When I was deciding whether to transition out of academia, I got very different advice from two close friends. One characteristically advised I wait. She noted my summers off and flexibility had real advantages in life with young kids. She added I used to enjoy teaching and researching. Maybe I would again. Also true-to-form, my other friend argued change and challenge are always the answer. What the devil was holding me back?
I’m not quite as quick to jump as my devil-may-care confidante, but my tendencies toward impulsiveness mean my decision-making often resembles hers. Still, I recognized the wisdom in my cautious friend’s counsel. How do we know if the time is now or a bit later? How do we soften the discomfort compelling us to jump or stay just so we won’t have to “not know”?
For me, this decision wasn’t just about career. It was also about how I wanted to see this world and myself in it. I had lost touch with the big, bold living I was hoping to do. Instead I was grouching around in limitations of my own making.
The real insight for me came when I realized my cautious friend’s “wait,” whispered something else to me. It said, “stay small.” I’m pretty sure that wasn’t her intended message, but it’s what I heard. It was also what I needed to hear to realize, at least this time, jumping, dancing or loco-motoring in any fashion into something that felt big was absolutely what needed to happen. I did that and I have a happy ending. I love, love the work I do now.
I know life will invite a transition in some other area. When the time comes, I’ll probably return to my cautious and devil-may-care friends for the advice they characteristically give. I’ll appreciate their perspectives, but I’ll listen most closely for the whisper in their messages.