I confess I’m at times superstitious, and over the past couple of months, there have been many signs one way or the other – the Connecticut property completely bankrupting my daughter in Monopoly. Beautiful weather the two times I’ve visited UCONN. Waking my child in the morning, and realizing he was hugging a stuffed husky… and also a stuffed lion. My husband joked that if UCONN won the women’s basketball championship, it would be a sign that we should move there.
I’m not a secretive person, and that has been one of the hardest things for me over the past few months. I tend to be an open book, and so when I told people I was going out of town and people asked where, being vague was challenging (I should be more like my 9 year old daughter who said that when a friend’s mother asked why we were going to Connecticut she calmly said, “’for my mom’s work and to visit family.’ – that’s not a lie Mama.”). In the weeks that the professional development grad seminar I teach focused on job interviews, and I had to disguise examples from my recent interview as other people’s stories or pretend they happened to me 18 years ago, I felt very uncomfortable. The last week in the same seminar I allow students to ask me anything they want about professional development, ethics, and careers. One student essentially asked, “How does one accept a job knowing they’ll be there the rest of their life? How did you decide to stay at Penn State forever?” It felt like a test somehow. But I eventually told the class that no one has to stay at a job forever, and other opportunities will come if you choose to pursue them. Most recently, as the academic year drew to a close, and people talked about various Fall semester endeavors, I would avert my gaze or mumble a reply. I kept my office door closed more the past few weeks than ever before.
It’s hard to express how much I agonized over this decision. Unless you’re someone I spoke to incessantly, and then you know how much I agonized over this decision (thank you for listening!). I am an amazing sleeper (my son likes to tell people that I fell asleep during Stomp) but have had intense insomnia for months. I have needed to listen to audiobooks on my walk to and from work so that I didn’t spend all my time ruminating. My annual conference this year was particularly challenging. In 1998 after I interviewed at Penn State but before I had an offer, SRA was awkward because there were Penn Staters everywhere. But at the time I had no ambivalence – I was finishing grad school and wanted a job at Penn State. This year, I bumped into UCONN people, Penn State people, and Penn State alums everywhere, and at points I hid in my hotel room. In fact, all of my previous career decisions were always about choosing between multiple options that involved change. This career transition is the first real decision that involved deciding between keeping what I have, which is essentially great, and choosing a completely new path, and that made this one by far the hardest.
Why share all of this, when it makes me look vulnerable, neurotic, or not happy enough about the decision I’ve made? So many times on Facebook, twitter, and blogs, people write about new positions, describing the amazing opportunity ahead, with a sentence about how they will miss their colleagues. People rarely share the struggle at mid-career over shaking things up for oneself and one’s family. Perhaps others have no turmoil, but I suspect the reality is often much more conflicted. I want to be honest about how hard career transition can be, when you aren’t leaving a bad situation. As a colleague said, you’ve heard of first world problems? This is an R1, tenured faculty world problem. Which sounds ridiculous. I have agonized over two terrific options. But it doesn’t really make it any easier when you are shaping the next 5+ years of your career, your spouse’s career, and your family’s life.
The fact that I did struggle so much with the decision, that I was not escaping a bad situation, shows how appealing the new position actually is. I promise to address this aspect soon.
"The post Moving institutions, part 2: The challenge of leaving first appeared on Eva Lefkowitz's blog on May 13, 2016."