Thursday, December 28, 2006

New year's resolutions

I don't make New Year's Resolutions, as a rule. They are too often negative (like, "Stop smoking") or unrealistic (like, "Exercise every day") and seem to start from the assumption that life would magically improve so much more if only you could do a few things differently.

Most of my life's major changes were not at all determined by the calendar. Falling in love, getting married, getting pregnant, changing careers...not a one was influenced a bit by a New Year's resolution. But the changing of the year, especially since it happens so close to the Christmas/Hanukkah/Festivus/Yule megaholiday, does seem to be an opportune moment to pause and reflect and think, "Now what?"

I realized one day, while walking home from work, that my life is very much the fantasy adulthood I dreamed of when I was about Susie's age. Married, a girl and a boy about two years apart, a cat, two dogs, great friends, a PINK house, wearing fun clothes....all the trappings that I expected and hoped for in a grown-up life. Of course, my nine-year-old self knew nothing about jobs (my mom stayed home until I was in high school), mortgages, life insurance, the expense of pet food, serving on multiple committees at church, balancing work, family, and community involvement, or the intensity of emotion that sharing life with a man and two children can inspire.

At nine, as best I can remember, I wanted to be a chemist (because test tubes and beakers were cool looking) or a concert pianist. High school chemistry pretty much beat that fantasy out of my head, and my interest in piano waned in my teens (although I did continue to study, and still do play). By the end of high school, I had considered the following careers with varying levels of seriousness:

  • Singer (nope....I'm simply not that good)
  • CIA agent (seriously!)
  • Translator (which pretty much came to a screeching halt when I transferred to a high school that did not offer German)
  • Missionary or minister (yep! I even looked at divinity schools)
  • Deaf eduator (a direct offshoot of missionary, since I participated in a summer mission trip working with kids with hearing impairments)
  • Art gallery owner
  • Art conservator
The final two happened last (after a very inspiring semester of "Humanities" class), so I studied art in college (once I realized how much chemistry was required to be a conservator, I moved more to the musuem management track).

Fast forward a bit.....after graduating college, I worked in local museums for four years. If I had decided to go on directly from my B.A. work into a Master's or Ph.D. program, I'd probably have a very different life. My academic interest at the time was feminist art. So if I'd taken a different fork, I'd probably be a college professor teaching art history and women's studies. Sounds like an interesting life. But it's not the one I've got.

During my museum career, the previous interest, in working with deaf children, started rearing its head. I did a bit more than half of the coursework to become certified as a Special Education teacher (and switching to emotional disorders), then tried my hand at teaching while I was still in the graduate program. Yikes! Perhaps it was because I was pregnant. Perhaps it was because I was still in school and had much to learn. Perhaps it was where I was teaching. At any rate, it didn't go well. Perhaps if I'd stuck it out, or at least finished the degree, my life would have been different. I might be teaching exceptional children locally, having all the same breaks as my children, never needing to think about what they'll do in the summer.

Near the end of the school year, I applied for an education position at my church. I got the job, and it was great for the first year, and even part of the second. In many ways, it was really the perfect job. But I had a baby, and got pregnant again, and found myself overwhelmed by the brain-drain of mothering and growing another life, and the situation deteriorated to the point that I needed to resign. And I did. Again, staying would have meant a different road. Quite possibly I would have found my feet again and recaptured the magic of the first year in that job. And life would be very, very different. (Especially because I changed churches afterward and can't really imagine my life now without my "new" church.)

So after baby #2, I stayed home for a few months but the economic reality was that I needed to work. Baby #2 did not think that was such a good idea, but we compromised: I worked four hours per day, five days per week. He could go exactly that long without nursing (never ever would accept a bottle...I expect he'll drink beer from a cup when he's in college). It wasn't much of a job (bank teller) and I was bored. But the benefits were great, and a promotion happened and I did find some fulfillment in my second position with the bank (in consumer sales). Another promotion to a different division was short-lived; the bank cut that department ten months after I transferred there, and my position was eliminated. Another fork: to stay with the bank, going back to a position that I had liked, but to a location that I dreaded? Or to take the severance package (which was ample) and try something else?

I tried something else, which has landed me where I am today, at a very well-known and respected non-profit organization. If I'd stayed at the bank, I would almost certainly have been promoted again. Maybe more than once. But I'm somewhere that I feel like I'm making a difference (not personally, but as part of a larger whole), and I commute merely two blocks (on foot!) each day. My job itself? So-so. But the knowledge that I'm NOT a tool of the man, not a cog in a horrible corporate machine? Is priceless.

So that's how I got this far. And there will be other forks in the road that will give me more opportunities to change direction or stay the course. I can't wait to see what's next.


melati said...

Wow! How fascinating. It's always so interesting to hear the journies people take in life to get to where they are.

You sound like you have a fantastic life.

And commute 2 blocks a day! And have a PINK house! (And the husband and the kids....) I don't know...sounds like you have a good thing going.

Another Working Mom said...

I definitely know that I should count my blessings - there are many. My daughter and I were talking about how some choices will totally change the course of your life - like where you go to college (I met The Husband in college, so it follows that had I chosen the other school, I would never have met him, and never have had the kids I have, but also would probably never have left Michigan or the nearby vicinity). Naturally, Susie is glad I made the choice I did. And I am too.

Pam said...

What a GREAT post!! We have a lot in common, other than virtually identical blog names ;-).

I wanted to be a medical doctor when I was a kid. Chemistry beat that out of me too!

Jon Downes said...

Funny thing just happened while I was out random blogging, I found your blog...

Had to laugh about your final thoughts, "there will be other forks in the road that will give me more opportunities to change direction or stay the course. I can't wait to see what's next." Go to my website to see the irony.

Anyways, have a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year on what ever path you choose in life.