Eating an elephant

Procrastination_by_diablo2097I’m not sure if I agree with Tom Petty’s claim that waiting is the hardest part. Sometimes getting started is more difficult.

Recently, my friend and recent guest contributor to this blog, Mary Agrusa, posted a writing prompt on her LinkedIn group, Christian Bloggers – Cross Currents, related to the word “initiate.” I didn’t have time to write at the moment, but my mind began ruminating on the word as I nursed my baby and stoked the fire in our wood stove.

11 years after graduating from college, I was able to begin pursuing my Master’s degree. It took me 11 years to get started for many reasons; primarily, I procrastinated going to graduate school because I couldn’t make fiscal sense out of the decision to take out more loans in order to pursue a degree which would most likely provide me with opportunities to earn approximately the same income (or possibly less). However, when my husband suggested that I consider going back to school after hearing me daydream aloud about how much I would enjoy spending more time reading, writing, and studying literature, I began praying about it and asked God to open the right doors and close the wrong ones. He did, and I’m grateful. I started school last January at full steam ahead.

I’m now preparing to graduate after completing two more courses this spring and (hopefully, fingers crossed) passing the required comprehensive exam for earning my degree. It took me 11 years to get started, but at least I’m almost finished. The part I’ve been dreading is the only part left–passing the big test and preparing for it. This fall, in addition to my coursework, I read 11 novels in preparation for the exam. My to-read list now contains only short stories, essays, and poems.

Even though I’m down to the home stretch, I dread finishing reading all those works of literature, attempting to commit the styles of writing and gist of the pieces to memory, and perusing practice tests and essay options. Lack of sleep and something new parents refer to as “baby brain” have sucked my scholastic motivation dry.

Photo by Tim Laman, National Geographic
Photo by Tim Laman, National Geographic

But two days ago, I recalled a phrase my wise mentor often repeats: “The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.”

So I printed out the list of the works of literature the test will cover and charted out a plan for completion. I read one essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the following day, I read two more. And honestly, they were somewhat interesting and thought-provoking. I even found a few quotable lines here and there for my Facebook status updates.

Thankfully, I finally got started.

Eating an entire elephant seems daunting and pretty disgusting. But taking one bite at a time isn’t so bad.

4 thoughts on “Eating an elephant

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  1. I was where you are back in the mid-90’s. I had two children – one in high school, the other in college – a mother-in-law living with me, a husband who had a home-based business, and several needy animals. We were in financial crisis, and I had lost my job as a medical office manager. Being this poor, I knew I could get the loans to complete my education. I was only a few courses shy of a degree in accounting, but had left school to have baby #2, By now all those skills were outdated, so I opted to get a degree in English. Between 1994-2000, I not only completed the 9 courses I needed to get my B.A. in English, but also completed a master’s in English literature at UNH. I have been teaching as an adjunct ever since.

    I, too, had hoped to teach full-time at a community college in the area, but that was not to be. Sometimes the reason you don’t get the job has nothing to do with your academic qualifications. I have taught as many as 10 courses at a time to support the household, and finally now, I’m hitting retirement age and have a health issue. I am currently preparing to teach only one course now and two more starting in March.

    I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. I have taught comp (plenty of comp), literature, creative writing, public speaking, film genres, and ethics. I have moved into the world of online teaching, and while I do love the face-to-face time with my students, online teaching allows me the flexibility to deal with a medical issue and still be productive. Good luck with your elephant eating. BTW, I didn’t have comprehensives. I did have to pass a foreign language proficiency exam, and was able to do so 20 years after my last French class.

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