Monday, December 10, 2012

The typical end-of-the-semester ruminations

As another semester winds down and the craziness of life gets turned up a notch, I'm finding myself in yet another internal battle between getting it all done and sitting down with a nice cup of çay while imagining all the other things I could be doing with my life.  For some reason this seems to happen each semester around this time - in the end everything gets done and turns out fine, but those introspective moments plant various seeds of discontent in my psyche that are not so easily transplanted when my slate is wiped clean.

This semester is a little different because I have a massive motivating force propelling me forward to finish my work and not rest on my laurels - a month long trip to Turkey.  More on that in a bit...

Yet the topic of work-life balance and carving a path through life are hot topics in my face-to-face conversations and online-conversations, such as the one I've been following over at the blog Slowly-by-Slowly.  E. at Slowly-by-Slowly has been blogging daily on topics related to work this month and I'm riveted following each post.  You see, E. is a tenured-professor in an American university and also living in a Turkish-American marriage.  Although I have never met her, it seems that we have many things in common and I hope one day to be on a similar career path.  Yet, I question my career choices on a nearly daily basis.

This weekend, as I was spending all Saturday evening working on a take-home exam, the good ol' doubts flared up again.  

"What is all this for?"  I questioned.  "Why am I spending my weekends studying and doing homework when I could just work for a company or a government agency and double (if not triple) my current salary?"  

Back and forth my mind threw me - "You aren't interested in money." I told myself.  

"Then why not work for a non-profit" I retorted.  

"If you can find a job in that sector - the economy is in shams, or have you forgotten what sent you back to grad school in the first place?"

True, true.  I did return to graduate school with the hopes of getting an engineering MS to boost my much-too-interdisciplinary undergraduate degree, and then return to the job market.  It wasn't even a week into the application process that I got willingly sucked into the PhD pathway with the promise of interesting fellowships and research that sent my nerdy wheels spinning with excitement!

In fact, it is my love for knowledge and the desire to constantly improve myself that makes me feel that academia is a good fit.  It is also my hope to make a difference in the environmental field, while helping cement the 'natural-social science environmental knowledge nexus' that drives me to keep plugging along.

For now, all I can conclude is that the future is unclear and that it's best I succumb to the forces of life and let my path unfold before me, rather than tearing down the bumpy (yet solid) stone path I have built up until this point.

My Metaphorical Stone Path

If I look at the bright side of my current situation, while I may have to give up a lot of my weekends and free nights to work, at least I can take off for a month to Turkey with few questions asked.  I don't think I would have the same flexibility to travel if I worked for "the man" (i.e. government) or "the bigger man" (i.e. big business).  

So here is to long nights working and long vacations relaxing.  Without one, the other wouldn't be quite as sweet.  


  1. Ay, those "various seeds of discontent" - they never cease to pop up in all the wrong moments, such as when one is supposed to be studying or completing an exam.

    You know, damn it all - go with the nerdy taste for learning and discovery. Being a student is such a luxurious reality - it is such a special time despite the lost weekends and such.

    Maybe academia will be as hard as it has been for me - but I have to say that despite all of that hardness - I have deepened my capacity to think and explore ideas and phenomena- both mentally and scientifically - and I would not give that up despite my current waffling about it all.

    Keep up the introspection - it sounds like you might have a few puppets in your mind as well. Maybe it's spreading? XO Liz from

    1. Hey Liz! Just finished my last final of the semester (hopefully of my career, but we'll see). You are right - being a student is pretty nice and I do enjoy it for the most part. I'm glad that you are seeing some of the pros of academia - maybe some time off is what you needed to refresh and re-boot.

      After reading your blog, I've started to notice that I do have some little voices in my head (not unlike your puppets) that tend to disagree and that feed different parts of my personality. I love the puppet idea and you pull it off so well, they really help pull your stories forward. I really, really hope I can read a book of yours some day soon!!

  2. Lindsey,
    It is only so easy to start speculating about which path will bring the most joy in the end... However, it is important to remind yourself to enjoy where you are at that moment (be it studying on a Sunday night or enjoying a cuppa çay in Turkey). As long as you are satisfied with your present, I believe, that your future will be bright (because that will be the present some day and you will continue to be true to that moment). Confusing? A little, I suppose. I am reading the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche- it is my goal to read it this year- and it is helping me to keep on the present track. I think you might find it interesting (in between studies and papers and travels...).
    Thinking of you! xoxo Lindsay

    1. Thanks Lindsay! I agree - focusing on the present moment is the best way to rid yourself of these endless worries. We can never know what the future will hold, so it's best to stop trying to find out. I will check out the book you recommended, it sounds like a great way to get started thinking in the present. I hope you are enjoying your time right now with your friends and family! Lots of love from Turkey!


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