that, while I seemed to turn into a “bad boy,” it was really only in appearance and in academics. I never really did anything all that bad. When I did start skipping classes, it was only to hide in the library and study physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology, or history. At that age, with few exceptions like Tolkien, I exclusively read non-fiction. I don’t think I read a single piece of fiction in the library.
So where is this going? The question of what I really want to achieve. Whenever I consider the question, these are the things that come to mind. It’s almost obsessive. It is as if my experience in public schools actually traumatized me in the way that someone might be traumatized by nearly drowning, or a terrible car accident, finding it very difficult to get past the fears and upset caused by the past event. Additionally ironic, since my grade school academic experience could reasonably be called a car wreck. It sounds crazy (so to speak), but I swear I am emotionally damaged goods when it comes to the subject of formal education. That more than twenty years later, I am still haunted by the whole thing. It came to define me in a way. Yet I never gave up on my own studies. As those closest to me could attest, my personal research has ranged far and wide over the years. Reading the works of various unrelated research groups, I have been well ahead of the curve on a number of emerging topics. While I lack the formal education to understand some of the details of the specific work, I am very good at pulling together research conclusions from unrelated fields to develop a larger picture. Something I am sadly less competent at in my personal life. Perhaps I’ll share some of those stories at some point.
So there I sat, trying to figure out what I really wanted to accomplish. No longer the eight year old with so much potential, no longer the teenager who was wasting so much potential, more than twenty years removed from all of it, trying to figure out what I did not figure out then. Just me and what I think I should accomplish now, not what anyone else thinks I could.
Ok, so nursing, right? It makes sense, it would suit me. My predilection for science and medicine, along with my previous experience seems to make it a good fit. A career with many options that I could literally take almost anywhere. What then? A masters in nursing? They have doctorates in nursing now as well. Is that what I really want to accomplish? I love science. I always have. While I think I would do very well in nursing, there remains a desire to do much more. Nursing would be a very desirable middle ground. It is a solid career that would benefit my family and myself. My question to myself was, am I satisfied to have the story end there? Is that the end point? If it is, I could already tell that I really wanted to still be involved with research. That I would want to try to transfer someplace close to the cutting edge, like Johns Hopkins or Duke, which happens to be in state and has a very respected medical school. I was already heading down that road of wanting to accomplish more.
So I begin to do a little more research into medical schools. RN in hand, where would I want to go afterwards to continue? I kept seeing a lot of the same names. Then I changed track a little and started looking at research funding. Which universities were doing the most research? I saw that Duke has a specific program where they would convert a degree, in something else, into an advanced nursing degree. Taking what you already had, and building a program to give you the missing pieces. That got me thinking about how you would go about doing the reverse. How much trouble would it be to take a BSN, for instance, and change track to something else for a masters? That dragged me right back to the question of what I really wanted to accomplish.
This would not have been a reoccurring question, but for the fact that an advanced nursing degree was obviously not the answer, otherwise this question would not keep coming up. I realized that what I really want is to finally be the scientist I have always been. I have been an amateur scientist since I was six. I realized that this is what was missing from the considerations. I kept trying to figure out what I wanted to be, what I wanted to do. What I was not doing was simply asking who I already am.
Then I came across a degree for biophysics. Here was a specific degree that comes across like a double major in biology and physics, with a minor in chemistry. What more could I ask for? Again, who am I already? I live for synthesizing data from seemingly unrelated disciplines and coming up with larger conclusions. It jumped out at me as if someone had offered a degree in Matt. Yes, I would like to major in Matt and get a bachelors in Matt, thank you. A BM, if you will. LOL! Ok, so now I had something that created a fire and a desire. It clicked into my thoughts and seemed to finally fit. Now what???
As a famous sculptor was said to observe, the finished piece is already in the marble, I simply chisel away the rock around it until it is revealed. So, how to go about all that chiseling? You may have noticed that, by now, I was looking way past the shrubbery in front of me. A seemingly small thing, but actually quite a leap in thinking for what I had been doing. So, in a perfect world, with resources and time aplenty, I had my answer. Obviously no such world exists. I began to try to work through the problem.
Meanwhile, in Gotham… So I am sitting there at ECPI, staring at this monster contract. I’m shaking my head while thinking this is crazy. It’s ridiculously expensive, will not really help any further with any educational goals, all to shave a few months off of getting an RN. So I tore it up. I very politely explained that I just did not think their program was for me and walked out the door. Oddly enough, there was a CPCC campus directly across the street. I did not notice it previously, but I sure noticed it at that moment. Someone inside actually helped by mentioning it, but I refuse to rat them out them and get them into trouble.
So I asked CPCC for information about their nursing program and got a catalogue. I realized that I could not even apply for their program before I stared taking other courses. Suddenly I went from the shortened program at ECPI, to a longer program at CPCC that would take even longer because I could not start it right way. In the old days that would have been bad news, but this is where that little change in thinking finally took over. I began to plan for the long term. Perhaps it seems simple and silly, but for me, especially considering that we are talking about going back to school for real, not just some career program, and given my past “traumas,” this was quite a leap.
I started small. I went through the seemingly crazy process of trying to get a transcript for my oh so stellar educational feats of two score and way too many years ago. I got the paperwork taken care of, took my placement tests and started with two classes that seem to be prerequisites for just about everything under the sun. Though they were very basic and potentially boring classes, I actually had a bit of fun with them. I toyed with the assignments and put my own spin on them to amuse myself. Admittedly, there were frustrations as well. I quickly realized why so many colleges have greatly expanded their selection of remedial classes. If I had a low opinion of public education before, miraculously the intervening two decades and massively increased funding had actually managed to lower it further based on what I was seeing around me. I am not going to go any further down that path here, but if you are coming directly from having taken English for twelve straight years… You have to be kidding me. Appalled does not begin to describe… It is bad out there, I’ll leave it at that.
This past spring I took more classes and I seem to be getting into the swing of things. I got philosophy out of the way during the summer. That was fun. If I have been an amateur scientist all my life, I have certainly been an amateur philosopher as well. A stand up philosopher, as Mel Brooks would have it. That class afforded me WAY to much latitude with which to amuse myself. I hope others were amused as well, but I got the impression that they largely just wanted it over with.
It’s actually kind of a strange feeling. We’ll see how much this continues as I progress to more advanced subjects, but that library gave me such a broad education, I am not finding these college classes quite as demanding as I thought they would be after so many years away from school and with so many emotional hang ups on the subject. Did you know, of course you did not sorry, that for many years I would actually become physically ill upon walking into a school? Nothing outwardly obvious, maybe a little sweating, perhaps an odd look on my face. Inside however, I would always become very nauseous, nice little adrenaline rush to boot. I still happens a bit, even with my change in thinking. It has always made school events with my kids very interesting in an unpleasant way.
All that aside, I am pleased so far. I am getting the grades that I should have been getting back then, had I not been whatever it was that I was. If you have seen my “future academics” page, then you can see that I have quite a bit planned during my time at CPCC. My answer at the moment is to pursue the RN and an associates in nursing. While getting that taken care of, I will be taking the additional classes to earn an associates in science as well. I should be finished with everything for both within a semester of each other. My course selection will essentially prepare me to declare pretty much any science major I want as a transferring junior. Not yet knowing exactly where I may transfer, I feel this offers me maximum possible flexibility. It may not be the most efficient way to go about things, but it should leave me in a good position, and taking as many classes as I can at CPCC is far less expensive in terms of credit hours. In regard to the transfer of classes and hours, there could be some complicated horse trading, but I don’t have much control over that right now, so I’m simply concentrating on being as well prepared as possible academically. In the meantime, the RN will provide me with a wonderful chance to find a reasonable job no matter where I may transfer to. That will provide some real world flexibility to help along the way. I like how things are shaping up, but I still have at least 5 semesters to go before I achieve the RN due to how they run the program. Even if I have every other class out of the way, other than the 7 nursing classes, they still run them one at a time over the course of 4 semesters. On the positive side, that is plenty of time to take the other classes I need to move forward at the end.
At the end of my time at CPCC, I will be well positioned to declare any major I need to, depending on where I end up and what their undergraduate offerings are. I will I have a career that I can take anywhere I need to go, to achieve subsequent goals. While it does not mean as much at this point in the process, I am pretty certain that I want to eventually earn a PhD. Even if they have to wheel me out in order to accept it. That part, I want to eventually accomplish just for my own satisfaction. Everything else is for my family and myself. To make our lives better and to make me better, in a way. To derive joy and satisfaction from something that I truly enjoy. Aside from material considerations, that would make everyone’s lives better as well. I can be such a grump sometimes.
That is what I aspire to. That is what I am committed to. I have often considered one of my shortcomings to be an inability to believe. A cynical inability to just believe in something until it is in concrete. The suggestion that something good might happen is met with an “I’ll believe it when I see it.” When I think of myself, I think of myself as Matt, not something, or someone, just Matt. While that may sound nice and independent of me on the surface, it leaves something out. While I am saying that I am more than just something external, I am also insisting that I can never be any more than Matt as well. It goes both ways. One of those little changes in thinking that I have been talking about is happening here as well. As long as it has taken to get here, I think I am finally ready to more than just Matt. It is actually very hard for me to do. To give myself over to an idea, to an outer identity. I’m guessing this may be something that I can’t really explain, that it is something that will resonate, or you will look at the screen funny and say, “er?”
Think of it this way. Someone may join the military. They may spend years there and make it a career. They will be partially defined by it. The look, the mannerisms, evidence of what they do and who they are all about their home in the form of pictures and mementos. Similarly the doctor, or cop. You are Joe, but you are a cop as well. If I walk into your house, you don’t even have to tell me who or what you are, I will get a sense of it just from looking at you and your home. I have never been this. For the most part, I don’t keep mementos, I don’t hang pictures. If you looked at my home, you would have a very hard time guessing who or what I am. It is this that I think I am finally ready to change. To let myself be more than just Matt. To believe in something, commit to it, to give myself over to thing, to a goal. To finally stop struggling with trees and shape the forest instead. To allow myself to be passionate about something and want it so badly, even though something may take it away. To drop the cynicism for a moment and, as trite and pedantic as it may sound, believe in something… More specifically, myself.
On a side note, if you have looked at my academic pages, you may have noticed a significant lack of math. There is a reason. I call it the math problem. Perhaps I will share that next.