Essay: Advice Column

Note:  I’ve been wanting to write more essays, but haven’t really had anything burbling to the surface to write about.  But now Poets & Writers will send me a weekly creative nonfiction prompt every Thursday and so I’m angling to use that as a weekly springboard for a short essay.  It might not be every week, especially as school gears up, but I’ll do my best.

Think of a situation from your past when you were unsure of what to do and wished for someone’s advice or opinion. Describe the scenario and ask specific questions about your next course of action, as if you were posing the issue to an advice columnist. Then, write an essay in the form of an advice column response to yourself. Analyze the situation objectively–cite relevant anecdotes, examples, or hypothetical outcomes–and share words of guidance, insight, and encouragement with your past self.

Dear Advice Columnist,

I’m 23.  I’m a week into a graduate school program in something I think I might like to do for work.  I graduated college a year ago—finished school in three and a half years—and have been working while waiting for the next stage of my life to begin.

The thing is, I like the job I have now.  I like the people, I like the work.  I’m good at school, but the thought of more hours in the library turns my stomach.  I can make myself do it, but should I?  If I go full time, I’ll be done in two years, have a dual degree and can get on with my life.  But something in me wants to chuck the grad school thing and just keep going to work every day.  Advice?

One Path Seems Much More Attractive.


Your signature says it all.  I suspect your hesitancy has to do with the fact that the more attractive path isn’t the one you are supposed to be walking on.  Or the one you think you aren’t supposed to be walking on.  So let’s go through things objectively.  On one hand, we have the graduate school path, which will possibly lead you to work that you might like to do.  I’m betting that work pays more than the job you have now and I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that your theoretical work will pay more than you make now.

On the other hand, we have the job you have now that you really like. I can tell it’s something that you are qualified for based on your undergraduate degree, or possibly your high school diploma.  You wouldn’t be the first person to finish school and pick up work that looks a lot like the stuff you did to get through school.  I don’t know if it is something you will always like, if it’s something that you can add new challenges to, if it’s the kind of work that will always be available to you.

You also don’t seem very excited about graduate school.  And I believe you when you say that you can power through and do the work because someone who shaves off a semester of college knows how to get work done.

But you don’t want to do the work.  Not right now.  Maybe you’re still worn out from undergrad, maybe you are having fun in your paid work, maybe you never really wanted to do whatever this graduate school program is training you to do.

Here’s what I know.  Graduate school will always be there.  Sure, it’s convenient to go now, when your options are probably pretty wide open, you’re used to the school stuff and you have all of the getting-into-the-program stuff behind you.  As you get older all of those things get harder.  But right now you’ve got a job you like to go to where both the people and the work are stimulating.

You can try for a middle path, maybe see if you can shift your work around to accommodate a half-schedule and a class or two per semester for your program.  You can see if you can reduce your work schedule to minuscule, just to keep a toe in the fun, while you power through your graduate program.

But if you are more of a singularly focused person, go with the job for now.  Maybe try to keep some options open in the grad school direction, volunteering, what have you.  Or maybe decide that your job now is what you want now and do that job.

Whatever your choice, make your decision and be happy with it.  Maybe skipping graduate school isn’t the path you planned, but it might be the path you choose.  So go with that path and be thankful for all the things it will bring to you.  If it ever starts looking less attractive, do what you have to do to find a new path, by either doing that graduate school thing, or something else that looks interesting.

English philosopher John Lennon once told us that life is what happens when you are making other plans.  I think your life is happening right now.  Make your decision and go for it.

Good luck,
Random Advice Columnist.

2 thoughts on “Essay: Advice Column”

  1. So when you went through this at 23, did you actually turn to anyone for advice? Or did you make the decision entirely on your own? If you turned to someone, did they give good advice? Just curious. I like your essay. This was a very interesting prompt.

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