Redefining Success — #Reverb11

It’s been a while since I’ve had the opportunity to write some words for this space… I’ve been going kind of crazy keeping up with life even though it should have slowed down for me over the summer.  Funny how things sometimes just work out differently than expected…..

But I’ve been thinking about this post for the last few days and my fingers wouldn’t stop itching this morning from the desire to write.  And since it’s my birthday, I am giving myself permission to write and reflect.

As I look back over my life, I can pinpoint places where I made major changes, the crossroads where I picked the branches that have grown into my life.  Some were BIG crossroads like moving to New York or leaving my ex-husband.  Those are easy to see and observe the changes that have branched off from those moments.  More powerfully still, I stand at a similar crossroads now… a BIG one and I know it.  I am painfully aware that this decision will impact my life in a very powerful way and I’m slowly growing more comfortable with my thoughts about it.

I left the Bay Area in 1998, expecting that I would live in New York for a year, maybe two, and then head back home.  I enjoyed my time there, made some of the best friends of my life (one I know, thankfully, reads this blog), but it was never home.  I never settled.  The mindset was too conservative, the winters had too much white stuff on the ground and I just never really felt at ease there.

From New York, I moved to my first hellmouth in the far reaches of Northern CA.  I thought I was heading home then, when I left the east coast and headed to my home state.  Little did I know that the milage of CA can bring you some very different, er, populations of people and ideas and, frankly, closed mindedness.  I still wasn’t home.

Next was eastern WA and a classic college town.  I was excited, knowing that college towns are famous independently owned restaurants and bookstores.  And there were a couple but there were far more cheap pizza places and nasty beer on tap.  Hellmouth #2 still wasn’t home.

The first time I called a place other than the Bay Area home was when I moved here, living in the suburbs of Portland, OR.  The word tumbled out of my mouth without any real consideration.  “I am headed home,” I said to a friend on the phone.  He asked, “Oh to see your mom?”  And that was when I knew something had changed.  I experienced the same sensation a couple of weeks ago when I saw the lights of downtown Portland from I-5, returning home from a trip to see my mom.  My heart swelled at that sight, and any thought I’d been having of a nation wide job search next year vaninished.

There is a predetermined path people who finish Ph.D.s are on, a set of “rules” so to speak about what you are supposed to do and when and where and why.  It goes something like this….

You pour your heart and soul into a project that is judged by a group of people as to wether it is worthy enough to bestow the title of “doctor of philosophy” to you.  While you are working on that project, you also need to be applying to jobs in your field, tenure track professorships anywhere in the country.  It is expected that the first job you take will move you to some remote, land-grant university a hair removed from BFE and you will be thankful for said job.

I am pretty sure I’d do well on the job market.  My dissertation is good material for an academic book, I have TONS of teaching experience, and great recommendations from the people I work with.  If I put myself out there, I think something good would come along.

But I am unwilling to move to BFE.  I don’t want to give up the life I’ve made for myself here.

Somehow, that makes me feel like a failure.  Like I’m looking down that road and unwilling to force my foot to take the first step. And I realize that sounds kinda crazy, but when you’ve been in a situation where success is limited to one very specific, very limited outcome, well…. it’s difficult not to feel like I’m failing in some way.

So I decided, I needed to redefine success to something that makes sense for me.  And that brings me back here to this blog, where I do writing that I enjoy and that makes me happy.  I am happy here; I’d be happy, I think in a mosaic career that is part teaching and perhaps part time consulting and writing.  Something where I can piece together all the components of life that I enjoy.  It won’t be easy – not by any stretch of the imagination – but I think I’m up to it, especially since my recent health crisis has motivated me into a much more healthy and active lifestyle.

My only fear, one that dissipates whenever I think about my reaction to seeing the Portland skyline, is that I’ll still feel like I’ve missed out on something making this choice but then I remind myself that perception might dictate that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, but things are looking pretty green from right here.

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  1. #1 by realizingdreamz on June 24, 2011 - 10:29 pm

    I agree. Follow your bliss. I was getting my PH D. I turned in my dissertation, and when they said I wasn’t finished, after 10 years of college, I said, “that’s it I quit.” I took off and lived on the road for 12 years. When I went back to teaching, I lost out monetarily, but the adventure I had was more than worth it. I think life really happens when you follow your bliss.

  2. #2 by Paula Kiger on June 25, 2011 - 2:59 pm

    Happy birthday and thanks for contributing to the Reverb community.

  3. #3 by Steven on June 27, 2011 - 7:45 am

    Excellent, Regina! So beautifully said. So beautifully thought out and captured for the rest of us going through similar struggles.
    For the other readers out there, I’m the friend from NEW YORK who reads this blog!!!
    Suffice it to say that if this is the only incarnation of “15 minutes of fame” I ever experience, then I can die knowing that even Warhol would say it was a wonderful realization of the 15…
    THose of you that KNOW Regina, LOVE Regina.
    Those of us that LOVE her know that wherever she goes, THAT place is all the wealthier and fertile for her presence. A PhD takes so much time and discipline and sacrifice to acquire. A teaching career in academia, the same. But when you shine for others, like you do for me and your other lifelong friends, you embody a degree far more important than the one you worked so hard to hang up on your wall.
    You’ve been a Doctor of Friendship for all of these years. No matter where you stay or where you go, you are such an admirable success in that respect. As far as this friend is concerned, everything else you achieve from that on is but the frosting on the cake of your diploma.
    Love you, girl!
    Steve-O

    • #4 by My Reflecting Pool on June 27, 2011 - 9:33 am

      Thank you, Steve! This totally made my morning. (And made me cry but in a good way…. kinda like when Sally Field got the Oscar. “You like me, you really like me!”)

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