Friday, October 14, 2011

Life has a way of working out

(I wrote this while camping near Pincher this past August, and just found it again in my little notebook. :-) Thought I'd share it.)

It is amazing how one's life can change in the course of a year. Twelve months ago today I was preparing to leave the home I had known for the past three years and say goodbye to the amazing friends I had made there. If someone told me that I would be enjoying my 27th birthday with some of those same friends by my side, I wouldn't have believed it. After all, we would soon be living in multiple different places, spread out between two countries. And I was moving back to Minnesota with no clear picture of what I was going to do there--a disconcerting thought to say the least.

I used to be a planner. From my profession (a veterinarian) to the number of horses I would have (4), my life was drawn out like a story book from the age of five. I took solace in knowing the title of the next chapter and exactly how many pages it contained. My goals were more or less written in stone with no foreseeable obstacles keeping me from chiseling in completion checkmarks one by one. Fifteen years of planning were suddenly thrown to the wind as I decided in my 3rd year of college that graduate school in Canada would be a better fit for me than vet school in the midwest USA. My concrete goals weren't as indestructible as I had thought, and to say I was anxious about this decision (i.e. lack of planning) would be an enormous understatement. For one of the first times in my life, I was questioning not only my immediate plans, but the plans I had made for the rest of my life. Was giving up vet school the right choice? I just couldn't shake the feeling that decisions could only be viewed as "right" or "wrong," and there was no way to know what to choose except through experience, by which time it would be too late.

Moving to Canada brought with it so many new and different experiences, and I soon realized that I may never know if I made the "right" choice, but I was confident that it was a good one. My entire outlook--including the way I set my goals--had changed. My time here required flexibility, an open mind, but most importantly an open heart. I still write my goals down, but on a medium more malleable than stone. They became adjustable...amendable. I found myself becoming more adjustable too, and discovered how happy and free I felt by keeping parts of my life as a blank slate--ready and waiting for whatever adventure presented itself. It was difficult to maintain this mantra when I made the decision to move back to Minnesota. As much as I struggled to avoid categorizing this decision as right or wrong, I couldn't help but think it was the latter. Six months of job hunting in my home state proved to be difficult and not without some regrets. But I met wonderful new friends and rekindled old friendships as well. My time at home also showed me just how much I needed to rebuild my own soul. I may not have had a plan for myself, but my life had a plan for me.

And before I knew it, I was on my way back to Alberta to start a new job--this time with some past experiences of an old life, but with a fresh outlook to enjoy a completely different one. It's been unexpected at times and hasn't been without its challenges, but as I sit here now, with my friends from multiple different places by my side and the sun on my shoulders, I'm not worried about whether or not the choice was right or wrong. I'm happier than I've been in a long time and that's all that matters.


  1. Boy, how your experience can be echoed from many different ones. In my case, it is funny how 13 years of university give you a road map that allows you the luxury of not worrying about what comes next. A plan so you can shut off your 'planning' mind for just a little while. BUT when that road maps runs out, what the hell happens then!!?? I too am a planner, but I have realized that doing something for a short while to see how it fits might actually be a good thing for once. I am with you on the seeing how things turn out, not worrying (or at least trying not to worry) about what are wrong or right decisions. It is all about being happy, and if that means changing an original plan, then go for it!! Here's to going with the flow, creating opportunities, and making decisions that make you happy. Yay!

  2. So beautifully said Mara - thanks for speaking to my 'planner' and 'go-with-the-flow' split personality. Right and wrong decisions...sigh. I think we're all too often worried about making those!
    I'm actually finding the road-map of school more challenging to navigate Kim. Maybe it's because i'm at the start, but the questions seem constant: why are you doing this? what do you want out of it? where do you see yourself in 5-10 years? why do you even need a PhD? I'm struggling with the answers. Sometimes I feel my planner side saying very confidently, this degree will lead to x,y and z. Other times, my 'go-with-the-flow' side just answers with a "who knows...i guess we'll see..." which is how i feel most of the time these days. I'm comforted by Mara's post and Kim's comment in thinking the go-with-the-flow mentality is probably not a bad idea...

  3. You're such a great writer Mara! Alana, I hear ya! I find myself struggling with the same questions about school a lot lately... nice to know someone else is feeling the same.

  4. I think it's also important to keep things in perspective. If you're finding yourself becoming overwhelmed with planning a certain track in life, take a step back and see how your decisions are fulfilling other needs--not just academic. I may not have "needed" to get my MSc for certain jobs, but going through the process also allowed me to have amazing experiences and meet wonderful people!

    Obviously it's important to have some sort of answer to "why am I doing this," but unless you're unhappy and not enjoying your day to day life, you're probably on a good path. I still plan like crazy, I'm just more open to allowing changes to those plans. :-)

  5. The best advice I ever got from my master's supervisor was this: You move up the ladder because you want to spend time on the next rung, not because you want to reach the top of the ladder. I was really struggling with whether or not to do a PhD and he basically told me to do it if I wanted to spend 5 + years working on a research project. I did, so I did. Now I am struck by what you describe Alana... what did that get me, where is it suppose to lead? As I write this though I realize I should apply Tom's advice to my new situation...
    Do I want to spend the next couple of years moving somewhere new and working on a new shorter term research project (ie post-doc). I am not sure my answer is yes. Do I want to make money and work with a team of people and gain more applied experience? Yes please!

  6. Mara, I love reading your work. "A medium more malleable than stone." Beautiful. I think we've all gone through some big changes in this past year and a half, and clearly, we're all feeling our own thoughts echoed in your writings.

    Andrea and Alana, I hit the "Why the hell am I doing this PhD?" wall hard. and fast. And since then have spoken to many students (all women, actually) who are struggling with the same questions. I'll never know if I made the best decision - I still feel like an academic at heart, and still have lots of pure science questions that I want to ask - but I'm incredibly more happy than I was last winter. And I take a lot of solace in that.

    much love, girls.