Whither the next step?

I was reading my alumni magazine last night and they discussed a former faculty member who’d given a distinguished lecture recently.  No big deal, except that said faculty member is dying of pancreatic cancer.  The interviewer mentioned that he conducted the interview via the guy’s bluetooth cell phone while he bicycled.  Because the guy was so damned determined to get all these things done before he died, he’s been figuring out ways to multitask more and more.

And I thought, wow.  If it were me and I was told I had six months to live, I’d pull the plug on all my professional commitments and just go do things for me and my family.  This guy has it all wrong:  he should be focusing on his life, not his career.  But then I thought:  no.  This guy believes that he has important work left to do in teaching others…his career is a huge part of his life.  The fact that he’s dying doesn’t mean he drops his career to focus on his family, or drops his family to focus on his career – he’s trying to do both as hard and as frantically as possible.

Now, that’s my interpretation of the article and maybe that’s not exactly true, but the important part was that such a concept was quite different from my own instinct.  See, I’ve talked before about making big changes in my life.  And many of those changes, I’m proud to say, have been successful.  But at this moment, I definitely don’t have a career that I’d want to keep plugging away at as hard as possible if somebody told me I was about to shuffle off ye olde mortal coil.  And as I read that article, I thought about how nice it would be to have something like that.

I found out a few weeks back that it’s not inconceivable that we could be looking at layoffs here at my employer, and if so, I’m in the category of people that might come under the axe first.  Not something you want to hear when your son is in a private school for autistic kids and you carry the whole family on your health insurance.  But I’ve been in this position before, actually.  I left my previous job to take this one knowing that I was at risk of being laid off if I hung around…and, sure enough, a month or so after I accepted the job offer I found out that I would have been laid off if I’d stayed.   And this move has turned out to be one of the best things ever to happen to me.

Now, while I’m certainly a little anxious about the potential problems ahead, I’m not dwelling on them.  You see, the most successful things about the changes I made in my life a few months back center around my taking a more Taoist view of things and just letting go.  That is, I’m not so much just sitting back in the lotus position and waiting for things to happen to me – I don’t think you can be a very responsible person, partner, or parent by doing so in our modern world.  But I’ve been much better at not worrying about things that are in the future and out of my control.  And I’ve put much less stress on myself to live up to false expectations from myself and others.

That’s not to say that I don’t still have some frustrations with myself.  I do still feel like I wish I had a driving sense of purpose, like the professor mentioned above, or as Laura discussed yesterday.   I feel like my family is a driving purpose, and I’m proud of that, but I feel a need for something defining that’s outside my family as well.  But at the same time I am proud of the fact that, while I may not know what is me yet, but I’ve at least finally decided that a few things that I was trying to make me, aren’t me at all.  Or even all that important to me.

I don’t know exactly where I’m going and I can’t see the path before me yet, but I’m growing more confident that I’m moving in the right direction, and so I just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

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4 Responses

  1. There must be something about Alumni magazines provoking serious introspection. I learned, from reading my alumni magazine, that one of my favorite marketing professors had died in a car wreck a couple of years ago. He was a vivacious man- passionate about teaching, passionate about his wife and young daughter. Stories like that really make you consider your goals and priorities (especially when death occurs with no warning).

    I could benefit from a bit of your Taoist perspective.

  2. Yeah, well, I’m still not quite there yet – but I DO feel like I’m heading in the right direction. That said, I think one of my small successes is to keep telling myself to stop worrying about getting there — that heading in the right direction is good enough.

    My undergraduate advisor died a few years ago of leukemia. He was a great scholar and a great teacher, and those don’t always go hand-in-hand. Another of my undergrad professors wrote him a beautiful obituary which is still online here.

  3. See, you managed to express my thoughts in a much less sweary way. Sorry for the language, there. But this sounds like a very good opportunity for you (scary potential layoffs notwithstanding) to think about what you could do with your life or career to bring you more joy. Also, when you said, “…but I’ve at least finally decided that a few things that I was trying to make me, aren’t me at all,” it’s almost as important to know what you are NOT as it is to figure out who you ARE.

  4. Yeah, but I was in a non-sweary mood when I wrote it. Believe me, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with how you expressed yourself. I’ve been there, too, “fucks” a-flying and all.

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