The choice to return to school after taking a handful (or more) years off can feel daunting, especially when it involves moving to a new city. That was the case for me at least as I began my MEd studies in TESOL, Literacy, and Culture at USD five years after completing my undergraduate degree and deciding to change career directions completely. Though I only have one semester under my belt, there are a handful of things that have helped me find healthy rhythms in school and settle into life in San Diego.
It is easy to feel unmoored in times of transition, and I’ve found it takes patience and intention to develop real roots somewhere. Something that has helped me tremendously in my search for grounding here has been a commitment to the Zen concept of ‘beginner’s mind,’ which is essentially a posture of openness, curiosity, and lack of preconceptions, applied both to my studies and my new role as a resident of San Diego. Continually coming back to this beginner’s mind has helped calm my anxieties over my lack of experience in my new field, feelings of imposter syndrome that show up in the classroom, and any creeping doubts over whether going back to school was a good idea. I am allowed to be a beginner. I am here to learn. I don’t have to be an expert just yet. I can let go of expectations for myself and commit fully to my curiosity.
I also found this perspective to be life-giving outside the classroom in the process of navigating my move to San Diego with no community or prior knowledge of the city. With the mind of openness and curiosity, I haven’t felt the need to force friendships, make sure I know everywhere I’m going without my GPS, or control when or how to make this place feel like home. I have been able to take advantage of the free resident days at the art museum and make space to wander around Torrey Pines. I’ve been able to find a coffee shop I like to study at and the best route to bike to the beach. In curiosity, I have given myself permission to say yes to all forms of connection and celebrate finding people I enjoy spending time with. I am learning it takes patience to be a beginner. Though I am new in many ways – to this city and to graduate school – I hope to carry with me a beginner’s mind even when my roots deepen and my confidence grows. And wherever you are on your journey, from your first day in the classroom to an expert in your field, I hope you might also approach life with a beginner’s mind, and the grace it takes to keep learning.