Sunday, July 27, 2008


Now that I've had a few weeks of down time, I feel as though I'm waking up from a long, largely negative dream. The past six months or so have seen more significant events and personal stress than any other six-month period in my life so far. Sometimes I think all these things couldn't possibly have happened to me; I must just be wishing for an end to grad school, or a change of location. And then there are so many new, intimidating things looming ahead that I start to wonder whether grad school in City was really so bad after all.

Since January I have:
- worked in three different countries
- gotten engaged
- gotten a job
- finished and defended my dissertation
- graduated
- moved out of City
- bought a house
- planned a lab
- done all the other normal academic stuff that would have kept me busy all on its own

I didn't realize quite how crazy this year has been until I caught up with a friend I hadn't talked to since January. Last winter seems like such a long, long time ago right now. But even with all that stress, I think I'm more worried about the upcoming semester than I was about the spring, and what makes me most anxious about my upcoming job/life is the permanence of the whole thing. I've been "in transition" my entire life, until now. Undergrad and grad school were just several-year jumps on a path leading here, and this job suddenly becomes the "point" of everything that came before.

I think I'm getting cold feet. But it's not the job itself, or even the house-buying, responsibility-taking, or research-leading that I'll be doing that intimidates me. It's the idea that this might be it, forever, or at least for quite a long time. And as much as I should be hoping for that, for tenure and for job security, I wonder if I'll get antsy in about five years, waiting for the next phase of my life to begin.

I'm surprised I feel this way, since I've been waiting for something more permanent for a while now. I expected to be thrilled about buying a house, staying in one place, and being somewhere Partner can pursue his own career without worrying about moving every few years.

One week from today we'll be moving into our new house, and then the new semester looms, so I should have plenty to keep me occupied for now. Maybe I'll be happy about settling down once we're actually settled, or maybe I'll find other ways to satisfy an appetite for change. I'm looking forward to it, though I hope I can get away from the negativity that has characterized 2008 so far.


Eric Reuter said...

wThat's how I felt at times after buying our farm. In cynical moods, one can feel that life is a series of doors slowly closing as we narrow in on one path. I think part of growing up (pardon the phrase) is making the transition from opportunity to achievement.

Coming out of high school, or college, or even grad school, we all have endless possibilities out there that we'll never fully pursue. At various times, I had the chance to pursue being a Middle Eastern diplomat, a Russia-based geologist, a Park Service ranger, and so on. And those were just the concrete possiblities, not the dreams.

The problem with all that opportunity is that if you keep sampling, you never really get anywhere. Some folks are happy to skim life's buffet line forever, but most end up wanting something more solid. However, you can't settle on a menu choice at a good restaurant without a twinge of regret at the other entrees you won't get to try. The meal will still be good, and likely better than staring at the menu forever until the kitchen closes.

Finally, today's world is one in which people routinely reinvent themselves at all stages of life. You'll always have the chance to do something new if you really want to. Look, we're about as tied down as it gets, building a farm with produce, fruit, animals, and more, but there's still nothing to stop us from selling the place 15 years from now and embarking on something completely different.

So don't feel bad about your cold feet, just accept them as natural and pursue your current choice with enough vigor to make it worthwhile as long as it lasts.

Liberal Arts Lady said...

Eric, you managed to say what I was thinking far more eloquently than I did. Thank you! And you're right, you have far more responsibility than I will, and if you can keep an open mind about the future I should be able to manage it as well!

I'm finding this whole experience surprising, reaction-wise, and I have to wonder why I don't feel the way I thought I would, but I think I'll figure things out pretty quickly once we're done waiting for things to happen!

alicepawley said...

Some of this sounds very familiar to me - what a friend called a "demographically dense" year. Also remember, you can take tenure with you to somewhere else. Academics have 5-year cycles in their careers too, including being recruited to somewhere else.

I don't know if it will help, but I really am finding Robert Boice's "Advice for New Faculty Members" helpful. Good luck with your move (we're still in the midst of ours) and with the start of your semester...

Liberal Arts Lady said...

Alice - I like that term, "demographically dense" ..and thanks for the book recommendation, I'll take all the advice I can get!