Thursday, June 23, 2011
Alyce now declares on a daily basis that she would like to be a princess when she grows up. She is confident that will be a successful princess who does princess-type things, in a beautiful castle with a queen, king, and prince, and that Shira will also be a princess, but in a different castle, maybe next door. The cats will live with Shira.
Alyce is driven by something these days, something that fuels her princess-obsessed mind to do whatever it takes to achieve her goals (making crowns, wearing princess dresses and fancy shoes, arranging a special make-up room where she can spend her day applying princess make-up--pardon me while I sob in the corner over that one). It's commitment for sure, but it's also something else. Maybe it's momentum.
Momentum can be tricky, and not always a good thing (though in Alyce's case, I will happily support most princess-related activities because it makes her unbelievable happy). It was momentum that kept me a graduate student, and it was a force so strong that I'm still having some difficulty with my decision to leave grad school, even though I know it's the right thing for me to do. I don't really miss working on my dissertation, and I no longer want a future in academia, so I think it must be the strength of that momentum that keeps me looking back. I wonder just how much of what we do every day, and the choices that we make, are motivated by physics (it's physics, right, where they tell us that objects in motion want to stay that way unless acted upon? Newton? Has anyone ever describe that law as eloquently I have just done? I think not).
The pull of academia has always been strong in me. I was often pretty successful at school (except when I wasn't--I also failed quite successfully at times) and that alone propelled me to consider an academic future (the old 'since you can do it you should do it' philosophy I've come to resent). My family was so proud at what I accomplished in high school, and in the degrees that followed, and they always seemed so invested in my success. These expectations weighed heavy on me, even when I was grateful for their support. So, where they didn't finish high school, I did. And then I kept going. And going.
This is not to say that I ended up in a PhD program only because other people thought it was a good idea (even I have people-pleasing limits. No, really, I do). For many years I so enjoyed spending my days poured over books and I even sometimes enjoyed learning Sanskrit and Tibetan.* There are a lot of valid complaints about graduate school (resources, isolation, constantly feeling like a fraud, being used as cheap labour so that universities don't need to rehire permanent faculty), but there are some incredible perks to be had as a junior academic, like surrounding yourself with a community of people who love books as much as you do. That, and the freedom to do most of your work in your favourite coffee shop, if you please (and I pleased a lot). I was smitten with graduate school from the start.
But I should have spent a little more time asking myself how I really wanted to my future to look. I didn't ask myself at all, and instead listened only to that part of my brain that believed I'd come to enjoy writing papers for scholarly journals (I don't) or that I'd have no problem finding a permanent faculty position, in a department that also wanted to hire my PhD (in the same field) husband, in this fantastic job market. I didn't listen carefully enough to that part of me that knew academia wasn't for me, nor did I pay attention to those dreadful warnings about how tough it was going to be for 34,038 PhDs to fight for the 238 available jobs. Nope, I was on a path and I couldn't stray, or so I thought.
Momentum even beat out my other goals and dreams (small as they were) for a life that didn't involve becoming Dr. Professor in the study of religion. I have spent so much time daydreaming about doing something else (it rhymes with widmife), it's a little embarrassing that I staying in grad school so long. But for so long I trusted momentum over the courage I would need to find in order to do something else. I was moving forward, however slowly, and that force was almost all powerful. Thank goodness I met someone who talked some sense into me and suggested an alternate reality where I didn't become a professor just because I thought it sounded like a good idea when I was 20 years old.
So for those of you who have been reading this blog for awhile (thanks, by the way), you know that I finally put an end to all this last fall. But now, in this midst of all these crazy transitions, when everything feels as though it's hanging in the air, waiting to collapse at any moment unless I move forward with new decisions/opportunities/commitments, I'd love to find some new momentum. It's as though I turned my back on it last year and now it's giving me the cold shoulder. But I need some of that drive, some of that push, some of Alyce's vision, maybe, for a life where you could actually become a princess.
Sometimes she's awfully wise, that Alyce. One day I'm sure she'll make a benevolent, if bossy, princess.
*Though I was truly terrible at it.