THE STORY

A year ago, I was miserable. I hate making food (even for myself, honestly) and I was in a job that demanded making food, namely ice cream.

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A few swirls of soft serve without toppings in a bowl was my favorite to make - it was the absolute quickest and easiest order.

The hours were alright. Juuuust above minimum wage, I worked eight hours five days a week (sometimes six, if extra hands were needed) and typically stayed an extra hour. 40 hours plus 5 in overtime was okay money, and sure money through the hot months, but it wasn't great.

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So the money was okay at best, and I really, really disliked what I was doing to earn this money. What was my way out of this?

I went to a website that offered strictly online courses. I already had my Bachelor of Arts and I didn't want to continue onto a Master's, between the relocation and the costs, especially, but that didn't mean I wanted to stop learning. I explored a few options and eventually came down to one I would ponder for a few days: Become a Paralegal.

I talked it over with my mother and my long-distance fiance and decided with certainty that this was the best path for me. If I moved outside of my area during the course as I hoped, I wouldn't miss a beat in my instruction because the course would move with me online.

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As an English major and Creative Writing minor in college, I was quite familiar with the critical reading and efficient writing required of a paralegal. And I needed a completed Bachelor's for the program I chose, so that box was already checked.

And so, one sunny July afternoon, I dropped a little over $2,000 on my new credit card for this paralegal course and started my pathway to a better life of never making ice cream for strangers again.

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When I got home the next week, I excitedly began my course around my 45 hour workweek, and because I was so amped up for something new AND a way out of this job, I fit it into my schedule easily.

The first few chapters were statistics and factoids, the dry stuff. The topics got more interesting around the third chapter, and I REALLY felt like I was starting to develop my knowledge then, which only made me more curious.

Materially, I set myself up for success with a binder, alphabetized tabs, notebooks, fancy pens, pencils, paperclips, sticky notes, folders, and even nice tote bag and matching pouch to a) keep my paralegal materials in and b) bring to work when I would land my very first job as a paralegal.

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However, around October things started to change. My schedule had wound down a little bit, as ice cream season had ended with the start of the month. Though I had more time at home and less stress at work, I didn't jump into my paralegal studies as I should have.

Instead, I wasted much of my time, watching Netflix/Hulu/YouTube, meandering the internet in different unproductive apps and websites.

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I would never consider time with love ones a waste, but I knew in the back of my mind when I should have been working on my studies instead of heading to Walmart at midnight with my best friend. But I also knew which was way more enjoyable, and fun outranked responsibility a lot.

It went on like this for months. I would work hard for several nights and even enjoy the learning, but then I would go WEEKS without doing so.

It didn't help that sometimes the program itself got frustrating when the professor wouldn't respond to discussion questions, or a topic that was neither in the online classroom nor in the textbook would appear on a test and lower my grade, or a link didn't function properly.

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I told myself repeatedly, "Oh yeah, I HAVE to do my paralegal studies today!" And then I wouldn't.

The following February I was lucky enough to leave my job and move downstate to live with my fiance. It would be a while till I found a new job, so aside from applying to jobs and doing online transcription for a bit of money, I theoretically had plenty of time to REALLY focus on my paralegal studies.

Between job stress, training to be a volunteer for a site that helps people in crisis, and then moving, I had fallen wayyy behind in my online modules, despite doing some serious catching up the month before.

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I was far enough behind that it wasn't really laughable anymore, but there was still definitely room to catch up if I put my time in. And I had a lot of time.

Fast forward through the spotty course logins to the month of May, I got an email from a writing newsletter I'd forgotten I was even subscribed to. The email talked about affordable writing course called DIY MFA.

Intrigued, I browsed the website and watched the testimonials. It looked amazing, not to mention it was less than half the cost of my now-dreaded paralegal course.

I thought about this Do-It-Yourself Master of Fine Arts as I had the paralegal studies, but this time I didn't talk about it with anyone. It wasn't nearly as much of an internal debate because there was something major here.

This course was about doing something I'd really, really loved as a teenager and had lamely wished "I could get back to" when I was working, but I was too drained to feel creative. On something close to a whim, I signed up for this new course.

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One of the first things the creator of the program/instructor talked about was iteration, working hard to find what works for you so later on you know your best process to make your best work.

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Example: Do you work best in the morning or the evening, or another time of the day? Try different times if you can, write down the results, compare, and follow what gave you the best outcomes.

Along with iteration was recognizing resistance and figuring out WHY you're resisting. With this magical thought in my hand, I realized I was gradually resisting my paralegal course more and more over the past few months because I just didn't want to do it anymore. At all.

Shortly after realizing this, I made the grim but very much needed decision to tell my student advisor, who was nothing short of sweet, understanding, and cooperative, that I would not be finishing the course. The course itself was about $1,900, and the voucher for the paralegal exam was what tipped it over $2,000. And no, I would not be getting the cost of the voucher back.

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THE RESULT

YIKES, that's a lot of money down the drain. I do cringe at how much was added to my credit card, how the money could've been used for other things, and the other obvious wince-worthy stuff.

But at the same time, I can't say that I wish I'd never spent this money and attempted this course.

I'm so glad I didn't force myself to finish something I'd come to avoid so much and even -worst case scenario- force myself into a job I didn't want.

For one thing, I'd thought on and off about the possibility of being a paralegal for years beforehand. When I was accepted to the university I would later attend, one of the many career opportunities listed for English majors was paralegal, specifically.

Though it was a long and pricey road, having time with the knowledge and tasks of a paralegal in the forms of reading and assignments gave me enough to know that I did not enjoy these crucial elements of the job.

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A big bonus of this venture, honestly, was the confidence to say that I would never wonder if I had missed out on something by not studying law, be it legal secretary, paralegal, or lawyer. I now know for certain that I have no passion in that realm, and I will never have a legal career "What-if...?" to be hung up on.

Aside from dismissing a whole job field for me, this uncompleted course taught me a lot about myself as a learner. For one thing, I realized I work best with soft, wordless music in the background.

Complete silence drives me nuts. Lyrics in music distract me from what I'm trying to focus on. My search for study music introduced me to a love of lofi, bossa nova, and retrowave music that I now listen to on a regular basis.

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Taking notes also taught me a lot. For one thing, I need consistency across notes. If I start a chapter one way, it needs to look the same way when I start the next chapter later in the same notebook.

Being outside of a physical classroom, where I scrambled to take notes before the professor moved on, gave me the freedom to align my notes neatly and consistently through my notes and make it easier to look back on them. (And once I got my hands on Pilot G-2 with different colored inks, it was a whole new game of note-taking.)

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In short, starting up note-taking again for this course developed good habits for effectiveness and strategy in how my notes were laid out. These good habits rolled over into my volunteer training notes and now my DIY MFA notes, which are probably the most cleanly laid out points I've ever written down to date.

Lastly, though it's a small point, going out of my way to purchase office supplies and other items intended to be used as a student/future paralegal gave me the tools I needed for my other two courses.

Paralegal studies gave me the tabs I would use for my DIY MFA binder, plenty of pens to distinguish important points when needed, a pouch to keep all of my pens and sticky notes and paperclips in one easy-to-grab place, a great work bag during my brief time as an office temp... Everything I'd purchased (apart from the course itself) had a payoff in at least one positive, if surprising, way.

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I would say the GREATEST advantage this year-long journey has given me was the ability to distinguish passion from impassivity and how thinking, "Yeah, that would be fine" is so wildly different from, "Wow, I would LOVE to do that!"

It's not a bad thing to follow something that you'd like to do, of course. But maybe there's something just as attainable you've only dreamed of doing that you should peek at first.

Once I started DIY MFA, I felt myself again, someone I hadn't been since high school (but more mature now, thankfully). I have the energy of my old writing days, but now with a whole college degree and additional, specialized writing knowledge as well.

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If you make a mistake, try to make the best of it and carry it into your next adventure.

I wouldn't dream of letting up my writing education. On the other hand, when I sealed the coffin on my paralegal course, it felt like a gate had been opened or a weight had been lifted from the back of my mind. This was not the way for me, and that was that.

The dread of learning something I was resigned to study or wrestling with unclear concepts was gone, and now I had the time to do what I have wanted to do since I was a child.

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What took me a whole nine months and thousands of dollars to understand is this: sometimes, as an adult, you have to do something as a way to make money, as a way to move past a place you don't want to be stuck in. This is a reality just about everyone will tell you.

But if you find something that keeps you up at night because you're so excited about it, why hesitate to discover more about it?

Whether it's a new hobby or something you maybe even forgot you liked to do, pursue it. Whether it's a side hustle or something everyone else doubts you can make money at, pursue it. If it's something that makes you feel alive and happy, PLEASE pursue it. It's worth your time. (Unless, of course, you feel alive from murdering people. Then forget everything I just said.)

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You got this. You know you do, so bring your heat. I know I'll keep bringing mine.