By Emily Reich, originally featured on Linkedin, as part of the #StudentVoices series.
I had a very standard education experience in which I attended public elementary, middle, and high school, completed one school grade each year, and took the assigned courses (but not much more). I then applied to and attended a private university, where I took classes that filled requirements and were necessary for my major, never exploring anything that wasn’t beneficial to my degree. But last year a friend mentioned an interest in graduating early, and the idea stuck with me. I looked into my completed credits and realized it was possible for me to complete my majors and minors by December 2016- a semester ahead of time.
I obsessed about this decision for months. I weighed the monetary savings of leaving a semester early against the sadness I felt for ending a chapter in my life early against the anxiety I had about suddenly knowing that the safety and structure of school was coming to an even sooner end. For a while I wouldn’t say that I was graduating early because I was waiting for something to happen that would make it impossible- an extra class I forgot I had to take, or maybe a missed requirement. I think the reality was that I was too scared to commit to the idea of leaving my friends and the environment I knew. I doubted that I would deviate from my original four-year plan and actually go through with graduating early.
When no concrete hurdle appeared, no excuse for sticking around an extra few months, I finally accepted that I only had one more semester at university. Why had that choice been so hard for me? The logical and adult thing to do seemed a no-brainer- don’t waste time and money at school if you’ve finished what you set out to do there.
Deciding to graduate early shouldn’t have been such a monumental brain buster, but it was.
I recently began working with one of my past professors in an effort to spread awareness about the ideas in his new book, Reach, which is all about stepping outside of your comfort zone. As I began thinking about the book and its ideas, I at first thought that I had never been in a position where I had significantly stepped out of my comfort zone. The fact that this is my last semester is on my mind quite often, and eventually I began realizing why making the decision to graduate early had been so tremendous. Breaking expectations can be scary, even one as small as completing four years of college. I had stepped out of my comfort zone when I began considering cutting my college career short, and the fear of leaving early (and facing unknown repercussions of that choice) had weighed heavily on my mind.
Now that I’ve decided to and accepted graduating early, I am much more confident in my decision. I am still concerned about being off-kilter, of having my timing not be well matched to different programs and jobs, or of missing potentially great times with friends I will never see as often as I do now again. But having done something that initially seemed impossible for me to actually execute has given me a degree of confidence to try out other things I used to think I would never do.
Sometimes you’ve got to do the thing that makes you nervous to break the cycle of comfortable decision making. I think I’ve taken a good step out my comfort zone with my decision to graduate early, and I hope that I can keep that momentum going as I begin the next chapter of my life.