2017-02-21-16-19-25-1This year marks a significant milestone for me: I will complete my Masters in Public Administration, with a concentration in Educational Leadership. This degree was by far the most difficult of the 3 degrees I’ve earned because my heart wasn’t in it. I started the program back in 2013 with the intention of “just getting a Masters.” I work in the college the degree is housed in, so I knew I’d have the support of my superiors to take classes and that the admit process would be pretty seamless. After 2 semesters, however, I realized how disinterested I was the public sector and public administration. It is no doubt a strong, marketable degree if you’re interested in working in higher education, the non-profit sector, or government. I decided to give it one more semester (following the advice of my academic advisor) to see if it was for me or not, since up to that point I’d been taking the most difficult core courses. His advice was to jump into my concentration courses and judge from there. That didn’t work. So before the midpoint of the semester, I made a resolve: I’d quit the program and pursue a degree I actually had some interest in. I began searching for an online degree, convinced that sitting in a classroom was the most annoying part about being back in school. This tactic was a horrible way to “find” a degree because there are so many out there and I didn’t want to repeat the same effortless mistake I’d made with the MPA.

My coworker/friend/work-wife/life consultant who I affectionally call “wife” was also looking at pursuing a master’s degree. She was fundamental in my decision-making process, asking me pertinent, soul-searching questions that would make me think much deeper beyond my surface-level desire to “get a Masters.” What do you like about your job? What don’t you like? What would you like the degree to mean for you? And so many more.

My work responsibilities over the past year had shifted dramatically. I went from being #2 of a two-person team to the lead of a larger group. I was responsible for training new employees on our team – from organizing training sessions and materials to facilitating the training topics beginning to end. It was exhausting. Mainly because I was training new people while balancing the same responsibilities as well. Mind you, I was lead, so I was point of contact for nearly every question or concern in our unit – which pretty much occurred multiple times during the day. So, yea, exhausting. I discovered also, though, that it was rewarding. I see new employees’ brains as a blank slate. They come to me with the easel and canvas; I supply the paint, brushes, and accessories. From day 1, I know what the final piece should look like, but a good artist understands there are different ways to get there. My goal is empowerment, knowledge, and self-sufficiency.

My first training session was a chaotic mess! Notes were all over the place. I mainly spoke; there was little in the form of supplemental documents and visuals. And I learned from that situation! I found myself repeating things over and over… “I know I taught that!” I’d say in my head. It wasn’t that I didn’t go over the information, but rather I failed to help them make a connection.

And this is where I began to see my perspective shift. I began understanding it’s not so much how often you deliver something. If you fail to provide a connection, you might as well put yourself on auto-repeat, and expect to do so often. I revised my training when the next employees came on board. And every session got better than the next. It got to the point where I saw myself developing a stencil for the art piece, to ensure it always turned out the same – and that’s what we want (when it comes to training you do want consistency). I began noticing the training period got much shorter, because there was less redundancy. My pupils, if you will, reached their final piece much faster. And seeing that lightbulb in their head go off, when they felt comfortable enough to add their own colors (and they be the right ones!), develop their own brush strokes (that complimented the piece!), and show me a finished product (that was exactly the way I imagined!) – That, good people, is success. And That feels good.

As exhausting as training was for me, it became less burdensome because I enjoyed the process, and I especially took joy in knowing I wouldn’t have to worry if the employees were delivering the right information when I suddenly got fewer calls, IMs and emails from them. I knew I had equipped them with the right skills. I could trust they would make the right decisions.

This evolution led me directly to Adult Education. I found it by searching “corporate training jobs” online. I realized that I loved teaching, but did not want a degree in early-, middle-, or secondary education. I was interested in teaching adults, or perhaps for a company for which I could travel and train – bonus! (since traveling is another passion of mine). I hadn’t heard of “adult education” as a discipline before then, so I was surprised to find that it was, in fact, a huge umbrella encompassing many opportunities of which I had interest – including teaching English as a second language, corporate training, and education administration.

So then it was settled. I knew I wanted to do some level of corporate training, I knew I wanted my Masters, I knew I didn’t want to sit in a classroom. Insert: University of Georgia’s (new online) Master’s of Education program with a concentration in Adult Education! The course had previously been taught as in the traditional classroom format, but, if interested, I’d be among the first cohort in the 100% online program. My interest was piqued. I found out about the program through GeorgiaONmyLINE’s website. Because I am an employee at Georgia State University, I can take advantage of TAP (tuition assistance program) and attend any institution within the University Systems of Georgia at virtually no charge. Whoot! I enrolled. I loved it. I LOVED it! There were some challenging moments, I won’t say it was all roses and butterflies. However, the difference between the M.Ed and the MPA is that I loved the program and was passionate about it, so the struggles were less challenging to push through. There were many nights I went to bed late because I was bogged down by thousands of readings. Some semesters I felt I was always in class because – it being an online course – I think some instructors thought our whole life was school. I also had to pay an extra tuition that was not covered by TAP because my program included a special “e-rate”, thereby why I said “virtually no charge.” But it was worth it! And I was determined to push through. And, last summer, officially August 5, 2016, I completed my program.

During the spring of last year, though, while I was nearing wrapping up my program at UGA, the thought of leaving the MPA unfinished kept nagging at me. It got to the point it drove me crazy. I just couldn’t settle knowing I’d worked so very hard the first year and never got credit for it.

So I visited my academic advisor to find out how close I was to completing the degree. After reviewing what I’d taken, discussing the option of creating an individual concentration – thereby allowing the transfer of two of my UGA courses – and reviewing the remaining requirements, she showed me what was left. And circled: 4 classes and an internship.

“What? That’s it?” I was in disbelief.

“That’s all, Dani!” She was so supportive. I needed a moment to let it sink in.

I spent about a week or so toggling with the idea of whether or not I wanted to return. “4 classes. That’s two semesters. That’s not even a year. And I’ll be done.” … “4 classes.” .. “Just 4, Dani. You’re so close!”

I met with her again. I needed to know exactly what I was looking at. “What four classes are we talking about?”

The internship coordinators would not waive the internship requirement – oh trust me, I tried! – but they did agree to allow my job to count provided I do “something” in addition to my work responsibilities. Fair enough, I thought.

Of the four courses remaining, I should probably focus on getting the hardest ones out of the way first. I knew that if I was only one semester away after it was over, there was no way I wouldn’t finish.

After some deliberation, I hastily completed my re-entry application before I changed my mind!

My M.Ed was conferred in summer; I was back in classes in the fall.

And hated every minute of it!

I was grumpy, annoyed, tired, and uninspired. It was, hands down, the hardest semester I’d ever had. I can’t tell you how many times I cried from being completely and utterly tired. I studied so much I stopped getting invitations to go out from friends – I was always studying. At least when I was working on the M.Ed I was in a relationship and had the supporting help of my partner to handle things like walking the dog and picking up groceries. But now I was very single, with a very stubborn tendency to not ask for help. It was hard, y’all. Hard. The material was dense. Perhaps if I’d liked the information, comparatively like I did in the M.Ed, it wouldn’t have felt so challenging. I always felt like I was pushing a boulder. Uphill. In socks. Right, picture that. On top of that one of my instructors was… well, let’s just say I didn’t have many kind words to say about him. But, because I know the instructor’s place, personality aside I recognized he needed to teach me something, and I needed to learn it. Or, at the very least I needed to be able to duplicate his teachings to a fair level of understanding on the exam. I spent countless hours studying, and many more in his office for one-on-ones. I refused to not succeed. But there were many moments I questioned my sanity. “Why am I doing this again?? Just to say I did?” But there’s something about a challenge to me… I have to be able to say I gave it absolutely everything I had before I can admit defeat.

So. I got through it. More than got through it – I closed that semester out with 2 Bs! Not my best work, but honey I finished and that’s all that matters, dernit! Besides, there’s no Honors recognition in graduate school. Over-achievers.

So, here I am, in my last semester. And I did it just right. This is by far my easiest semester, of both my graduate programs! Y’all. I have resumed an active workout life, social life, and started this blog! I couldn’t possibly even think of an extra anything in the past nearly 4 years. Imagine that.

It’s in the bag lol I’m so checked out. If senior-itis were a thing you could get at any level, I have it bad. I’m still working, don’t get me wrong. But I’m so not working hard. I already know the minimum grades I need on all my assignments just to get a satisfactory grade! I made an 85 on my first assignment in one class. She gave the class the option to revise for a better grade. Guess who did NOT resubmit anything. Mmhmm.

This thing is in the bag. And I’m not “giving up,” I’m just enjoying the fruits of (literally) my labor. I strategically built the last 2 semesters to go this way – struggle up front, then ride that thing on out. I completed my internship over the Thanksgiving break, my final requirements being a 10-page paper and a group discussion.

Graduation is May 5.

When I tell you Cinco de Mayo this year is about to be more than tacos and tequila, you just don’t understand what I’m telling you!

I wrapped up this journey like it was nothing, but it’s been anything but. I’m thankful to ALL the amazing people I’ve had in my corner – encouraging me, reminding me what’s important, listening to my long rants, being a shoulder to cry on, walking my dog, hell, the ones who brought me dinner because I was so knee-deep in assignments I was forgetting to eat. My graduation celebration will be a celebration for everyone! I could not have done this alone.

I could not have done this alone. And we really never do.

So here’s to finishing what you start!

And if you need help finding your niche, I have the perfect life consultant to recommend you to. She holds a special place in my heart. She doesn’t it do it for a fee (yet!); she just genuinely is a good, smart, honest person.

At any rate, though, I’d like to close in saying: just #startsomewhere