Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What am I getting myself into?

Picture this:

1) You hike all day, struggling up steep trails with a hefty pack on your back, challenged every step of the way.
2) Upon reaching the top of the mountain, you find a nice big granite boulder.  Taking a long, sturdy rope from your bag, you anchor one end of the rope to the boulder and tie the other end around your waste.
3)  With another bout of hard labor, gritted teeth, and maybe some friendly advice from fellow hikers who you've encountered along the way, you manage to pry the gigantic boulder from the ground, and set it in motion down the mountain.  Bystanders cheer you on.
4) You straighten up, wipe sweat from your eyes, and in a moment of clarity realize what you've done.  Your life is tied to a boulder bouncing and tumbling down a mountain, choosing it's own direction, and stopping only where everything ends up, down in the valley.  Everyone else is gathered around, patting you on the back, congratulating you and wishing you luck, and proud of their part in helping you to this point.  No one looks hard enough to see the fear flickering in your eyes.  

So what do you do?  Cut the rope and stay up on the mountain, letting go of all the work you put into getting there, and moving that great rock?  What about the parts of the tumbling whirlwind of the boulder's trajectory that are highly appealing?  Things you've wanted (or convinced yourself that you wanted) for years now.  Is that desire real, or just a conjuration arising from that fear-sharpened clarity, and sense of the future?  Is this just a passing moment of weakness?  You've done everything right, worked hard, and thought through your actions as much as you possibly could.  All indications seem to point to having taken the right path.  But if that's the case, what's the shock all about?

And then someone taps you on the shoulder, tells you that you can't stay up there on the mountain forever.  Before you're ready, or you've made up your mind, before anyone notices or takes seriously the flashes of fear and checks up on you (maybe they just didn't know what to say either, or maybe all they could see was their own great stone), you feel the rope start to tug.  Out of slack already, you start to slide alone down the mountain, propelled (compelled?) onwards to catch up with the rest of your life on it's way to the distant valley below.


That about describes the feelings I have about my life right now, driven in part by sitting alone on a quiet, dreary evening.  Reading blog posts by new professors and such about the insane work loads they have has me worried that however much i think i might like science and think that i can do and enjoy research, that deep down I really don't have anywhere near the love of the subject to carry me through all of that.  Hence the twin concerns "what am I getting myself into" and "is it really worth it?" are making an appearance.  Having done a lot of things pretty darn well to get to the boulder in the first place, and to set it in motion, makes it even harder I think to digest feelings of doubt... because I feel like I shouldn't be having them!

That and the part about being tied to a moving boulder fits pretty well too.  Captures both the feeling of distance I feel towards a chunk of my life right now, and the simultaneous connection and inseparability of the pieces.  And the wish that there were people who knew me better than I know myself, people that would understand me and say "See here, it's all right." and explain to me how I work and make me make sense to myself.

Maybe I should have tried a career writing cheesy books... hmm.  

1 comment:

Karina said...

Does grad school feel like the right thing to be doing now? Forget, for the time being, about being a tenure-track professor. Do you want to spend next year in an academic setting? Do you want to spend the next several years in that setting? If so, enjoy the ride (roll?) down the mountain. If not, you can still cut the rope.

Grad students still don't have to know exactly what they want to do. You've got more time than you spent as an undergrad to figure it out. Of course you should be thinking about it, but I'm sure you will be if you decide to take that path.