When we’ve been pursuing a path for a while, considering a change of course might not come easily. I think we often expect to realize a need or desire for change to come in a flash of clarity and certainty.
Perhaps that’s how it works for some. Not for me.
When I decided to go grad school, I had no concept of the career options available for Ph.D. scientists. I knew there were industry jobs, and I knew there were professorships. I had little idea what either entailed. But I knew that I’d discovered a love for science, and I had some feeling that I personally could maybe accomplish something meaningful if I followed it.
As I finished grad school, I had a better idea of the variety of academic environments and what people did in those positions, though I still really didn’t know much about what was possible outside the world of academia. It simply hadn’t occurred to me, and the few around me looking beyond careers at a university were heading to bench work in industry. Personally I’d adopted the vision that the research-intensive faculty track was where I could have the impact I was looking for.
My first postdoc experience shook my confidence in that vision. But during that time, I’d also discovered this virtual science community, and I began discovering that there was more out there than just bench work and running labs. So as I prepared to exit my postdoc, I found myself considering whether a broader change of course might be in order.
At the time, I took another postdoc. I kept working toward the faculty track. Or at least that’s what I told myself and those who asked.
Yet there were things that I was supposed to be doing to get there that I kept pushing back. There were reasons – reasonable reasons, even.
Like the disintegration of my decade long marriage, for instance.
As I emerged from the “survival mode”, though, I found myself wondering: Am I just overwhelmed by other parts of my life right now? Am I waiting to get other things in order so I’m striking at the right time? Or am I holding back because I’m not sure I want this anymore?
I’d been working towards that endgame for years. Considering the possibility that I might want something else wasn’t easy. I stressed over whether it represented a personal flaw, a lack of drive or commitment. Initially it almost felt like a bit of a betrayal – to myself, to those who had trained me, to those who had supported me.
Eventually I started coming to terms with the possibility of letting go. There was still plenty of trepidation. But I began to realize that it shouldn’t be about making others “happy” with my decisions. It should be about what I wanted.
I didn’t commit to change. I wasn’t “walking away” just yet. I was simply giving myself permission to entertain the possibility that I might want something else for my career and my life – or not.
If I was going to stay on the faculty track, I’d better make damn sure I was doing it for me, not some sense of responsibility to someone else. If I decided that wasn’t the path for me, then it was time to figure out where I wanted to go.
To be continued…