Monday, February 28, 2011

Flipping Switches in Life

This is a topic that has been on my mind over the past couple weeks - I'm sure I've written on a similar theme before, but I can't be bothered to dig through my archives to find it.

There are seasons in life, I feel. My mom has said the same thing, as have multiple friends over the years. I haven't lived very long, so I can't say that I've had all that many "seasons". But I have had a few major changes over the course of my life.

And I want to talk today about the feeling of the switch flipping. Feeling like a new season is beginning.

After high school, I went to community college. I remember distinctly the year that I realized, "man I am done with community college. This season in my life needs to end." Unfortunately I wasn't quite done, and I remember the tension that caused - wanting to move on, but just not there yet. And when I finally did move on to university, I remember coming home and driving past that community college campus. "Oh I am SO past that" was the thought that came to mind.

My family now teases me, by the way, whenever I become too uppity about something - "Oh, we know," they say, "you are SO PAST that!" It's a funny reminder for me not to forget the lessons I've learned, "past it" or not!

I remember the point I thought you know, I am too old to be sharing a room. I don't mind roommates in a suite or an apartment, but when I shut the door I want to be the only one there. That point came after only one year in the dorm with a roommate - didn't take long, it was a short season! Ever since then, I've had my own room. (Not my own bathroom, thanks to living in a dorm with undergrads, but I'll get there someday...).

And then during my senior year in college, I watched most of my friends move past the "homework and classes" season in life, and eagerly embrace the "career and family" season in life. I heard more times than I can count about how burnt out my friends were with school.

I didn't feel burnt out.

That season in my life hadn't ended yet, I didn't feel the switch flip.

And now I'm four years into grad school. :) Fancy that.

I remember at the end of two years in grad school, having finished my Master's degree and passed qualifying exams, that again I felt the season changing. It was time to step up my game, become a world-class researcher using all the skills I've gathered to tackle interesting problems. And goodness knows I'm now trying my best at that, though I'm always still learning.

I realized in grad school that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. And there came a point where I could have pursued that dream full time. But it wasn't time. That was not the season.

I feel like I'm currently in the midst of switching seasons. I've moved from being a middle-career grad student, to an end-stage grad student. I'm not taking classes. I've begun committee meetings. I am focused on a clear direction, and I have a target graduation date. And, all my friends are slowly leaving. Ever since last May, the senior grad students I know have been trickling away. All the memories have been sweet, and of course I'm meeting new more junior students, but the guard is changing. I'm in the oldest cohort in the office. I've been the most senior person in my lab for a while.

Every semester there is a "Registration Day" where all the students register for classes or research units at once. There is a brunch for all the students while they do this, and it turns into sort of a social event. My first year or two, I didn't know many people to say hi to. The second and third year, I knew more and more people, until I knew the majority of the people at Reg Day. Now at the most recent Reg Day, the number of people I know is going down again. I'm becoming that crusty old grad student who doesn't socialize with the newbies - ack!

It's a bit sad to say goodbye to an old season. I remember moving into the office, and being the newest person in my cubicle. Now, since the most recent defense, the turnover is complete and everybody in my cubicle is more junior than me. This past Friday the youngest person in my lab graduated with her Master's degree. My advisor had a going-away dinner for her, with all current students and a few lab alums coming out to catch up and congratulate her. I saw how the lab alums have now moved on, are starting families and careers in industry. And then Saturday night, all of the girls in the office had a girl's night to celebrate both my labmate, and another girl in the office who graduated and are leaving this week to start jobs.

It's bittersweet. It's a pleasure to get to know my officemates and labmates, and a pleasure to celebrate with them whenever anyone defends or graduates or gets a job. But it's sad to see them go, and realize that seasons in life change no matter what you do or how much you like the current season.

I feel like I'm finally becoming a grown-up, and maybe that scares me a bit. I have a handle on school, and I'm starting for the first time to look beyond school to the rest of my life. Yikes.

The switch is flipping my friends, I can feel it. I am not yet "SO past that," but I can see the light at the end of this season. Life moves on, always an adventure.

1 comment:

  1. Good way of explaining these shifts in switches and seasons. I like it.