Friday, April 12, 2013

Write Therapy

This winter, after a feeling of epiphany in the fall, I decided to apply to a PhD program.  I had been inspired, I had a project in mind, and I was determined that this was going to provide me with the change I'd been yearning for.  I was elated in late January, when I found out I had an interview.  Visions of my life come September were swirling in my brain: jeans every day unless I wanted to be fancy, biking to campus in fall weather, drinking coffee while working on papers in little cafes, sleeping when I wanted to, walking when I wanted to, working when I wanted to.

I was shattered by the disappointment of not being accepted to this program.  That news came about six weeks ago.

Since then, I've had to go through the process of telling people - many people - that I didn't get in.  This usually leads to shock and dismay on their part, and feelings of shame and failure on mine.  Then the conversations lead to their own recent disappointments in school or work endeavours.  The course of these conversations is what lead me to write 'Employment Purgatory', which was published by the Globe and Mail this week (and as of yesterday morning, had had over 16,000 reads and 100+ comments).  The article resonated with many people around my age (and has been derided as the whinings of an entitled 20-something by others - who likely didn't read the full piece).

I've been thinking about employment options for a long time now.  My fall epiphany was that I wasn't going to get where I wanted to go by having a master's degree and working in my current position.  As 'Employment Purgatory' explained, there aren't a lot of in-house options for me right now, and the outside market is tough.  I realised in the fall that if I want to stay on the same track I'm on now, I'm going to need more education to gain the position I want and to achieve what I'm aiming for.

On the other hand, I also started thinking about radical change - as in, abandoning the social definition of 'success' and abandoning the current track: opening a cafe/wine-bar with my friend, or taking project management courses.  My current strategy is to pursue all three things at once.  My friend and I are working on a business plan for our cafe/wine-bar, I'm signed up for a project management course that can get me the CAPM certification through PMI, and I'm mentally re-working my PhD application and considering which departments beside the one that I already applied to might find my project appealing.  This, of course, is in addition to still having my usual full-time job.  The Globe and Mail piece resulted in a lot of positive feedback, and a lot of suggestions that I should be a writer.  Someone believes that so strongly that I was approached yesterday to work with him in writing books - plans for which are already in the works.

This lead me to a new epiphany:  I already am what people think I should be.  I'm a writer.

In the past, when people have asked me what I do in my current job, I've stumbled through an answer, sort of throwing out key-words related to my responsibilities or deliverables.  When it comes down to it, in my current position, I am a writer.  My topics vary within the general field of public health and health care, and my job title is significantly different, but actually I'm just a writer.  I've been a writer all my life; I had diaries when I was so young that the main topics of discussion were my hamster and whether my sister was bugging me.

This epiphany might sound totally superficial, trite, and meaningless to many reading this, but it's been really profound for me.  I can feel a shift in perspective now.  Ever since I discovered in high school that my lifelong dream of becoming a veterinarian was completely not the right path for me (as a result of a pretty traumatic volunteer experience in the local vet office), I've struggled to find the 'thing' that I want to be when I grow up.  This has lead to a sort of directionless-ness.  I've followed passions as closely as I could when they were clear to me, and I certainly know my skills, talents, and beloved hobbies, but I haven't had a clear-cut goal, or something to aim at.  If I now think to myself, 'I want to be a writer; I want to write about things that I like to write about,' then I have a lot more clarity and direction on what I need to do to get there.

I'm not saying I want to be a newspaper columnist, or journalist, or even novelist, and it doesn't mean I want to quit my job and be broke and pretend that I can live a Carrie Bradshaw life.  I still don't really know what I want to do.  But having the idea gives me courage to pursue options that I would have written off (pun!) in the past.  It even gives me courage to write a blog post like this, because the first thing you have to think if you want to write is that someone, somewhere is going to want to read your thoughts, and let's face it, that takes guts and also some amount of egotism.

I'm excited about this new clarity.  Now I know the following:

I like:
project management
I don't like:
being a vet
the suburbs
clothing in grocery stores

I think that I can use these insights in making decisions about the future and my path through it.  This is never an easy task, and there are multiple ways to get off-track or turned around.  I've said to Drew and others recently that since finding out that I didn't get into the PhD, which I saw as my ultimate way out of job stagnation and the key to my future, I've felt like the rug was pulled out from under me, and the tray of possibilities I was carrying was flung into the air.  I've been waiting for something to land since then.  Now, I feel like things are finally about to hit the ground.


  1. As someone neck-deep in a dissertation, I would actually encourage you to look elsewhere than academia right now, particularly since it seems like you have a drive to connect to an audience that may not be met through academic writing. (And the novelty of wearing jeans and working in cafes tends to wear off when you realize the trade-off is being broke all the time...)
    Have you considered science or medical writing? You strike me as someone with the background, skills, and intelligence necessary to translate complicated materials for a general audience or work between traditional disciplines.

    1. Thanks for your comment, that's really nice of you to write. I haven't considered medical writing, not really knowing what it is, but I will look into it in the future.
      Good luck with your dissertation! There's nothing more physically or mentally gruelling - besides maybe cage-fighting or living in the International Space Station. Respect!

  2. (1) totally get it.

    (2) no one should ever go into academia except for when they know they must.

    (3) who the fuck decided to put clothing into grocery stores. who.

    (4) i like that a plan devised by what was reasonable and partially as an escape didn't come to fruition. it leaves room now for a plan designed as love and determined by faith and belief. i look forward to you doing what you do because you must.

    love you.

    1. oh! i fricking LOVE the photo you included.

    2. thanks so much! i'm glad for (4) too, and also looking forward to doing what i must. thanks for the support. love you!