The Countdown Begins

Twelve months to go.

This week, I began the final year of my AU journey. I enrolled in my fourth-last AU course, ENGL 341 World Literature, which joins two courses already in progress. ENGL 341 is a 6-credit course and it will accompany me on the final year toward an AU Bachelor of General Studies degree.

I began my AU journey almost five years ago. In November 2012 I enrolled in my first course, PHIL 252 Critical Thinking. My intention from the beginning was to pursue a degree, but the realization of that goal seemed far off in the hazy future. I had no firm timeline nor deadline.

For the next few years I seldom looked beyond the next course or two. I took only one or two courses at a time so I could devote myself wholly to each, extracting every drop of information out of the materials. Transfer credits gave me a welcome boost toward my degree requirements, but there were still many more credits to earn. The journey’s end was always over the horizon, beyond my view.

Now the end is hurtling toward me in an unanticipated rush. One of my other time-eating commitments evaporated unexpectedly last autumn. This sudden opening up of available time presented me with the opportunity to take on more AU courses. Instead of wading through my AU courses one or two at a time, I could manage more. The possibility of graduating at least one year earlier—2018 instead of 2019 or later—spurred me to increase my course load.

Since last autumn I’ve been taking three courses simultaneously every month of the year, and I will be enrolled in four for the final six months. Everything seems to be moving in blurry fast forward. Instead of a vague notion of what course to take next, I’ve had to plan out my remaining courses in advance to keep the workload manageable. Suddenly my options are narrowing and my long list of potential courses has been whittled down to the ones I’m definitely going to take. Instead of contemplating the courses I can take, I’m beginning to mourn all the ones I can’t.

Working at one or two courses requires discipline and structure, but working at three or four requires sacrifice. I can’t sluff off school work because the sun is shining and I want to go for a walk. It took me a few months of sloppy juggling before I found a workable routine.

I’ve also had to modify my expectations of what can and cannot be done, and the standards that must be met. At home it means acknowledging that clean enough is good enough and that weeds in the garden are low priority. For school work it means cutting back on supplementary readings and letting go of the notion that each essay must attain perfection before I let go of it.

The accelerated pace affects those around me, too. My family and friends now have to deal with a Barb who is less available and more distracted. My spouse has to shoulder more of the workload at home, and we both have to recognize that I need to keep a regular schedule. Spontaneity is out while long hours at my desk are in.

Most of all it means the end is in sight. For each of the next twelve months, I know what I’ll be working on and when. I know when I’ll finish all the requirements for my degree, and I know where I’ll be in June 2018: in Athabasca, Alberta for convocation.

Now that the end has appeared on the horizon, I want the months to slow down so I can savour the last leg of a long journey. Instead, I’m sprinting toward the finish line, hoping life doesn’t throw up a road hazard to break my pace.

I gaze with interest and longing at the social media posts of those who are reaching their own finish lines this year. I try to imagine how it will feel to hit “submit” on the absolutely last assignment. How it will feel to finally see Athabasca University’s campus. How it will feel to take the last step of a long journey.

Only twelve months to go. The countdown is on!

Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario.