This We Believe

Separated by Differences, United by Beliefs

Following Unforeseen Paths

on March 29, 2012
[audio http://www.fileden.com/files/2012/2/27/3271213/kristen_audioessay_fix.mp3]

In May 2010, I committed “career suicide” – or so I was told by a colleague at the time. After months of agonizing, I made the difficult decision to leave a job I loved in order to make room for other priorities in my life – namely, love and family. I was a professor in North Carolina, but unfortunately my husband, who was living in Michigan, could not find work in or near the city where I was working. Meanwhile, my father was experiencing health problems back home in Minnesota and I wanted to return to the Midwest to be near family. Thus I made one of the most difficult decisions of my life: I resigned my dream job – and walked away from the professional path I was supposed to follow.

The first step off that path was terrifying and the threat of “career suicide” seemed a real possibility. Despite the happiness I was moving towards, I felt like I was failing. For years I had been diligently moving through the required stages of a successful career – earning a PhD, landing the ideal job, and writing scholarship in my field – and all that time I never really imagined another path for myself. So when I made that fateful decision to leave my job and risk that career, I started to doubt myself, my motivations, and even my sanity.

Yet now I know that confronting that fear was necessary, perhaps even long overdue. The decision allowed me to strike a better balance between my professional goals and my personal dreams, between my head and my heart. In the process, I have been forced to reconsider who I am and what I really want out of my life. More importantly, I have come to realize just how little I know about myself outside of my career, how little I have ventured down those less traveled roads of my own potential.

Indeed, I am only now beginning to truly understand the poet Robert Frost when he wrote: “Two roads diverged in a wood. I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference. Ironically, even after years of following a winding, seemingly aimless path through my own education – transferring schools three times in six years to earn my bachelor’s degree – I had not appreciated the sheer bravery needed to step from the conventional path and try to find one that is uniquely my own. Nor had I recognized what an amazing opportunity each crossroad was for getting to know myself and my interests outside of the path defined by others.

Now I see and truly believe that we all deserve the chance, at some point in our lives, to follow new unforeseen paths and discover something new about ourselves in the process. There is tremendous value in changing course, even if that course deviates from our best laid plans. For when we take that risk, we become new versions of ourselves that we may not have otherwise discovered if we had followed the path worn down by others’ footsteps and others’ expectations.

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