Category Archives: Who am I really? (Career Angst)

Moving Forward (While Standing Still)

I didn’t get a job this week.

I applied for a job two weeks ago.

I interviewed for a job last week.

And yesterday I got the email telling me that the hiring committee was moving forward with other candidates.

I am a little bit disappointed, but I am also quite a large bit relieved.

I’m disappointed because I was excited about the opportunity. I’m disappointed because I know I could have been good at it, that it would have been meaningful work, that it would have been a way to contribute to my university beyond my teaching and my research. I’m disappointed because I know it would have led to more opportunities.

I’m relieved because I’m not really sure I could have handled that particular job at this particular time. It’s not exactly a low-stress point in my life, and adding a new job (even a part-time job that would have been done entirely remotely) would have definitely complicated things.

When I was first invited to apply, my gut instinct was to refuse outright. But after talking about it with Q., I recognized that I needed to at least put my hat in the ring. One of the factors that has prevented me from applying for more university administration positions (alt-ac jobs) is their inflexibility. You have to be in the office for your set work hours, all the time, no exceptions. No working remotely, no flexible hours, nothing that would make it attractive to someone like me. COVID has changed everything. My entire university has committed to working from home until at least September. It was a golden opportunity to build some experience without having to conform to the narrow working conditions in the collective agreement.

So instead I will keep teaching my course and finishing my book project with Q. and prepping for my two courses in the fall (which will both have to be online), without having to find an extra twenty-four hours for work in my week (because I would have still had to do all of those things even if I got the job).

Nothing’s changed.

But I feel like I’ve made progress.

I flubbed the interview. I was caught off-guard by some of the questions (and I shouldn’t have been) and I know I didn’t do myself justice. I haven’t had a job interview in well over a decade. I’m out of practice.

The position I applied for is in a growth area. There will certainly be more jobs like it in the future. I have a much better sense of what I need to do to present myself as a strong candidate. I have a better sense of what questions I might be asked.

I know my experience and my educational background are good enough to get me an interview. And now I’ll be ready for an interview.

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Life after the PhD, Who am I really? (Career Angst)

Progress, Not Perfection

I have been having a difficult time getting back into a good rhythm with my research. Too much time off over the holidays has meant I’ve lost my momentum and my Inner Critic is back up to “shouting so loudly she’s hurting my ears” rather than the “nasty whispers under her breath” I’d beaten her down to by the end of last semester.

I learned last fall that the absolute, most critical key to successful academic writing (for me at least) was consistency. The more I worked on something, the easier it became to keep working on it. My weekly schedule makes this a challenge. Mondays I’m at home with P., and Tuesday nights I teach. This has meant that the work time available on Tuesdays (the morning and the early afternoon), more often than not, has been eaten up by class preparation and marking. I’m hoping this will improve this semester because I’m now into the section of the course that I’ve taught once before, so I already have PowerPoint slides and relevant assessment that can be reused.

The reality is that four days away from my research is too long. Every Wednesday I’d have the same inner battle with myself as I walked to the library:

Inner Critic: “I don’t know why you even bother. It’s never going to get published. No one wants to read your crap.”
Turia: “Shut up.”
Inner Critic: “It’d be so much easier to do something else. So much more fun too. Why not just read your novel? Or go for a long walk? Or answer emails? Or write a blog post? Or we could go eat some cake. Ooh, I love cake. You love cake too! You’ll feel better about yourself then!”
Turia: “Shut up.”
Inner Critic: “It’s so pointless. You’re so pointless. You’re such a fraud. If you actually send this to a publisher everyone will know you’re such a fraud.”
Turia: “SHUT. UP. Just sit down at the desk, Turia.”
*Some time is wasted by going to the washroom, setting up the desk, filling up the water bottle, writing a few emails, checking the phone, etc.*
Inner Critic: “You’re never going to be able to do this, you know.”
Turia: “SHUT! UP! Open the computer, Turia. Open the file. Start writing. Write for fifteen minutes. Just fifteen minutes. You can do fifteen minutes.”
*Fifteen minutes pass.*
“Ok. This is going well. These are interesting ideas. You can do it, T. Keep writing.”
Inner Critic: “I’ll be back, you know.”

And she is back, every morning. She’s easier to silence on Thursday and easier again on Friday because by then I’ve picked up some momentum and I can remember what I most wanted to start with when I’d finished the day before. But she never, ever, truly goes away, and by the following Wednesday she’s back out in force.

I described this entire process to my friends in my writing accountability group at our meeting in December and they were both horrified. “That sounds terrible!” one of them said.

It is terrible. I guess I’m just so used to it it doesn’t even seem strange to me anymore. I’ve never written anything research-related without also engaging in a fierce internal war.

My work goal for 2018 is to try to break this cycle. The fundamental problem is that I’m a perfectionist with a very fixed mindset. I associate editing with failure- I didn’t get it right the first time. I confuse my work with myself, and feel that a rejection of my work would pass judgment on myself as a person. This leaves me paralyzed with fear whenever I think about submitting my work somewhere.

It’s a really unhealthy way to live, and I don’t want to model it for my children.

E. and I talk all the time about how “practice makes progress” and how we have to be willing to try and make mistakes in order to improve. When he’s worried about his dictée words, and is wailing about how he will “never get anything right” and how he will “make a million mistakes on the dictée”, I point to how much he’s improved every time he practices.

I knew it was sinking in when I heard our nanny say to E. “practice makes perfect” one day and he, rather irritably, corrected her that it was actually “practice makes progress because most things aren’t perfect”.

It needs to sink in for me too.

Walking to the library this morning, with my Inner Critic shrieking in my head, I resolved to make “progress, not perfection” my mantra for my work this year. And by the time I’d reached my second-favourite desk (annoyingly someone had already claimed my favourite desk), I’d realized that it applied to far more than just my writing.

It applied when it came to my photographs.

It applied when it came to my efforts to control my lizard brain when I’m frustrated with my kids.

It applied to anywhere in my life where I felt unsatisfied and wanted to make a change.

When you practice, you see, you have to make the time for something. You have to engage in it. And maybe the progress you make is incremental. Maybe it’s tiny, almost unnoticeable at first. Maybe baby steps even seem like big steps at first. But eventually, if you give it enough time, you will be able to look back and see just how far you’ve come.

I wrote on here that I hadn’t been able to come up with a good word to represent my goals for 2018.

It turns out I needed three words, not one.

Progress, not perfection.


Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Anxiety Overload, Brave New (School) World, Choose Happiness, Who am I really? (Career Angst), Writing

Accountability- September

Today is my last day of work for September, my last day of work in my first month back from maternity leave.

What have I accomplished?

  • I have written just shy of 8,000 words of the first draft of a chapter for the edited volume which Q. and I are editing. The chapter is meant to be no more than 10,000. I will be over this in the first draft, but I am not worrying about that at this point.
  • I have entered all of my evidence into my giant spreadsheet, which means I no longer have a million post-it notes in several books, left over from the reading I was able to do in the spring. I’ve also read a few more authors and have added their evidence too. I am not finished collecting evidence, but I’m far enough along with the project that my argument is clear and it makes sense to write at the same time as I read.
  • I have read and provided feedback on some of the other chapter drafts for the edited volume (although not as many as I feel I should have, since our co-editors aren’t doing their work and the lion’s share has landed squarely on Q’s shoulders).
  • I am 25% of the way through the fall semester of my class. I have taught the second half of this class before, but the first semester is new to me, so there is a lot of prep work. I am enjoying the teaching and my anxiety about teaching has largely dissipated now that I have a connection with the students. (I am a very good teacher but I always feel sick before teaching a class, especially in the first couple of weeks. I think it’s a form of performance anxiety. I’m so introverted that even though I genuinely love teaching I have to consciously prepare myself to do it.)
  • I have managed a daily (almost) writing practice on work days. Four days a week, I sit down first thing in the morning with my laptop and write for ninety minutes (or two hours if it is going well). The morning is my most productive time by far and I have fiercely protected my writing time from teaching prep, marking, reading, email, life admin, etc. I have always been an academic writer who think and thinks and thinks and then writes and writes and writes. I wrote my dissertation by not writing for weeks or months at a time and then writing 1,000 words a day (or more) for a few weeks when it was time to produce another chapter. This wasn’t a form of procrastination- it was just how I operated. I thought about my ideas for so long that when it was time to write them up the first draft needed very little to be changed. It worked well with the dissertation, where probably 85% of the finished product is identical to what I first drafted, but it meant I hit a hard wall when it came time to think about making revisions for the book. Admittedly, with this current chapter, I have been thinking about it for months, but I can certainly see a difference in the way that I’m writing. My hope goal is that when I get the draft finished I will be able to just start tinkering with editing the book manuscript, since I will have established writing and rewriting as part of the daily routine. I love to write and hate to edit. I’m trying to change that as it’s become abundantly clear to me that I will never publish if I don’t.
  • I have found places I like to work, particularly a little room on the second floor of one of the smaller libraries of the university that is not mine (but at which I have borrowing privileges).
  • I have completed the first three weeks of the C25K running program (and started week four this morning). That is the most consistent running I have managed since I last completed the C25K program, right before our final FET in the fall of 2014. I have run three days a week every week for three weeks. That should make a habit.
  • I have read five books for fun and am well advanced on a sixth. That is the most books I have read in a month since December 2015.
  • I have mostly stayed on top of our life admin. I have figured out how to pay our nanny; booked a cottage holiday for Thanksgiving; ordered hot lunches for E. at school and signed both children up for activities (swimming lessons and an after school science class for E., music with her nanny for P.); read emails and (mostly) answered them; had my eyebrows waxed and my bangs/fringe trimmed; visited the dentist (twice in two weeks since I am someone who needs to go every three months and I hadn’t been in nine).
  • I went out for lunch with Q., the first of our monthly lunch dates that Q. packed into my tin lunch box on our tenth anniversary, even though we didn’t actually go to the restaurant he had planned as it was so unseasonably warm I insisted we find a patio. I went out for lunch on two other occasions with dear friends whom I never get to see often enough.
  • I ended my work day early once to go and sit in a cafe and drink tea and eat cake and read a book. It was so lovely I had to promise myself I would only do this once a month.

There are still things I am working on. I haven’t quite figured out the best way to use my time in the afternoons when I am tired from the writing and the reading and the deep work but it’s still too early to pack it in for the day. I haven’t solved the problem of how to get up from my desk frequently during the day, particularly since I have to bring my laptop, phone, and wallet with me wherever I go. My original plan was to walk over at lunch time from the small library to the big library, but it turns out I don’t like working in the big library all that much.

I do not feel like I am being a good mother, at least not to the standards to which I hold myself. I am not getting enough sleep because P. is up more than she should be at night and she gets so angry and sad when Q. goes in to try to settle her that it is just easier for me to go in instead and give her the cuddle and the milk that she wants. I am sure I would be better at managing this if I were home more during the day and did not feel as guilty. I am convinced she wakes up because she is missing that connection with me, but it is probably teeth or developmental or habit.

I am not as patient with E. as I would like to be, which is a constant battle made worse by the fact that I feel like I should have so much more patience for him since I now see him less. I have a lot of patience, but there are many days where it is not enough.

I do not always manage to have a real conversation with Q. rather than one about logistics and timings and schedules and house needs and kids needs. This morning I volunteered to take E. to school since I was going to be ready to go at about that time anyway, and then E. took a very long time to brush his teeth so I ended up bundling him out the door and forgot that I hadn’t said a proper goodbye to Q. or given him a kiss.

I still think Q. is doing too much of the housework, but every time I suggest an alternative he restates his position that he thinks it makes sense to just get it all done in one morning. He certainly is doing too much of the cooking, but I have to admit that the nights when I need to cook from scratch are frantic and stressful as it turns out there are very few meals you can cook from scratch with a toddler on your hip who is usually trying to nurse. My idea of “easy weeknight dinners” is not the same as Q.’s, so if he wants to do most of the prep on the weekends, I think I should just gracefully accept.

I am still not sure this is what I want, but I do like having the time and space to think about my research and I can see how difficult it would be to build momentum if I had any less time in which to do that. It’s also extremely difficult for me to rationalize taking any time for myself if I’m working less than four days a week, as I feel that if I’m not with the kids I need to be working, especially if Q. is at home with them.

I am still taking it one day at a time, but, on balance, I think this month has gone well.


Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Blink and you'll miss it, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Choose Happiness, Life after the PhD, My addled brain, Nursing, Sleep, Who am I really? (Career Angst), Writing


I am not one for believing that things happen for a reason.

I didn’t think like this even before my father’s accident and my stepfather’s death, although I have said to a number of people that if I did believe this sort of thing I would believe that P. was sent to be this horrible year’s silver lining.

Sometimes, though, I can see how it would be tempting to think that the universe every now and then has our best interests at heart.

A few weeks ago I was walking E. to school when one of his old nursery school teachers cycled past. She saw P. in the carrier and stopped immediately to chat- she hadn’t known I was pregnant.

We had a brief conversation, during which she mentioned that she was no longer teaching full-time at the nursery school but was now instead looking after children who are too young to go to the nursery school.

Here’s the thing- I am going back to work in September. I don’t really want to- I would rather be at home for another year, but it’s not feasible for a number of reasons.

Q. has agreed to take one day off a week to be home with P., and I’ll be home for another day. But even the prospect of looking for part-time care for P., three days a week, was causing me huge amounts of anxiety and guilt. Anxiety because I was worried about finding the right kind of care for her, namely a home-based setting with a native English speaker. And guilt because we didn’t need this kind of care for E.- we juggled him between us until he was old enough to go to nursery school- but we can’t do the juggling act again.

I asked her if she would be interested in looking after a 14 month old for three days a week starting in September.

She said that sounded like fun.

I took her phone number and took a little bit longer than I should have to call her because it takes me a long time to do anything right now, especially call people (because I absolutely loathe talking on the phone), but it worked out because even though word had gotten around by that point she had been waiting to hear from me before talking to anyone else. She believes that things happen for a reason, you see. She felt that our meeting had been “meant to be”.

We met up yesterday to discuss the details.

We’re still figuring out a few things, but I think we’re basically sorted. She’s willing to come to our house and she’s happy to pick up E. after school on the days she is working. This is so much better than I was expecting, as you basically can’t get a nanny who’s a native English speaker. We’d been assuming P. would be in an in-home daycare somewhere and then we’d have to find some sort of after-school care for E. And finding a part-time spot can be difficult.

She is a trained ECE.

She has decades of experience with the littlest people.

I worked with her on my duty day at the nursery school for an entire year.

I KNOW how good she is.

And now she’s going to save up all of that love and kindness and energy for my P.

We hit the jackpot.

I might be able to now stop having anxiety attacks about going back to work.


Filed under Anxiety Overload, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Life after the PhD, P.- the first year, Who am I really? (Career Angst)

Clarity (Part One)

It has been hard for me, this past year.

Hard to be unemployed without paid work (for, as Q. pointed out to me, over and over again, I did have a job, just not one that society values).

I have had a lot of time to sit and think. Probably too much time to sit and think given my natural propensity for thinking/fretting/planning.

I went round and round and round in my head.

My thoughts were a maelstrom.

A vortex.

And then, at last, there was stillness.

I still don’t know what I’m going to be doing this year.

I still don’t know what I’m going to do in the future.

I don’t know whether I will have a ‘job’ or a ‘career’.

But I realized the only thing I really needed to understand in order to be able to move forward.

Absolutely nothing is more important to me right now than having control over my time.

Not salary. Not the type of work. Not the opportunities for promotion.

I do not have to work in an office for eight hours a day.

And I am choosing not to.

I don’t know what’s coming next.

But now I know I’ll recognize the opportunity when it happens.

Because finally, finally, I know what I want.

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Life after the PhD, Who am I really? (Career Angst)

Random thoughts on a summer Thursday

Item: The second week of August is almost over. I am not sure how this happened.

Item: This means that school is less than a month away. REAL school. Five full days a week. We’ve found out that despite having nine other children from his nursery school going to his new school, only one of them is in E’s new class. A new class which is a split JK/SK, which means it could have upwards of thirty kids in it. I am trying not to freak out, but it is hard.

Item: I am freaking out about lunches instead. We are supposed to send two snacks and a lunch daily. Nut-free, but that seems light compared to the restrictions imposed on some of my friends who live in other cities (no homemade items being the most egregious). I am not sure what we will do about protein given a) we cannot send nut butter and b) I’ve found more than one study that suggests an insulated lunch bag and cold packs still doesn’t keep food cold enough to be safe. I am also utterly overwhelmed by the sea of lunch packing options and am trying to strike a balance between getting good stuff and not freaking out at the cost of replacing it if E. loses it all in the first week.

Item: As a result, I have yet to buy any sort of lunch packing equipment. I have a week to sort this out (E. will need a lunch packed for his week of full-day camp run by his nursery school, which we are hoping to use as a transition point to JK).

Item: At no point am I likely to turn into one of those Pinterest bento box mothers who constructs unique, adorable, and nutritiously balanced lunches, all cut into beautiful shapes and designs, each and every day. That way lies madness.

Item: Not that I am complaining, but my child is going to have to stop this “go to bed at 7:30 or 8:00 p.m. and sleep until 8:30 a.m. or later the next morning” phase before school starts. He slept until 9:45 a.m. the other day. School STARTS almost an hour earlier.

Item: Child is also eating like there is no tomorrow, so hopefully this is just a growth spurt and not some new need for thirteen hours of sleep a day.

Item: I had a Skype conversation with my supervisor this week where he wondered about my progress on getting a couple of articles ready to be sent to journals. Answer: none.

Item: The day before, E. spent twenty-five minutes of his hour-long quiet time singing (loudly) “When is quiet time going to be over?” to the tune of “Bumping up and down in my little red wagon”. And my supervisor wonders why I get nothing done.

Item: I heard back from the academic press where I sent my dissertation/book manuscript in March. Two very long, very detailed reader reports. One generally in favour of the book, one more on the fence. Editor wants the book again when I’ve made the revisions and seems very positive about it, so it’s a good result, as the two expert readers have basically given me a road map of what I need to do to make the book better. I could have tinkered with it for months without being able to reach the same conclusions.

Item: Supervisor wonders when I might get the revisions done. “By Christmas?” I laughed. “If I’m still unemployed, maybe.”

Item: I am still unemployed. Still putting out applications, still have irons in the fire, but nothing concrete as of yet. I just applied for a job that would be absolutely perfect- permanent, part-time doing interesting work involving research and writing for a non-profit organization that does a lot of good in the community. See? Perfect. I am just hoping I get an interview with them as I know I could do the job, but my background isn’t quite approaching it from the angle they wanted.

Item: Cycle day eleven today. This cycle’s experiment is apparently “let’s not follow the diet we have been and eat a lot of sugar and dairy products and see if we still ovulate”. Oh the ice cream.

Item: Out of the last seven weekends, we have had grandparents staying with us for six of them. That is too much. E. has forgotten how to play by himself.

Item: I read Station Eleven, The Bone Clocks, and Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood trilogy all in the last month. It turns out that is too much dystopian near-future fiction. I might have to go back to Guy Gavriel Kay for a bit. (I recommend them all most highly, just not all at once.)

Item: The sun is going down noticeably earlier in the evenings now. I’ve realized one of the things I miss most from my pre-kid life is going for long walks on summer evenings after dinner. E. was staying up later earlier in the summer, but he’s too tired at the end of the day to want to go on yet another walk (and I’m not really at a point where I can handle the constant barrage of questions as we walk).

Item: I had to take E.’s balance bike away from him for a week because he twice forgot to stop before rolling out into an intersection. This is a punishment for me as much as it is for him as running errands now takes four times as long.

Item: I had a birthday recently (post to come on that). E. dictated my birthday card to his father. It said: “Dear Mummy, I think you have had a good supper and a wonderful birthday. We’re about to give you lovely presents. I hope you’ve had a lovely birthday. Love, E.” (with his name signed). Heart exploded.

Item: E. is currently shouting the alphabet (alternating in English and French) from his room. There is not much quiet in quiet time these days.

Item: Really though, FOUR is awesome. Loud. But awesome.


Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Books, Brave New (School) World, Cycle Madness, E.- the fifth year, Food, JK, Life after the PhD, Who am I really? (Career Angst)

Wanted: Work/Life Balance

A job was posted this week.

Not just any job.

The perfect job.

The exact job that someone had when I read her Q&A for a series on PhDs transitioning out of the academy.

The first job that I read about and thought, “Hey, I could do that and like that!”

The first job that started me thinking seriously about university administration as a career path.

I read the job ad.

I got in touch with the person who had recently vacated the position to ask a couple of questions.

And then the decision was easy.

I’m not going to apply.

It may be the perfect job on paper, but it’s not the right job for me right now.

Here’s the sticking point: it’s full-time, standard hours, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday.

It’s at a university which is an hour’s commute from my house.

That job would require me to be out of the house from 7:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., five days a week, JUST to do my job.

The deciding factor in striking it off the list was when I asked the woman who used to have the position about flexibility.

She told me that the environment is heavily unionized, and that options like a compressed schedule or working remotely are explicitly banned in the collective agreement. You can negotiate different start/stop hours (she worked 9:30 to 5:30), but that’s it. During the fall rush, there is a lot of overtime, which HAS to be done at the office.

Even if I negotiated 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., I still wouldn’t be able to get back in time to pick up E. from school. And I’d have to leave the house at 6:00 a.m. every day, long before he was awake.

If I negotiated 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., in order to be able to drop him off every morning, I’d miss supper five nights a week.

I’m not interested.

I understand that I am choosing to cut myself off from this opportunity. If I applied, and if I got the job, we could make it work. Q. would have to drop E. off at school every morning, and we’d have to hire a nanny for the after-school shift.

The thing is, I don’t HAVE to have that kind of life.

Q. works a demanding job. On the positive side, it is incredibly stable and he is well-paid.

I do not NEED a job to keep our roof over our heads or food on our table.

I NEED a job for my own sanity and self-worth, to feel that I am making a financial contribution to our family, and to ease the pressure on Q., who finds it stressful to be the sole provider.

But I don’t have to get a job that will immediately require me to spend 30-50% of my salary on a nanny.

Seeing that job ad was actually incredibly helpful. It immediately clarified some of my priorities. It helped me realize what I am (and am not) willing to do.

If the situation were different, my feelings might change.

If it were at one of the other two universities, the ones downtown which I can reach in thirty minutes or less, that would be different. At one of those universities I could work 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. some days, drop E. off at school and still get home in time for supper. If I worked 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. the other days, I could get home in time to pick him up. Q.’s job is flexible enough that he is able (and willing) to do some pick ups and drop offs. He just can’t do all of them, all of the time.

If E. were older, and at a point where he was staying longer after school for extra-curricular activities, it might be different. Eventually that university is only going to be about forty minutes away rather than an hour, which would make it more feasible.

Or it could work now, if E. were an extrovert who loved being surrounded by other people and who would be resentful and bored to be dragged home after school. A friend of mine has her daughter in daycare ten hours a day, five days a week (7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.) and that works for them.

It would not work for E. I’m reluctant to post much about it on here, because it is his story, not mine, and I need to respect his privacy, but there are issues with anxiety and difficulties with socializing, to the point that we are expecting the transition to full-time school to be a particularly rocky one. On the advice of his nursery school teacher, we’ve had someone in to observe him who can offer suggestions for what we can do to help him get ready, and who can provide a report to give to his teacher so s/he has some idea of what is going on and what s/he can do to help E. settle.

I don’t feel bad about not applying for that job. I don’t feel disappointed or resentful or angry. I don’t feel like E. is keeping me from my life’s purpose. It became so clear to me last night that it just wouldn’t work for our family at this time.

It’s also made clearer what I should be looking for: ideally, something part-time at one of the universities downtown. I just need to get my foot in the door, and if I’m working for them already, I become an internal candidate with access to all job postings, not just the ones they can’t fill with the people they’ve got already. A full-time position would be manageable, provided I could negotiate staggered hours.

Failing that, something part-time with an easy commute that lets me use the skills I’ve developed during my doctorate and builds experience that will mean when I want a full-time job the doors won’t be closed to me.

Or, something full-time (or close to it) with very flexible hours and the ability to work a significant number of hours from home.

Or, a bunch of part-time/contract/freelance opportunities that add up to a steady income stream. I have a couple irons in the fire here already, including the possibility of developing and teaching an online course for my old department in the summer. I really hope this works out, as it’s a great skill set to develop and a very useful niche to occupy. Plus, you can teach an online course no matter what your ‘day’ job is.

My good friend, Pam, over at Two Adults, One Child, had a post this week about finding your life’s purpose. Reading it at this point was particularly helpful, because it helped me realize that I don’t need my job to be my passion or my vocation or my mission. I want to do something I enjoy, to do it well, to feel like what I do matters, but at the end of the day, I also want to come home and be present for my family. The most obvious way to achieve this is to sacrifice financial reward in favor of time. And that suits me, at least at this point in my life. I am incredibly privileged to even have this choice.

It’s been scary, being unemployed. I’ve never been this long without a plan. I haven’t gone this long without bringing in an income since I started university almost seventeen years ago.

But I feel like I’m making real progress in figuring out what I need and want, and what my family needs and wants, and how best to make these align.

And that makes the future much less frightening.


Filed under (Pre)School Days, A (Good) Day's Work, Anxiety Overload, E.- the fourth year, Life after the PhD, Who am I really? (Career Angst)

The days are long, but the years are short

Two of the books I’ve been reading this month were by Gretchen Rubin: The Happiness Project and Happier at Home. I came to them in a roundabout fashion: the book I most wanted to read was her new one (Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives), but the library first didn’t have it in stock yet, and then, once it was available to put on hold, a bunch of people got their hold requests in before me. While looking it up I came across the other two books and decided to give them a try (I had heard of The Happiness Project before but knew very little about it).

I read Happier at Home first just because it arrived first at my branch. Reading the two of them in quick succession was interesting in itself. I particularly liked how she managed to get two books out of what was essentially one idea (some of her categories in the second book exactly mirrored those in the first, and some issues she struggled with in the first book returned in the second).

And yes, it’s a bit of a schtick, and it’s self-indulgent and earnest to a point that occasionally borders on the embarrassing, and some of the challenges she set for herself made absolutely no sense to me whatsoever, but her books touched a nerve.

She sounded a lot like me, especially in the weaknesses she saw in herself as a mother and a wife, the perfectionist nature of her personality, her love for lists and charts and organization, and the way she feels about writing, reading and books.

Her books were a good kick in the ass, a reminder that this is my only life and it is up to me to chart my course through it in a way that makes me happy.

I won’t sugarcoat it: I’ve been pretty miserable lately.

E. is going through (another) highly volatile and argumentative phase. I’m sure it’s developmental, because a number of the children in his birth club are doing exactly the same thing, but that doesn’t make it any easier to live with.

I’m short on patience.

I’m quick to become frustrated.

When he snaps and starts yelling at me over something incredibly minor that wasn’t an issue two seconds earlier, I find it very very hard to keep my temper.

And it’s much harder to cope with because I’ve found myself this month really resenting being at home with him. Every time we butt heads, I’m that much faster to snap back at him because I’m bored and tired and frustrated.

Part of it has been this interminable winter. I am SO tired of cold and wind and frozen ground and dragging E. out of the house to run a random errand just so we get some fresh air. I cannot wait for it to warm up enough to make going to the parks fun again. I want to walk through the ravine and look for birds with him.

The winter has not helped, but it’s not the whole story.

I didn’t like not applying for interesting jobs that were coming through my e-mail aggregate lists.

I grouched to Q.

“I think you should apply for anything that looks interesting,” he said. “If you get one, we’ll muddle through.” (Given Q. is approaching the end of his semester this might now have some truth to it. This wasn’t the case in January.)

I grouched to a friend from my birth club, who had recently quit her job because her family couldn’t find any work/life balance in a household with two full-time earners.

“Apply anyway!” she wrote. “Deviate from the plan! Get a live-in au pair!”

But I didn’t want to apply for those jobs.

I wanted to be home with my son for the summer.

I just didn’t want to be home with my son at that particular moment.

The days are long, but the years are short.

In twenty years, will I regret not starting work five months earlier?


In twenty years, will I look back with nostalgia and love on these next five months, the last I will have with my son (in all likelihood my only baby) before he starts full-time school?


When I look at the big picture, I am not in a rush to find employment. I know these months are special, and I want to cherish them.

It’s the day-to-day where I’m floundering. E. and I are spending too much time quarreling and not enough time having fun.

Partly this is because he’s not particularly fun to be around at the moment.

But I’m positive part of it is him responding to my attitude.

If E. gets upset and I get upset too, if I raise my voice, I make the situation much much worse.

So I decided, in the spirit of Rubin’s happiness projects, that it was time for an attitude boot camp.

No one is MAKING me stay at home with my son.

No one is MAKING me miserable, except myself.

No one can make me happier, except myself.

I have five months before E. starts school.

I picked out five areas where my current actions (or inaction in some cases) are sources of stress, guilt, and resentment. They are: Parenthood, Marriage, Self, Work, and Home.

I made resolutions for each of those five areas, and I am going to keep a resolution chart for the next five months to hold myself accountable. I like charts and lists and clear indications of progress (or lack thereof). I am not expecting to be perfect, but I am hoping this will make me more mindful of how I behave/react in my everyday.

Rubin targeted one area each month, but I decided, since this is a boot camp, to go whole hog and start working on the resolutions for all five areas from the beginning. This might seem overwhelming at the start, but I couldn’t think of a good alternative. My resolutions are pretty simple. They’re all things I WANT to be doing now, and they’re all things that I know will make me happier if I do them. And I couldn’t see how to order my priorities: why put E. first (with Parenting) and ignore Q. (Marriage) or my own needs (Self) for a month or longer?

I need a reset.

I figure it’s this or therapy, and I’d like to give myself the chance to sort things out.

Stay tuned for my resolutions…


Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Blink and you'll miss it, Books, Choose Happiness, E.- the fourth year, Who am I really? (Career Angst)

The Big Fail

So. Here is the cold, unvarnished truth about why I am having so much trouble posting on here at the moment.

I feel like a failure on almost every level of my life right now, and I’ve been in such a dark space about it that I haven’t even wanted to type up the words to let them see the light of day. But my blog is my therapy. I don’t have a shrink (although I’m starting to feel like maybe I need one right now). Writing it out helps. So here goes.

1. I failed at having a second child.

2. And I’m failing at accepting this. I have spent the last couple of weeks seriously considering going back to the clinic for one more round of IVF (a Hail Mary pass if you like). With some ground rules: I want to change doctors (I’m done with mine) but stay at my clinic because I can’t handle the thought of moving and starting over. And I don’t want to freeze any late blooming Day 6 blasts. They make it to blast on Day 5, or we discard them.

I have been thinking seriously enough about this to be in contact with friends who have children with big age gaps (because we would be looking at an age gap of very close to 5 years) to get the good, the bad, and the ugly from them. I’m unbelievably conflicted, but there is a significant part of me that really really feels like I need a third IVF to be the deciding factor. One IVF worked. One didn’t. I’m caught in the balance and the uncertainty is eating away at me. Q. is happy to be done, but happy to try again if that’s what I really want. The big stumbling block for me is the money, because I don’t have a job and thus am extra conscious of our level of savings, but I’m starting to hit the point where I don’t actually care about flushing $10,000 down the toilet if it will mean I can walk away with some sense of peace.

3. I’m failing at being an academic. I have the most basic of revisions to do to my dissertation to be able to send it off to a press (well, I don’t think it will be ready, but my supervisor insists this is what I should do, so I bow to his experience) and I can’t bring myself to do them because every time I think about picking up my copy of the dissertation I burst into tears. And I mostly want to apply for a post-doc because that would make it easy to pick E. up from school every day for two years, and that’s not really a very good reason.

4. I’m failing at being a feminist, because it’s become terribly clear to me in the last month that my ongoing freak outs about not having a job are directly linked to the fact that I DO NOT VALUE the job I actually have at the moment- being a stay-at-home mother. Q. values this work. He tells me every.single.time I start worrying that I DO have a job, and a very important one.

But deep down it seems I don’t think it matters. And that’s sad.

5. I’m failing at getting a job. This is largely, I would think, because I can’t apply for 99% of the interesting jobs I see because I’m home full-time with E. (see above, number four). I have exactly five hours a week (if I am efficient at dropping E. off on time) where he’s not with me. Plus an hour of quiet time on the other days. This is not exactly conducive to finding and keeping paid work, but I am freaking out about it nonetheless.

Q. made two points to me on Friday (when all of this bottled-up anxiety finally came spilling out and I spent our Friday night “adult dinner” weeping helplessly at the table until Q. got enough red wine into me that I stopped). The first was: I only finished my PhD about six weeks ago. It might be premature to have expected to have it all sorted out at this point. The second point was: I can’t apply for a job for September now.

I think some part of my brain is still thinking in terms of academia, where you apply for any jobs months and months in advance and then you sit around to see if anyone contacts you. And that’s not the case at all once you’re outside of the university. The plan is for me to get a job for September, when E. will be (if all goes well) in school from 9:oo to 3:00 (or something like that) and I will have enough spare hours to put something together.

I can’t get a September job now, but I seem convinced that I have to.

6. I’m failing at this whole “PhD transition into life outside of academia” because I have no fucking clue what I want to do or what I can do or what I’m really qualified to do other than teach, even though I’ve been reading books and blogs and articles on the subject for a month now. And that makes me feel like I’m failing at being an adult, because I’m 35 and I should have my shit together by now. Plus my two sisters really have their shit together. My youngest sister is making a great name for herself in her field and will be off doing exciting things in exotic destinations this summer. My middle sister is in the midst of contract negotiations for the holy grail of academia- a tenure-stream position at a serious research institution.

I am not jealous of their (very very hard-earned) successes. It’s more that their successes are making my own flounderings ever more apparent (at least to me). I am so badly at sea right now. I hate Skyping with anyone in the family because when they ask what is going on in my life, I don’t feel like I have anything to tell them. E. and I did some stuff? I read a bunch of job ads I can’t apply for? I felt bad about myself again?

Partly it is because it’s winter, and it is dark and grey and cold (although we finally have some snow to go with the cold which makes it fun to be outside with a three almost-four year old). And partly it’s because I’m not getting enough exercise in (despite signing up for a 10K in June to light a fire under my well-insulated butt) because, well, it’s dark and grey and cold and now snowy, and I don’t do well with that if I wasn’t super fit to begin with. I tried running during my five hours a week during the day when E. is at nursery school but freaked out because I didn’t think I was using that time properly.

But mostly it is because I am in a moment of transition and everything, practically everything, in my life is in upheaval right now. And I can look at the situation as an outsider and recognize that this is the case, and recognize that things will get better, and recognize that it is unrealistic insane to think that I would be able to fix all of this in a month or two. And I know that five years from now I probably will have a job that I’m enjoying, and we will have resolved the issue of our family size (one way or another), and I will have made my peace with leaving academia, or will have found a way to stay in it that works for our family.

Right now, though, right here, I’m hurting.

So I’m writing it all down and I’m going to hit publish. Not because I’m trolling for sympathy. Not because I think anyone reading this can fix things.

Writing it down is the first step towards controlling these feelings rather than having them control me.

And I need, badly, to feel like I am in control of something right now.


Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Anxiety Overload, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Family, Life after the PhD, Lonely Onlies?, Money Matters, Second Thoughts, Who am I really? (Career Angst)

Work Matters

I haven’t said much on here lately.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and I haven’t been 100% sure it’s been the right sort of thinking for this blog.

It’s the usual story- the infertility blog that became a pregnancy/parenting blog but was still really an infertility blog so long as we were trying to expand our family.

And now we’re not, and this space feels funny whenever I try to think about branching out. But at the same time, starting a different blog feels even stranger.

This is my space.

This is my (online) home.

So I’m going to try to make myself comfortable in it again.


At the start of January I took out a notebook and started writing to-do lists.

I wrote down everything I could think of that was currently taking up time and energy in my brain. House things. E.-related things. Work-related things. Health. Travel.

Then I started twelve pages of lists in my notebook, one for each month, and started assigning things to each month.

This maybe sounds odd, given I’ve written on here that this is supposed to be a year of exploration for me.

To-do lists and regimented schedules aren’t exactly conducive to exploring freely.

It was an anxiety management strategy.

I was getting overwhelmed at all the things I needed to do to be able to work my way towards finding a job.

I needed to convert my CV into a resume.

I needed to join some professional networking sites.

I needed to e-mail some people and set up informational interviews.

I needed to take notes on some books I had read.

I needed to build a website.

Etc., etc.

The problem was, even though I had said (and thought I believed) that I wanted to find a job by September, my brain thought I had to do ALL of the groundwork by the middle of January.

So making the lists was a conscious way of slowing down the process. I put the CV into resume job (a big job) into February. I put the building a website into April. I slowed things down, and over the course of January I checked off almost everything I wanted to do. Things got a little derailed when I found a perfect contract job, because applying for it ate a whole bunch of time I could have used on other things, and then my energy was spent being nervous about whether or not I’d get the job.

Not only did I not get the job, but I didn’t even get an interview for the job.

That was humbling.

But then I reminded myself that I wasn’t even planning to have a job right now, and I moved on.


I think I have to rewrite February’s list because I recently met with my supervisor and he wants me to send the dissertation out as a book manuscript ASAP and doesn’t think I should “tinker” much with it. He’s already touched base with an editor he knows at one of the two most prestigious press houses in our field, so I really need to get the manuscript to the editor by the end of this month.

And that is a choice that will have consequences, because if I’m spending my time on dissertation revisions (even minor ones), then I’m not checking off the February items on my list.

Ultimately, it boils down to this: if I want to apply for a post-doc in the fall, and have any chance at getting one, I need the book at minimum to be out with a publisher and with two positive reader reports. The ideal would be to have a book contract. That means I have to get the book to the editor in enough time to get the reader reports back well before the application deadline, hence the rush right now.

But then there’s a big part of me that’s wondering whether I should even bother with the post-doc, because if I’m not going to get a tenure-stream academic job, doing a post-doc will just lead to me facing in a couple of years the exact same questions I’m facing now. Maybe I should be using those years to figure out what I want to do and developing the skills I need to be competitive at getting my dream job.

But then again, the post-doc would be flexible hours and OK money and I could stay in the ivory tower for a bit longer.

Q. is up for sabbatical the 2018-19 academic year.

We want to spend that year in Australia.

The post-doc would run right up to May 2018. I could finish it, go to Australia, and then figure things out afterwards.

I’m not at all sure what I want, but I’m trying not to close doors right now, so “get dissertation to publisher” has moved up the priority list for the month and all the job-related things are on hold. Except for my daily e-mails of keyword search results from a job aggregate site. If a perfect job comes up, I’ll still apply for it.

And in March I’ll turn back to my checklists.


I am REALLY struggling with not having an income.

It would be very hard for me to rectify this at the moment, given I’m at home with E. almost all the time, and will be home with him all the time once his nursery school closes for the summer.

It makes sense to not get a job before September, and we are doing OK financially. Not saving much, but we are good savers normally, and the rational part of my brain knows that this year will be a tiny blip in the grand scheme of things.

It makes me very anxious.

It stresses Q. out too.

I am looking for jobs (like the one I applied for) that would allow me to mostly work from home.

I should be treasuring these last few months with E., and I am, but the loss of any financial independence is casting a larger shadow on our time together than I thought it would.


I want, very much, to be able to pick my son up at the end of the school day.

I want, very much, to do work that I enjoy, that pays me well for the time I put in, that challenges my brain.

I have made some progress over the last couple of weeks thinking about what kind of work I want to do and (just as important) what kind of work I don’t want to do.

I haven’t made any sort of progress on the issue of how one reconciles those two competing, contradictory, seemingly incompatible wants I listed above.

I know I want to do Good Work.

Right now, I feel like E. is my Good Work.

But, on his own, he’s not going to be enough in the end.

I just haven’t figured out what will be.


Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Life after the PhD, Who am I really? (Career Angst)