Author Topic: Hard choices  (Read 921 times)


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Hard choices
« on: March 29, 2017, 11:41:15 AM »
OK, I'm going to try to write out here what is going on in my mind.  It is complicated and years in the making and very much tied up in (not to be explicitly political but the past five months haven't helped) my being a widowed woman. 

We've been trying to find a solution for our situation for a long time now.  Andy got a sabbatical so we've had time to try to start a life together but he's always gone as much as he's here - a three day job interview the morning after the election, a two week residency in Sweden over Thanksgiving that left me with not just my kid but his,too, at the end of the college ap process, then a two and a half week absence in Feb that coincided with my terrible trigger dates (no fault of his own) during which we turned down job offers that fell too short of our requirements (we did it all on email) and this morning he left again for a conference for five days over which he might hear about the interview we're waiting to hear about another job which would mean relocating to the UK and which won't be resolved before I am elected chair of my department starting in the fall (that will happen tomorrow).  All these years of trying to make up for the years when Scott was sick and I wasn't a great professor, and the years trying to get promoted and all of the rejections and a life defined by work that no longer - for lots of reasons - seems meaningful now.  I never wanted to be a super-star but work was a huge part of my identity and I am both miserable at work and terrified what I will do if I give it all up.  I can never recreate what I have now.  If I walk away, there's no turning back.  I'm an art history professor with tenure; we don't get second chances.  Without my work, who am I? 

I'm so tired.  I feel like an overused tennis ball that has just been pummeled back and forth and back and forth.  I have tried to be careful but (and if you can't stomach the feminist part of this then stop reading) in the end, I lost.  I was the bread winner in my marriage.  I was the career person in my marriage.  Our union depended on that.  My career first.  I structured everything around that.  Now, I've agreed to something else now and that has been a hard pill to swallow.  I see the potential upsides in the abstract.  Yet, I've agreed to something I never, ever knew before.  Now the man is and always will be the one whose work means more and takes precedence over mine, in every instance.  That's really hard for me.  I chose it and I'm ok with it but it is really hard.  Who am I now?  This is not where I thought my very careful, calculated choices would land me.

I'm not sure what the purpose of this post is but Andy has gone off to his conference for the next five days and the "leave-takings" and his checking out for work when I just cannot ever do that are too much sometimes; they send me back to places I do not want to revisit.  Why do I have to be the one whose career gets lost in this shuffle of trying to build a life?  But it has.  Being a caretaker ruined my research project and prospects for promotion and now I've married a man whose career is far more established than my own - which never had a chance because I am a decade younger than he is and well, I just never got a chance - I only just started my project 2 weeks before the brain cancer diagnosis - dictate our future.  I love him and have no regrets but I'm depressed and sad as one can be  - all of these years of working so hard...the child is thriving and happy; the husband is enjoying his sabbatical; and I am just going through the motions in a job I no longer believe in and asking myself each day how it came to this.  WTF?! 

Thanks for listening. 

Not sure I want a response as much as I just needed to say some things out loud. 

« Last Edit: March 29, 2017, 11:56:26 AM by TooSoon »


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Re: Hard choices
« Reply #1 on: March 29, 2017, 11:55:35 AM »
I'm here and I hear you.


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Re: Hard choices
« Reply #2 on: March 29, 2017, 12:21:25 PM »
Now the man is and always will be the one whose work means more and takes precedence over mine, in every instance. 

Means more in terms of what? The idiosyncratic measures of worth in academia? This assumes you stay in academia. Lets say you don't. Say you find a way to channel all the energies you've poured into this field into another one. What would make it mean more? Money, your own fulfillment, saving the world?

You've worked really hard. It's okay to measure what will fulfill you now, rather than what you've invested in in the past. We don't live in the past. We live in the now, and the future. I realize that your choice will impact the future, in terms of security so I am not saying just chuck it. But you have a right to look at it within the context of where your life is now and determine if it's truly keeping you afloat or pulling you down.
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Re: Hard choices
« Reply #3 on: March 29, 2017, 01:10:29 PM »
No one ever lies on their deathbed and says "I wish I spent more time at work."

I would wager, most times, the regrets one has at the end of life revolve around personal relationships and what was done, or not done with the folks that are most dear to you.

Good luck - Mike

The war is over for me now. But those of us who did make it have an obligation to build again, to teach to others what we know, and to try with what's left of our lives to find a goodness and a meaning to this life.


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Re: Hard choices
« Reply #4 on: March 29, 2017, 02:07:36 PM »
After DH died, I lost my ambition.  Not fully, but... what Portside said here came into focus for me.  DH and I had both been working really hard, way too much, to prepare for our life/future together.  What a waste!  There was nothing to prepare for - our life together was now closed and over.  Three years after he died, I had a baby, and, being with a man who has a non-negotiable and extremely demanding work schedule, the bulk of (totality of??) household and childcare duties fell on me by default/necessity.  Me!  An overeducated career woman with nooooooo inclination toward domesticity and lots of rage over it.  The adjustment has been... less than graceful!  It's funny because - like you - my work had lost the meaning it had once possessed (in different ways I'm sure, but...), but I still resisted what that meant and how it all shook out and its repercussions.  I still resented that his work took precedence over mine.  I still do.  I'm in a search, or in a crisis - whatever you wish to call it.  I need to re-define for myself what matters to me, what brings me joy, what nourishes and sustains me.  A lot of the resentment I've felt toward my partner is really anger at myself for my choices, I believe (interestingly, choices I would not make differently now).  I just met a couple, and the woman's career has taken the backseat to the man's by household necessity and tenure/relocation dictates, and the changes in her life by virtue of household decisions have been very detrimental to her career.  And what was remarkable to me was that she didn't mention him at all.  No anger toward him.  He seemed irrelevant.  It was all search.  All about her.  Finding something for herself.  I find myself very often *waiting*.  Waiting for NG to get home, waiting for me to have some solitude or freedom, some respite from duty and responsibility, waiting to feel what I want to feel.  I want to stop waiting, and stop second-guessing.  I want to see that I have made the choices that have led me here, and see it all non-albatrossy.  I want to recalibrate and find new meaning, an approach that allows me to integrate the dumb (and necessary) requirements of my new life with the thing inside me that seeks satisfaction - intellectual, emotional, etc.  My entire life since I've been a cognizant being, I've been oriented toward achievement and identity as academics and career.  What do we replace that with when it no longer fills us up, or when life takes it away from us to an extent?  This change has been painful, but I am hoping that I will end up with a life more... meaningful.

Sorry for the babbling.  No idea if it's relevant to you. 
« Last Edit: March 29, 2017, 02:10:38 PM by Mizpah »
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Re: Hard choices
« Reply #5 on: March 29, 2017, 02:48:07 PM »
I am sure that the uncertainty of what the future holds is very anxiety provoking. You may have to reinvent yourself out of necessity once Andy secures a position and while this must be scary I think it could also be exciting!  You're dissatisfied in your current position and this could be the opportunity to find more fulfillment and something new to put your energy and passion in. Sharing the burdens of "breadwinning" can give you some freedom to make choices that are ultimately going to be better for you without the necessity to keep playing it safe. Nothing will erase all that you have accomplished to date, those accomplishments you own.

I hope Andy secures a position soon so you can start moving forward, in the meantime try not to let the unknown make you too crazy.

My comment on the feminist conflict is this, I don't think you being the breadwinner made your late husband any less of a man just as I don't think making decisions based on Andy's career makes you any less a feminist. Both ways it's putting the best needs of the family first.
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Re: Hard choices
« Reply #6 on: March 29, 2017, 03:28:34 PM »
Thank you for all of your responses.  I need to hear them.  I am exhausted and I am terrified because I have always held the reins.  To have no income (the reality if we move to England), scares the living hell out of me.  I can't help it.  I grew up in circumstances that made me want to have a stable, secure income.  I worked hard to make sure I had that and it has made it possible for me to provide the kinds of experiences for my child that I believe are important.  We are going to lose half of our income for a time.  It is scary for me.  I love Andy.  It's not about that. It's juts really really scary.  And MrsDan, you are right - I hate my job.  I have passions and skills that could be put to much more productive use --- and that's scary, too. 

Andy REFUSED until last week to even consider my being the sole earner in this household even though I have been talking about that option since September.  I liked being an administrator when I had that position for a semester. But now we are in crisis mode - time's up; I am going to be elected chair tomorrow - he's off at his conference and hasn't heard about the job in the UK.   He's finally willing to address it as a possibility.  That's where the feminist thing comes into play - we could have put into place a much better contingency plan in November than we can now but he WOULD NOT even talk about that option as a possibility.  We currently make the same salary so why shouldn't it be me that keeps the job?  His resistance to discussing this until last week (last minute) has been crazy making for me.  He literally would not even entertain it as an option when, as I have been saying, it might be the best (only) option for us.  We're married now and someone needs to have a job. 

« Last Edit: March 29, 2017, 03:31:04 PM by TooSoon »


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Re: Hard choices
« Reply #7 on: March 29, 2017, 03:41:44 PM »
And Mike, I don't live for work.  At this point, I keep this job so that my daughter and I have health care. 


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Re: Hard choices
« Reply #8 on: March 29, 2017, 04:36:08 PM »
Maybe you being the breadwinner wasn't an option for Andy because he didn't want to be married to a miserable and frustrated spouse doing a job that brings her very little joy. For me, it seems an amazingly fortuitous coincidence that just when you are on the verge of losing it and feeling so damn defeated with your job, Andy is now there by your side ready and able to financially -as well as emotionally- support your new life, your new adventure.

Leaving an old career doesn't mean failure, it just means you've outgrown it- you need different things now. It no longer fits or suits you. And congratulations! you now have the support you need to venture forth- scary and exciting in equal measures, I'm sure. Who knows what's out there awaiting you? But it really is time to find out, because the academic cage you're in now is slowly breaking your spirit- and no amount of security is worth that.

I'm a feminist, but my marriage was pretty traditional in a lot of ways. It can work when two people respect each other and value what each brings to the table. Communication is definitely key- as resentments can build before you know it (and boy can things get ugly when allowed to fester).

You have needed to be in charge for so very long- as the breadwinner, as the caretaker, as the single parent. I'm guessing giving up that kind of control will not be easy. But maybe it's time to do that thing where you fall backwards and trust that the person behind will catch you? Trust Andy. Trust yourself.
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Re: Hard choices
« Reply #9 on: March 29, 2017, 09:19:29 PM »
I've been thinking about your post all day.  Although our circumstances are different in many aspects, they aren't all that different on some others.  I established my first career as a single woman out of college and was 30 years old when I got married to my first husband Barry.  I had always supported myself and always expected to do just that.    I'm not sure if my expectations to be self-supporting came from a feminist perspective.  More than anything, I wanted to be independent of my family of origin.  I wasn't that self-aware of my motives back in those days.  My first husband was laid off from full time work 2 days before our wedding and he never worked substantially again.  I always expected that eventually, he would be on disability and our income would be reduced, but that day came much sooner than we expected.  I was also a long-term caregiver along with being the only significant breadwinner.  I didn't mind providing the majority of our income, but knowing I could provide at least assured me that we had a stable life and I could provide for some of his disability-related expenses.  I know it bothered him that he was not able to significantly provide toward our income.

After Barry died and I met John, we had decisions to make as well.  John was also an academic and we knew that it would be much more difficult for him to find work in a different location.  He was a tenured full professor and department chair at his university.  It made more sense for me to move to where he lived, and I made that move, fully expecting to return to my own profession of physical therapy after a short break.  I never expected to make the decision to leave my career, but due to some dissatisfaction with the jobs available and the realization that my body had taken some cumulative trauma from a lot of lifting, I decided with John's support, to retire from PT and go back to school.  It was a really hard decision for me to stop supporting myself and let John earn essentially our only income.  I felt incredibly vulnerable.  Part of the challenge was that I didn't know what I wanted to do next.  I had never considered changing professions.  John convinced me to just enjoy the, traveling, discovering the possibilities.

Then John died.  My source of income was gone.  I had let my PT license lapse and I had not kept up with professional development needed for licensure.  I didn't have a new career yet.  I had been in school part-time and I didn't yet have a new career direction.  I was lucky to be able to continue John's insurance, paying the premiums, especially with the cancer diagnosis that came weeks after John died.

I don't know that I would make the decision to leave myself without a reliable income if I had any inkling that John was going to die.  Here we were, 2 people who were widowed young (I was 47, he was 53) and neither of us fathomed that it could happen again so soon (I was 51).  It wasn't like we had never had this conversation, because we did.  It has taken me 3 additional years to get to the point where I am ready - educationally and emotionally - to enter a new profession.  This is a scary place to be right now, because I no longer have school to keep me occupied and I'm swimming in the job search process.  I am hoping to find work and to make another move (where I find work) and I have to start all over again.

I don't want to discourage you in making a decision.  I know my situation is relatively uncommon.  I know you are considering all kinds of scenarios and your situation is complicated.  Although it is scary making changes in a career, I like the direction that I have chosen - something about higher education here!  Whether it is your passion for your work, the effort you have put into your teaching and research, or the feminist in you, you have so many intricate details to consider in your decisions with Andy. I am confident that your love for each other will hold you together through this decision-making process.  If you make the decision to leave your tenured position, know that it isn't giving up.  I left my profession to pursue something different that allowed me to transfer many of my skills from one career into another that I will find satisfying.  It will be good to know that I will be self-supporting again, although my new career, extra education and all, will not bring me the same income as my career in PT.  That doesn't make it any less valuable.

Hugs to you...I hope this rambling post makes sense.

« Last Edit: March 29, 2017, 10:17:34 PM by Wheelerswife »
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Re: Hard choices
« Reply #10 on: March 29, 2017, 11:42:34 PM »
Love and hugs - I am not sure if my rambling below has any value, but here it is.

I have sometimes noticed that holding tightly onto what I have - however short it might fall of what might be better - means my hands are full and I am unable to grasp something different that might be there.  I have found it freeing to start to think about giving up my job and what that might mean, and how I would define myself and spend my time if I were not working 40+ hours a week at my only career.  I'm still fairly terrified to make that jump, but I know I can swing it financially very soon, so I have to get the "what next" story together.

I know your job is precious, TooSoon, in terms of reliable income and OMG! tenure, but I also know how thoroughly those in charge have shattered parts of it for you.  Who loves their job more now, you or Andy?  Even if the answer to that is Andy, I understand that you're giving up something huge and it's hard.

With that transatlantic possibility, I would wonder about positions in Europe vs. the UK; what it would take to get you a work visa prior to citizenship; how the Brexit negotiations go; and where Europe goes after German and French elections.  It's going to be awhile before the dust settles no matter where you are.

When we had to see how we'd juggle the kids, we didn't talk enough about it.  Michelle gave up her job because they wanted her back to work when the twins were six weeks old, and that was insane.  I was barely even able to think about the possibility that I could just stay on the reduced schedule I'd started when the girls were born, and really take on a serious chunk of childcare.  My salary was larger, and my position was secure, so that made it clearer.  A mitigating factor was that her PhD lab job had not worked out as she had hoped.  Once she quit, she didn't look back - but I can't say I was the adult in the room I wanted to be when that was going on.  As a feminist man who should have done better, I have regrets.

Michelle was skilled at rolling her own jobs - two different tech writer positions, patent law, a physics teacher at our community college, and even a dream of being a cancer researcher before the symptoms came back.  I wish I'd got to see her tackle that last one, as it might have really been her passion.  She had a unique creative impatience that cut through stuff.

What other things have you wanted to do?

Take care,
Rob T
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Re: Hard choices
« Reply #11 on: March 30, 2017, 05:53:23 AM »

I've been thinking about your post for awhile; my situation with my career was different as I gave mine up while my DH was still alive but this stuck with me.  This was/hell it still is the hardest part. 

Who am I now?  This is not where I thought my very careful, calculated choices would land me.

My DH and I worked for the same large company in different divisions.  We had the same career and we were both "stuck" at the levels we were at, timing meant promotions were hard to come by as our bosses were effectively our ages.    I was actually ok with it,  not to brag but I was great at my job, I loved it, I didn't want the paperwork and politics that would have came with a promotion.    He was offered a promotion but we had to move 4 hours away, into Toronto, uprooting our lives.  I turned down the promotion but was offered my current job in the new plant.  They were happy, I was happy, hubby was happy.  And then we found out our company has a stupid ass policy that they don't have to release a spouse to another division if they aren't promoted.   We made the decision I would resign so we could move as a family.    It turned out Corporate HR stepped in and forced the one division to release me to the other because well it was stupid not to.   

Fast forward 5 years, and my shift got eliminated (I worked midnights so I could be around for our kids during the day and I liked it).   We made the decision, that I would take the buy out because the alternative was working swing shift, hubby working steady days, and only seeing each other on Sundays and every two weeks for dinner. And having someone else raise our kids.   

Financially we were ok but I struggled with "who the hell am I now?"  I had worked the same job since I was 21, I loved it, even the bad days I loved it.   I was not, I'm not cut out to be a stay at home mom.  I  had dinner with a bunch of old co-workers about a month ago and the conversation kept coming back to the fact that none of them could believe I quit my job and didn't go crazy.   

But my priorities shifted, after DH died I was offered a job by a friend of a good friend, it was part-time to help out, work from home, something to help me pass the time.  I actually love it, I'm working full time now, low pressure, decent money.    No one can believe it, it's not "me". 

But, none of that has helped me with the question "who am I?"

 I don't usually agree with Mike and I may be putting words in his mouth but what I took from him, what I've experienced is, work became a huge part of my identity and definitely helped define me and it becomes a balancing act between work to live and live to work.   I hate instability, uncertainty.  I'm a planner, I had my life planned out and it didn't turn out at all like I planned.   So I'm left with "who am I?"  But I've realized my career and even my location  don't have a lot to do with that question.

I guess in the end I just wanted you to know I hear you.   None of this is easy. 


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Re: Hard choices
« Reply #12 on: March 30, 2017, 08:26:26 AM »

Sorry it is so scary.  I understand that.
« Last Edit: March 30, 2017, 09:06:42 AM by tybec »


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Re: Hard choices
« Reply #13 on: March 30, 2017, 09:53:21 AM »
Yeah, this is an interesting line of thought. I made a huge career shift in order for us to move to a certain location, a few years later I was widowed. So I've kept at this position. It is what I do, but not who I am. It allows me to do a bunch of stuff that lets us live our lives now, I work from home so can be here when I need to hire an electrician, or get the vet out for the critters. It allows me to be chief cook and bottle washer, and general dogs body around our place. Not that I'm getting much done around here. But I do appreciate the advantages of the job.
The hard part is that I work with younger people who actually trained to do this, I just came across it and thought "Yeah, I can do that". So sometimes their enthusiasm is trying. For me it really is a job, and yes health insurance for me and our 3 kids, not a career. In some time I may decide to try something else. And I am considering options. There is a lot out there. And TooSoon, maybe that is where we see the same path- there are a lot of options and I bet you have some ideas and will be presented with opportunities where ever you go.   


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Re: Hard choices
« Reply #14 on: March 31, 2017, 11:46:33 AM »
I want to send a heartfelt thank you to every single one of you.  I think I may have held on so long to the "I can make this work if I just keep doing what we were doing" approach that change has become the new terror for me, which is ironic since I did not have a fixed address or any worldly possessions until I was 32 years old.   That's when I met Scott and bought into settling down. 

I've had a good run being a professor.  I know I have made a quantifiable difference in the lives of so many young people who I now count among my friends and in some cases colleagues.  But I'm done with teaching.  With heavy heart as a person who believes in my core that public education is the one way up, I have little faith in it's future.  Now I'm both teaching in it and have a child in it.  I'm not optimistic.

To Rob's question, I did enjoy being an administrator for one semester.  It was so satisfying to have a faculty member come into my office and say, "Hey, I have this idea.  Is there any way we can do this?"  And I got to help people actualize their ideas.  That was satisfying.  Solving problems is something that makes me happy - I enjoyed that aspect of administration. 

[Sorry if this is taboo] We have been hosting refugees in our home, and it has been a really transformative experience.  I think I'd be happy advocating for refugees and immigrants and other marginalized peoples. 

I might just be happy reading all of the books.  Going back to school and getting another degree in literature would be my dream.  I've thought about law school, going back to school for sociology, opening a vegan food truck, starting a small farm (some of these are old ideas but they still appeal) - I don't know. 

But I appreciate every perspective you all have shared here.  I needed to hear your stories and thoughts.  I will read them again and again as I try to find my path. 

No, they are not going to put on my tombstone that I worked hard, but I want to die knowing that I did something important and I think I've reached the end of that line doing what I'm doing now.  So, hopefully, we'll be in a position to take the plunge soon. 

If not, and I'm back at my job in September as dept chair, you'll get another year of my moaning!  Thank you everyone.  xx