Reaching One Of Life’s Milestones

Katie Young
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Wednesday - December 13, 2006

“What on earth is a ‘mean’ and how do I find it?!” I was squealing at my mother over the phone.

“Calm down, you’ll figure it out,” Mom encouraged. “Don’t give up.”

Oh, how many times I wanted to give up this past year. But I made a promise - I made a promise to myself and to you, dear readers, way back on Aug. 10, 2005 - that I would finish my master’s degree. After all, it has been an undertaking almost eight years in the making. It was now or never.

Who wants that black cloud of failure hanging over your head for a lifetime? Not me. So it was with a strong will and a fear of disappointing my parents that I persevered through the times when I had not a clue what I was doing.

A master’s degree thesis might not be so difficult for the normal graduate student to complete, but after you’ve been out of the classroom for nearly a decade and your style of writing is more conversational than academic, a full-blown research project more than a few pages long can seem like a mind-blowing task.

Enter the “mean” and its friend, the “mode.” After developing my questionnaire, getting it approved and finding my test subjects, I spent hours calculating by hand the mean (average response) and the mode (most frequent response) for each of my survey questions. (Keep in mind this is also after someone had to explain to me what the mean and mode were. It seems my statistics knowledge escaped my brain years ago).

“I never want to see another mean again,” I told my mother when I was done. My hand was throbbing, my eyes were blurry from staring at all the numbers and, worse, now that I had all this data, I still had to make some sense of it.

But somehow, less than four weeks later, I managed to turn those 10 months of straight research into a master’s thesis 100 pages long. (I think I actually wrote 70 of those pages in one week, working day and night at my computer.)

The evening I finished it, no one was home but me and Pono, the wiener dog, so we celebrated together in a brief but spirited dance around the living room.

And now that I’ve had time to step back and admire my accomplishment, I can see how everything in life truly takes the path fate intends.

I could have opted to finish my degree before I began working at MidWeek in 2000, but then I would have missed out on the opportunity for a job that has brought me more fulfillment than anything else in my life ever had before. If my back hadn’t gone out this year, I probably would have never left my full-time position and never would have pushed myself to finish my degree. My credits would have expired and I’d be an old lady kicking myself for never quite getting it done.

Completing my thesis taught me a lot more than just forgotten math skills. It took me three tries over six years to find a thesis topic I could get excited about (local-style leadership values in Hawaii). I’m glad I waited too, because there’s nothing more awful than spending a year of your life thinking about, researching and writing about something that doesn’t interest you in the least. Finding (and doing) something you truly love can make all the difference in your life.

I was also reminded how much my parents support me, no matter what I do. Of course, they wanted me to finish, and they pushed me to finish, but I know they wouldn’t have loved me any less if I didn’t.

Perhaps the most significant lessons I learned through all of this, however, were about perseverance: how satisfying it is to make good on your word, how great it feels to finally complete something you thought was out of your reach, how important it is to always work to better yourself and how it’s never too late in life to do it.

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