I’ve been struggling a lot lately, with a nagging sense of discontent about the where I am, and what I’m doing. That’s super vague, I know, but I’ve been consciously keeping an open mind when trying to sift through the feelings of discouragement, and root out the underlying cause.
I suspect much of the problem is the particular work I’m doing now, which has shifted over the past couple of years, in relatively subtle ways, such that the tasks before me now no longer line up with my passions. For that matter, I don’t feel my paid is particularly well aligned with my skill set right now, either. What makes up this program of study, for me, has morphed slowly into distorted version of my original vision for the project, and I no longer feel it’s representative of my goals (professional or personal).
In particular, I spend a lot of time inside, at a computer (all my thesis work is computer-based). The only exception to this is when I have the opportunity to teach, which doesn’t come around in the summer months. I honed in on the importance of the computer-based work this past semester, when I opted not to take on any teaching work (under a certain amount of pressure to focus on the research). In narrowing the scope of my paid work to include only the research, as now defined, towards my thesis, I have become progressively less passionate about what I do day to day. This is a problem.
There’s more to the discontent than just my work, to be sure. This place where we now live contributes as well, for reasons that relate to community, family, and our connectivity to nature (or lack thereof). I’ll save this discussion for another time.
Some good has come out of the time devoted to considering this discontent, in that I now have a much more clear idea of what’s causing the problem, and what I can do to improve the situation. Plans are in motion to change up our living situation, to transport ourselves to a place better suited to the lifestyle we want. In the mean time, I’m making an effort to focus on what is actually great about the here and now. Here are a few things I’ve come up with so far.
1. Teaching. While I haven’t done much of this in the past few months, the opportunity to get more involved in teaching will return, either in the fall semester (though I’ll be on leave), or in the term after that. I have derived a great deal of satisfaction from the teaching experiences I’ve had so far during this doctorate, and certainly would not have been able to develop my practice nearly so much over the past three years were I not here, taking this degree.
2. Writing. Being back at a university setting has provided both inspiration and opportunity for writing. While I’m definitely still new on this scene, I’ve done very much more writing over the past couple of years than I had in the few years before returning to school. I know now that writing brings me much satisfaction, and I will take that knowledge with me wherever I go next.
3. Time. This is a tricky one, as the typical course of graduate studies can be very demanding on one’s time. It’s certainly true that my particular circumstances here, the people I work with, make enormous demands on my time. What is also true, however, is that I have considerable control over my schedule and, when push comes to shove, I can set limits on how my time will be used. This has taken me three years to fully realize, but I now understand how valuable it is to me to have that control over my time, how much I benefit from making time for myself and my family. I will come away from this experience with a much more clear picture of how I want to balance my time between work and family, in the future.
4. Family. This is an obvious one, but I think it’s also a point that’s easy to pass over without really thinking through. My husband and I have started our family here, in this place, while I’ve been working towards this degree. It’s been a wondrous and also a tremendously challenging experience. Now over two years into my role as a parent, I find it very easy to let the days sweep past me, moving from one necessary task to the next, from work to home and laundry, cleaning, bathing and feeding the little one. It is essential to step back periodically and notice how dramatically different our lives are since having our daughter, how much she adds to our days, how much of ourselves are now intertwined with the life of this new little person. It would be so easy to miss this, caught up as I’ve been in the demands of my current work.
This list is, I suppose, written out more or less in reserve order of importance. I’m not certain precisely how the next several months will pan out, or when the plans we’re crafting will come to fruition. I do know that the changes I want to effect will see me have more time, more energy to devote to my family, to myself and my own passions, and will see my work shift away from research, towards teaching or other interests. Between now and then, I will try, each day, to notice the good in now, in this day.