My college self would be disappointed with my life today. Back then, I had it all mapped out: graduate in three years with a B.A. in English (check). Serve a mission for my church (check). Get an M.A. in English Literature (check).
Okay, here’s where I start to go off course: Get a PhD (ummm. . . ). Secure a tenure track position by the time I’m 28 (ummm . . . again). Have three kids (oops, four) and a white picket fence (nope).
Turns out my 18 year-old self couldn’t see the whole picture. Like that I’d be burned out by academia after my master’s degree and feel miserable about applying for PhD programs. Or that I’d quite enjoy what I imagined then were very mundane tasks: cooking, decorating, organizing and hanging out with my kids.
I rarely say this out loud, but I don’t even mind cleaning (except for doing the laundry—which is my Achilles heel). I was never a big fan of babysitting, so it was a surprise to me that I loved being a stay-at-home mom.
When I was younger, I dismissed any field or career that was less than rigorously academic as “fluff.” I don’t know where I got this idea, because my parents have encouraged all of my efforts and never pushed me in any direction.Nevertheless, this philosophy guided my early decisions, and left me feeling like a failure when I found my studies unfulfilling.
By the second year of my MA program, I was unhappy, frustrated and fed up, but I couldn’t admit (even to myself) that I wanted to quit. The dream of being a professor had always defined me, and letting it go made me panic. What would I do? How could my life be relevant?
My pride played a big role here, too. I’d always been so vocal about my goals (I’m still learning the value of saying less, a lot less) that I was just plain embarrassed not to follow through. Especially when my fellow students were busy being accepted into PhD programs across the country.
My pain eased a bit when I moved and took a part-time job with a small community newspaper. I was no longer surrounded by academics and it became super clear to me that most people aren’t concerned with the roles of Renaissance women, applying continental philosophy to modern texts or deconstructing old English manuscripts. They’re just trying to earn a living, balance hectic lives, and find a little free time.
Two years ago I was approached by a friend of a friend who was starting her own magazine about organizing (a favorite topic and hobby of mine). She was looking for part-time editors and wondered if I’d be interested. I said yes right away.
One of the highlights of the job was a trip to North Carolina to interview the Flylady, Marla Cilley. It was my first “business” trip (albeit with my 6 month-old in tow) and Cilley is fun, vivacious and full of empathy. I also got to eat out, overcome my fear of prop planes and see the Biltmore Estate in Asheville. It seemed more like a vacation than work (since I normally spend my days in Cinderella mode: scrubbing, cooking, chauffeuring and trying to be patient with lots of little people with lots of needs).
Being a part of Organize taught me a lesson (and gave me the experience necessary to start my own website). For a task to be valuable, it doesn’t have to be weighty, solemn, or make history. It just has to be important to me. And it is okay if it’s fun, too! I love editing—knowing what to add, move around or rework so an article shines. I love organizing—helping people see how a little order can make life easier and more enjoyable. I also love making school lunches, reading to my son on the front porch while waiting for the bus, baking cookies and painting my daughter’s fingernails. Lucky for me, my life can encompass all of these activities.
Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t pressure myself into starting a PhD program—I know I would have quit. I’m also very glad that my college self is no longer in charge.
Christine Vick co-founded the website Store and Style. This article was originally published at Dare to Dream.
QUESTION: What dreams have you let go of? What new dreams have you realized?
CHALLENGE: Take a look at your “dreams” and see if any need to be tweaked or replaced.
Photo by Sabarishr at Flickr.com.
Originally posted on June 8, 2010.