I’ve found it really hard to write this post. I’m scared of:
- Boring you
- Sounding vain
- Offending someone
- Being laughed at for thinking anyone would be interested in hearing this
- Being laughed at for finding these past few weeks emotionally upheavalling
- Being laughed at for making up the word “upheavalling”
- Boring you
In fact, I was half-planning to sneakily bombard you with lots of chocolate and cooking and make you forget I ever mentioned the life dilemmas and upheavalling (oops, did it again). But then a lovely reader emailed me requesting that I explain it all, and so here I am. Explaining the upheavalling.
Honestly, though, feel free to skip this lengthy tale and come back next post for deliciousness. I really won’t mind.
Disclaimer: All of the decisions I’ve made in recent weeks relate to what is right for me at this point in my life. I wholeheartedly applaud anyone who has, or would have, made the other choice in my situation. In fact, these decisions were so hard for me because I either wanted, or wanted to want, both options. And who knows? In future I might decide to have a go at the other choice. But for now, this feels right.
Once upon a time, I was born. After deciding not to listen to my mum when she asked me to stay three years old forever, I went to school.
At school, I did really well. I worked hard and enjoyed studying, but I always felt a bit guilty about my results, as if I didn’t truly deserve them. At the same time, I became terrified of “failing”, which to me meant not getting the highest marks. As the years passed, I started to see my academic success as the only aspect of me that was worth anything. Oddly enough, though, I remained embarrassed about doing so well. I can’t help thinking of my college awards ceremony, when my UAI and being Dux of the school were announced. My parents videotaped the ceremony, and I now can’t bear watching it. I look like I want to disappear into nothingness, and I still remember the feeling of complete shock when I stood on stage and people not only clapped, but cheered for me. I couldn’t believe people even knew who I was.
It only made sense, as I made my way through a university research degree that required a High Distinction average then found myself at the end of my Honours year with a university medal in my hands, that I would move straight into a PhD. To be honest, I did mean to take a year off and work, but my toe surgery got in the way and I instead found myself offered a mid-year PhD entry in 2010, complete with scholarship.
I said yes, because in my head academia and I were inextricable. I knew that I would wake up one day and be enthusiastic and happy about starting my eighteenth consecutive year of study.
There were, of course, moments when I thought I had made the right choice. Moments such as chatting with my wonderful supervisor, or teaching and laughing with my first year Sociology students. Increasingly, though, I was waking up with a sinking feeling in my stomach, no matter how many times I went to sleep desperately thinking “tomorrow will be the day it starts to feel right; tomorrow, tomorrow, I will be happy”.
I kept batting away the feeling of wrongness, because I couldn’t understand why it existed. I felt like all my life had been leading down this path, this path where I fit, where I was accepted and wanted, and I couldn’t accept that I didn’t want to be on it.
Photo courtesy of Brent Goldspring
Then one Saturday, I joined a gospel choir, and the joy I felt whilst singing brought into stark relief the absence of joy in my daily life. That night, I called my mum at midnight, and – oh dear, you have complete permission to laugh at me here, for I’m laughing at me too – wailed into the phone “But if I stop the PhD, I won’t be special anymore!”
Mum told me I was being ridiculous; I finally allowed myself to admit the unhappiness and guilt I’d been feeling; we talked about options; I went to sleep feeling lighter than I had in months.
The next week, I deferred my PhD. That, as some of you guessed, was the reality behind my metaphorical story about cartwheeling off a straight road.
About a week and a half after that decision, I came across the crossroads. For reasons of privacy and respect that I’m sure you’ll understand, I can’t go into specifics about this. The basic facts are that, last week, I was lucky enough to be offered two fantastic full-time jobs. The first I initially couldn’t imagine saying no to, because it had the potential to lead to something I’d dreamed of. There’s still a part of me in shock that I didn’t take it. The more I considered the second job offer, however, the more it started to feel right for where I am at this point in my life. Sure, I still sometimes wonder about the other option, but I’ve accepted my decision and am living with it.
And you know what? This decision has, in the past two weeks, seen me write two massive policy submissions pretty much on my own, interview and profile a Human Rights Medal winner, fit in comfortably with a lovely group of colleagues, earn my own spacious office with a brand new computer, accept the realities of instant coffee and its awful taste, eat a blueberry frangipane tart during a staff meeting and, next week, I’m going on my first solo work trip.
I think that maybe, in choosing to cartwheel off a tried-and-true road, I’ve found myself in a challenging, exhausting, and exciting field of unfamiliar yet vibrant green.
This is how I want to feel forever.