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?


  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.

  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.

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

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.