Almost ten years after graduation, I've paid off my $20-some thousand dollars in student loans from my undergraduate degree. I sent a check for the final lump sum last month, and the letter congratulating me arrived a few days ago. "This letter is official verification that your Federal Perkins Student Loan/s with Northeastern University is paid in full."
It feels like a huge accomplishment to have those loans paid off. Not only did I go to college and graduate, I managed to actually pay for that degree legitimately. I'm proud of myself for my success so many years ago, but it's also a sore spot simultaneously. Where have I come? What have I really accomplished? What do I really have to show for it?
Ten years after graduating from college, I'm not using my degree, my skills, my rolodex. My diploma hangs on the wall opposite me as I type this and I wonder what it really means to have that framed piece of paper. I suppose it means at some point in my past I was disciplined. I set a goal and I fulfilled that goal. But now that I've officially paid for that piece of paper, it's almost as if it mocks me. What I'm doing now as a mother requires no previous experience. No degree. No special skills. No references. No letters of recommendation. No essays. Anyone can do what I do. That's probably why it is not a respected position in society. No prerequisites. No qualifications needed.
I had a good run as a journalist. I was respected and had a lovely sizable paycheck to back it up. I traveled to exciting conferences in Napa and Boston and New York City, ate in fancy restaurants, and slept in cozy, swanky hotels on the company's dime. It was so glamorous. Then I realized it wasn't for me. I didn't like many parts of being a reporter--the deadlines, the annoying editors standing over my shoulder, the pressure to break stories before the Wall Street Journal. So I mustered up the courage to try something new, and then I got pregnant. And now more than three years later, I'm pregnant again.
For now, my diploma and my skills will continue to gather dust, and I will continue to rack up years of experience in my new profession. Perhaps ten years from now when I look back on my years as a struggling mother, I will no longer wonder if I was doing the right thing. Hopefully my kids will be my daily reminder.