Adjusting to Life in North Idaho
Change is a process
Sometimes, I think change feels like cool, misty raindrops on an autumn morning. The world is quiet, resting in the embrace of low, foggy clouds, nestling me in the knowledge that while everything changes, sometimes, there are lulls in just how fast that change progresses.
Other times, change is like being caught outside with no umbrella in a sudden summer thunderstorm: torrential, drenching. When the wind dies, the dark clouds part, and the sun heats the wet world again, I'm left with a strange mix of feelings. Relief that it's over. Indignation at being so soggy. Hope for fresh starts and renewal.
The past two years have felt more like thunderstorm-change than like misty-change. The events read off like a nice list of accomplishments: Moving across the country. Buying a house. Finishing my PhD. Having a second baby.
Change isn't a list of events, though. It's a process. My internal process going through these events left me feeling adrift. For the first time in my adult life, I was not primarily a student. My goals were not primarily to finish degree requirements and rack up experiences that would make me a competitive candidate for whatever I did next.
Being a student was part of my identity. After all, anything you do for a long time becomes part of who you are. Activities, habits, patterns; these are part of what define you.
I could no longer define myself in terms of my research, or in terms of being a graduate student mother, or in terms of the success and achievement that are so often highlighted in academic circles. My daily schedule was different. My focus was different. My work was different. Post-PhD, with two kids, in a new place, with new social circles—so much was different.
Adjusting and redefining myself took time.
Allowing time for change
Randy and I moved to Idaho a little over two years ago, but the first six months barely counted. I was too busy writing the rest of my dissertation in between box-unpacking sessions and trips to the furniture store. We were too busy setting up our first house and wrapping up our old lives to be truly present in our new one. As soon as my final edits were accepted, all our focus turned to preparing for the new baby, because she was arriving hot on the heels of my deadlines.
Then it was spring. With tiny baby tied on in my new favorite rainbow baby wrap, I swung straight into maternity leave and owning-a-house-with-a-yard mode. We built garden beds, pulled weeds, and trimmed hedges. We spent so much of our spring outside. Tending to our tomato plants was such a nice change from the day-to-day of academia, and I embraced the break full-heartedly.
Then came a lull. A moment to breathe.
As our sunny-weather routines stabilized, reality set in. I had the PhD. We were in Idaho to stay. We needed to get busy living where we were.
During that time, Randy's work was top priority. He'd scaled back his work hours while I was in grad school so he could spend more time with Elian, and now it was time to catch up. So I became Dr. Stay-at-home-mom.
My kids are wonderful. But all kids all the time wasn't the balance I wanted. I started a project: actively figuring out what was next for me.
By now, I know how to explore and learn. If I want to figure out what things I want to be doing, I know what actions to take: Try things. Do things. Read things. Reflect. Repeat.
I started more projects. The garden was just the greenest and tastiest. I read a book about making comics. I pulled out my acrylics and colored pencils. Elian and I did crafts. I followed up on consulting leads. I found my sewing machine and our DSLR camera. I gave a talk at TEDx Couer d'Alene on kids and learning. I wrote articles, academic papers, blog posts, and a book proposal.
When Randy and I took long walks through our neighborhood, each pushing a stroller, we frequently talked about values, purpose, and meaning. Our brainstorming for this blog reflected other questions we considered: How do we live well? What does living out our values look like? If we were sixty years old, what would we look back at and wish we had done differently?
I've often talked about aligning my goals with excellence over success. (even a decade ago!) In short, excellence is being the best you individually can be. Success is receiving external recognition for it.
In academia, for example, that meant I didn't chase best paper awards or other accolades. Instead, I put effort into making each project, each experimental study, each paper as good as I could make it. Nothing half-hearted. (I am the first to claim that I never learned how to half-ass a paper, anyway.)
The question I've been coming back to now is what excellence looks like in my present life. Maybe it just means doing everything I do the best I can. I'll let you know when, or if, I figure it out definitively.