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What I Learned From Embracing Uncertainty

After going through five months of uncertainty about the future of my education and career path, the wait paid off in a very surprising way.

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As a late bloomer and immediately after I earned my BA in psychology from Montclair State University (eight and a half years part time), I decided that if I was going to work in the field of mental health, I needed a master’s degree.  I took my last class at the end of 1995. Although I did very well in attaining my undergraduate degree, I was still unsure if I wanted to put all the time and expense into another degree. Since I had incorporated my college education into other areas of my life, including working full-time, I could use the same logic and continue on toward a graduate degree.  

I started the process by calling the social work department at Rutgers University. I inquired about the program and I was told that a “packet” would be sent out to me soon. At this time, I was still trying to determine if a master’s degree is what I needed to launch my career. And my phone call was, as I remember, just an inquiry. 

The packet arrived about a week later and as I examined it, it appeared quite complex. There was a lot of information that needed to be filled out, I thought, just to get information about the program. And part of the packet required an essay about why I wanted to be a master’s level social worker. I thought this was odd as at the time, I just wanted to know what the requirements were to apply to the program.

I worked at filling out all the information in a very methodical way, making sure to answer all the questions. I remember it taking a number of days to get it just right. I was asked to write an essay on a time in my life that impacted me in a significant way. My essay was on my experience as a kid living in an urban environment in the midst of racial unrest in the 1960’s. I finished the essay, filled in all the other information, and sent it off through the mail. This was late winter of 1996 and I thought that I would receive another packet with all the information I would need to learn about the masters of social work program at Rutgers.  

Weeks passed without getting the information I requested. I was getting a little anxious as to when I would receive the “second” packet as the cutoff date for registering for the program was rapidly approaching. I called the university and asked if my information was received and I was told that they were in the process of looking over all the packets. I was assured that I would be notified as soon as my packet was reviewed. 

Months went by, and the deadline for applying for the program was April 1st which had already passed.  I called the university again and asked about the information I requested and I was given the name of a person and his number to call and ask about the process. This was now the beginning of May and when I called, a person answered who seemed to have been asleep. When I told him about my concerns, he just said that I would be hearing something soon and then hung up the phone. 

I was wondering if I was being too anxious about receiving information about the program, but since the deadline was a month prior, I assumed that I would not have a chance to decide if I wanted to apply for the program. Several more weeks passed and I called the social work department again.  And I was met with the same “sleepy” voice who told me that since they were experiencing computer problems, any correspondence with the university would be delayed.

May passed, then June and into July I called a third time.  Once again I was met with the same person who indicated that their computer issues were just resolved and that I would soon be getting the information I requested. The graduate program in social work was scheduled to start the first week in September and as August arrived, I was sure there would be no way that I could apply for the program.

One day, about mid-August, I received a letter in the mail from Rutgers University. I remember being on the phone with a friend when the letter arrived. I sat there telling my friend about the letter as he encouraged me to open it. Minutes went by as I tried to figure out why I received a letter and not the packet of information I had requested many months ago. At the urging of my friend, I opened the letter and the first word I saw was “Congratulations…” As I read further, the letter stated that I had been accepted into the Rutgers University school of social work program. Amazed, I shared the entire letter with my friend who indicated that he didn’t know that I had applied for the program. When I told him that I didn’t know I had applied either, we both shared a laugh. Apparently, all the work I had put into the original packet was the actual application. 

I started the program in September and, four and a half years later, part time, I graduated with a master’s in social work. After going through five months of uncertainty about the future of my education and career path, the wait paid off in a very surprising way.  Being uncertain about the future can be a very uncomfortable place to be. Not being able to control our destiny can bring about a heightened sense of anxiety that can lead to negative thinking patterns. As a social worker with over 20 years of experience, I have learned to embrace the concept of Mindfulness. For me, I try to be mindful of the present moment and not fall into the trap of living in the unchangeable past or projecting too far into the future. The here and now – the present, is where reality resides and where we can take control of our lives living one day at a time and sometimes one hour at a time. Although uncertain outcomes can sometimes work out for us and sometimes not, being mindful of the present moment can not only help to reduce worry and stop unnecessary catastrophic thinking.

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