Friday, April 06, 2007

Measures of Success/The Road Not Taken

I went to high school with a girl (call her E) at a school known not so much for its academics as its artsy focus. She and I were the only two students taking a specific advanced class, and we were friendly, but not the kind of friends you keep in touch with after school. I’ve Googled her before, so I had a sense of what she’s been up to, but something triggered the search again the other day, and I scoped out her latest - after spending two years on the faculty of Well-Known Midcountry School, she’s now on the faculty at Very Prestigous New England University. She’s my age and she’s already been working as a tenure-track professor for three years. I’m on leave from a program I can only hope to finish in another two or three (or five) years.

It’s not the path I want to take anymore, nor was it ever really my path, but even so, it’s hard not to compare. She’s completed her graduate training at a top-notch school, married a colleague, and been hired into not one but two Name Brand Schools. She’s also a rocket scientist/brain surgeon, speaks 20 languages, and can recite the alphabet backwards

while dancing
in high heels
on a tightrope
over a pit of alligators
who are hungry.

Last week I was a human tissue. Today I was a jungle gym.

I’m not saying she has the better deal, not at all. I’m where I am because this is what I wanted, this is where I put my time, energy and resources, and this is my payoff. And it’s a big payoff. But still, it’s hard to avoid the moment of comparison, the brief imagined trip down another path. What would my life look like if I’d chosen a path sooner, focused on my research, published and presented?

7 comments:

  1. One can only wonder where different choices would have led to.
    If over all you're happy with the ones you've made, that's pretty good going.

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  2. There are a lot of paths I didn't take either, I wonder what my academic career would have looked like, sometimes. And then I remember I just wasn't that happy as an academic. You've got your babies, and in your alternative scenario I guess neither of them would exist? This is the path you took. I know the 'what ifs' are tough, but this is a chosen path, and a great one.

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  3. Yep, I had one of those moments this week too. Complete with discouraging email exchange with the more successful classmate.

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  4. Every year I get the conference booklet for the biggest conference in my former field and every year I can't help myself from looking through it for my former colleagues. It's a weird feeling, like looking through a not-quite mirror at what might have been.

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  5. It's weird, isn't it. Academia and I were not friends, but I still look at people I was it in with and wonder whether I would have done as well.

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  6. I just can't think about it. It would stall me in my tracks, and I'm already moving in slow motion.

    I just cannot think about it. But I know what you're talking about. Oh do I know.

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  7. Every month or so I obsessively check the Alumni notes from my Alma Mater to see who is doing what. I cant help it. I am constantly comparing. Thank God they only print career moves and weddings or births. If they started printing photos of houses or waists, I might have to send my diploma back in and seek help.

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