The Irreverent Professor

Unvarnished realities about life, teaching, learning, and change in this wild, wild world

Archive for the category “Marriage”

Getting Unstuck: Sacrifice

I feel sure that there are a number of people out there who think I’m bat-shit crazy.  I’ve moved 17 times in my adult life (six times to where I live now – I kept at it until it stuck).  I’ve changed jobs 16 times in 26 years, often into a completely different career (for example, caterer to lawyer).  I have four college degrees.

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When I got engaged, I told my would-be husband that I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to stick it out for the long haul because I didn’t seem to stick with anything for the long haul.  I’m happy to say we’ve been married for 15 years…in no small part, perhaps, because he’s been willing to move six times (and sometimes the moves were even his idea!).

Now maybe I am bat-shit crazy, but here’s the thing: I don’t just tolerate change.  I crave it.  I thrive in chaos.  I loathe the status quo.

So when someone tells me they really want to change ____ (job, career, relationship, location, etc., etc.), I am baffled when the next words out of their mouths are…”But I can’t.”  Sure you can.  You always can.  The thing is, change takes sacrifice.  It’s not so much that people “can’t.”  It’s that they aren’t willing to make the sacrifice.

I can’t even tell you how much I’ve sacrificed to make all the changes I’ve made over the years.  But I’ll try.  Here are just some of the sacrifices I’ve made:

  • Damaged or lost relationships with friends or colleagues.  So many I’ve probably forgotten some people altogether.
  • Money (sometimes significant amounts) on the sale of houses and condos in real estate transactions (we’ve bought and sold six dwellings in 15 years).
  • Opportunities to be near and with family, sometimes during major life events and crises.
  • Stuff–mountains of stuff.  Stuff I’ve replaced and had to get rid of again. Stuff I bought, was gifted, was given.  Stuff I loved and hated and outgrew.
  • Space.  I’ve lived in a 3500 sq. ft. house.  I’ve lived in a 1296 sq. ft. condo.  I’ve lived in several in between. It’s all the same to me.  You know, except for the amount of stuff I can fit in it.
  • Career trajectory, upward mobility.  I could probably be a Chief Purser, law firm partner, Full Professor by now if I’d stuck with one of those things.
  • A passel of kids (but we did manage to acquire one along the way.  And by “acquire” I mean adopt, not snatch…just for the record).
We completely gutted and remodeled the kitchen in this condo...and lived there two years.  Next!

We completely gutted and remodeled the kitchen in this condo…and lived there two years. Next!

Of all the things I’ve sacrificed over the years, do you know what I’ve grieved the most? (And I’d like to say it was relationships because that would make me sound all deep and stuff but…) A chicken basket.  A white basket with a small ceramic chicken glued on it.  It was given away in one of many “Brutal Purges” that resulted in hundreds of “off to the local charity” trips.  I’ve grieved it because my mother-in-law talked a store clerk out of it when it wasn’t even for sale and gave it to us as part of a wedding gift.  She cracked me up, my mother-in-law.

I’ve known people who have made the sacrifice, decided it wasn’t worth it, and went back to their old job/relationship/town/whatever.  I applaud that.  Some sacrifices aren’t worth it.  I wouldn’t give up my husband and son for anything.  I wouldn’t give up chocolate for anything. (As aforementioned, I’m neither deep nor sentimental as evidenced again by giving my husband, son, and chocolate the same priority level. But it’s chocolate, for heaven’s sake.)

But those who say they want to change, but can’t?  I’m not buying it.  It’s just a matter of whether value of change > sacrifice.

Carpe sacrifice!

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Getting Unstuck: Taking Action

I had two conversations with friends yesterday that have me thinking.  Both said that there had come a point (or several) in their lives in which they got “stuck” in some way and had a hard time getting unstuck.  It’s a relief to know I’m not alone in this.  What I’ve come to realize is that being stuck takes many different forms:

  • Stuck in a career – you don’t like the career you’ve chosen or you’re bored with what you’ve done for the last x years.
  • Stuck in a job – you love where you work but you’re feeling unfulfilled or you like what you do but not where you do it.
  • Stuck in a relationship – you’re in a bad relationship or you’re in a good relationship but you’ve gotten bored, lost each other, gotten stale.
  • Stuck in creative endeavors – writer’s block, wanting to get back into something creative you did before marriage, before kids, in college.
  • Stuck in education – I’ve advised many students who have changed majors umpteen times, gone to school with PhD students got stuck at ABD (all but dissertation), and talked to many who want to go back to school but “can’t” because _____ (fill in the blank here – too old, can’t afford it, too busy, etc.)

And these are just a few.

I’ve been thinking about how stuck I am for, oh, going on a good year now.  So who am I to talk about getting unstuck?  But one of the ways I was stuck was geographically.  I liked where I was living, but there’s only ever been one place that has had my heart.  A place I knew I was meant to be.  And in May 2014, we moved back to this place.  Finally.  After 25 years of living elsewhere.  Finally, we’re back.  Finally, we can afford to be back.  Finally, we accumulated the right combination of education, experience, and risk acceptance to move back to our little town and make a home here.  Sure we had to downsize and change our lifestyle in certain ways.  But sacrifice is also part of getting unstuck. (Hey, I think I just discovered my next blog post topic.  Yay me!).

My hometown, St. Simons Island, Georgia.  No better place on earth - for me.

My hometown, St. Simons Island, Georgia. No better place on earth – for me.

One of my biggest challenges (which I’m sure is shared by others) is paralysis of analysis.  I’ll think about and talk about being stuck.  I’ll lament and complain and get depressed about being stuck. I’ll whine and bitch and moan (and then wonder why suddenly none of my friends are available for lunch dates). But none of that does a damn thing to help me get unstuck.  The only way to get unstuck is to Take Action.  So we took action on the geographic stuckness.  Big Action.

But all action to get unstuck doesn’t have to be Big.  It can be small action.  It’s a lot less daunting to consider small action, taking one tiny baby step in the direction of getting unstuck.

I highly recommend this career book, which is tied to the Myers Briggs Personality Type Inventory.  It's one of my favorites.

I highly recommend this career book, which is tied to the Myers Briggs Personality Type Inventory. It’s one of my favorites.

In the past when I’ve felt stuck in a career (which has happened to me a lot!  I get bored easilly), I haven’t (always) just up and quit a job and gone back to college. I’ve started by having a cup of coffee with someone who was in the career I thought I wanted to be in.  Sometimes it validated my interest, sometimes it made me realize that wasn’t the career for me.  I ❤ career counselors and have talked to a few at colleges and who have private practices.  I’m also a sucker for personality inventories and trying to tie personality traits to careers that appeal.

I haven’t personally gotten stuck in education (hence, the four degrees on my wall), but have advised traditional and non-traditional would-be students alize to consider taking a degree or non-degree class or even a workshop in the field they are interested in at a community college to see if they really like it. Online courses make this pretty easy.  When I have wanted to go back to school, I start collecting degree requirements from different schools and programs to see which one “feels” right.  And you are Never. Too. Old.  My oldest student – in an online master’s program, no less – turned 70 just before she graduated.  So take that!

Of the friends I talked to yesterday, one stuck in his career took a job in a field he had previously only volunteered in.  While he’s not sure it’s the “right” place to be for the long haul, he took action and is (a) at least drawing a paycheck and (b) feeling like he’s contributing to society again.  He took action.  The other one, also stuck in her career, quit her job and took a low-stress (and low-pay) job.  Ultimately she realized that it wasn’t worth it to her and she went back to her old employer but in a new position.  Her action led to important information and an improvement in her situation.

Everyone’s different, but we all get stuck at times. When I was single (and wanting to be not-single), I used to say, “The right guy isn’t going to come walking through my living room” (although he did come through the T1 line to my computer–G*d bless online dating for geeks like us).  Likewise, the solution to stuckness isn’t going to come walking through the living room.  We have to go find it.  By taking action.

Carpe baby steps!

Once Upon A Time, 15 Years Ago…

I was just reminiscing about my wedding day.  We’ve been married fifteen years.  Fif-teen!  In these days of disposable marriages, I’m pretty proud of that.

Our wedding day.  A few years (and pounds) ago.

Our wedding day. The first dance.

I know everyone says marriage is hard.  It’s not.  At least not for me.  But I think that’s mainly because my husband is an extremely affable, friendly, conflict-avoidant guy.  The word everyone (and I mean everyone) uses to describe him is “nice.”  I don’t think that’s the word that first comes to mind when they meet me.

I grew up in a house where yelling was a perfectly acceptable form of communication.  We got mad, we yelled, we slammed doors, then hours (or days) later, we pretended nothing ever happened.  In my family, there was some crazy behavior (that in my childhood involved tossing me out a first-floor window and shuttling me over to my grandmothers to get me out of the middle of it).

My husband grew up in a Norman Rockwell painting.

Our wedding was a perfect illustration of our differences.  His dad was his best man.  He gave a perfect toast.  His mother made centerpieces and help decorate the reception hall.  They gave me pearls to wear on my wedding day.

For my part:

  • I got lost on the way to the church (or rather, my cousin got us lost taking a “shortcut”).
  • I had to carefully manage three (count ’em three) pews of parents…on MY side…to include my dad and his wife, my former stepfather and his then-wife, and my mom.
  • I forgot to put on my garter and didn’t realize it until they announced the garter toss (which was good, because there was only one single woman there and she would have been very embarrassed).
  • I chose a wedding venue with no alcohol permit so I wouldn’t have to worry about the behavior of certain members of my family.  As much.
  • I instructed them not to play the “Electric Slide” because I loathed it…and they did anyway. And it was a big hit.
  • The weather between Atlanta and Tennessee was so bad, most of my husband’s extended family couldn’t make it.  We had tons of food leftover and the venue staff ate well that night.
  • The music and video guy stepped outside in the middle of our ceremony to have a smoke and the “Ave Maria” played in a loop over and over…and over. I very nearly stepped away to turn the music off, but my almost-husband had my hand in a vise grip.

That last one was not my fault.  

But it was still a perfect day.

Older, wiser, a little heavier, but happy.

Older, wiser, a little heavier, but happy.

More importantly, it’s been an awesome marriage.  Fifteen years, six moves, one son, and countless jobs later, we’re still going strong.

Carpe anniversary!

Don’t Have Kids

This is what my mother said to me.  Well, actually what she said was “No” (in response to the question “Do you think I should have kids?”) but I didn’t think that made a very good blog title.  I asked her the question just before I surprised her with the news that my husband and I were going to adopt a child, so I set myself up to be especially dramatic and distressed by her answer (dysfunctional much?).

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My mom in a field of Texas bluebonnets

The reasons she said I shouldn’t have kids were two-fold:

1. She said no woman should have a child unless it was her intense heart’s desire to be a mother.  And since I had spent most of my married life saying, “No, we don’t want kids.  We are happy with our life as it is.” she felt pretty sure it wasn’t my heart’s desire.

2. She pointed out that I didn’t like kids.  I didn’t.  And I still don’t really like other people’s kids.  (Except the kids of my friends who are reading this.  I love your awesome, talented, wonderful kids, of course.  Really…)

My mother was a smart woman.  But she and I never really understood each other.  She didn’t understand my life choices, I didn’t understand hers.  We had exactly three things in common: a love of animals, a love of food, and a sense of humor.  But I loved my mother very much and am sad that she never got to meet my son (she died of cancer earlier the year he was born).

And here’s the thing: she was right.  I totally, completely, vehemently didn’t want kids…until I did.  And the fact that I was over 40 when I finally did…well, that’s just the way it happened for me.  There was a spell just after we were married that we “tried.”  And when it didn’t happen for us in spite of the evil, crazy-making fertility drugs that I took, we stopped and said, “Wait.  Is this even what we want?  Or are we just doing this because we feel like that’s what we’re supposed to do–get married, buy a house, have a kid?  So we embarked on a fun-filled 10 years of living child-free by choice.  Getting lots of education, traveling, building our careers.  Until we were 40-somethings saying, “What are we going to do for the next 40 years?”

Now I have an awesome, incredible, smart, hilarious son who is four and a half and I can’t imagine a life without him in it.  Sure I get frustrated and tired and aggravated with him (as I’m sure he does me).  That’s part of being a mom.  But he’s the best part of my life…other than my husband, of course.  (Dodging bullets left and right.).  My sweet son makes my life richer.  I have become more mindful because of him.  I stop and look at bugs, pick flowers, sing songs, dance in the rain.  Image

So mom was right.  And wrong.  Don’t have kids a moment before you are ready for them.  But if you do have them–by choice or otherwise–give them your whole heart and embrace your “momness” (or “dadness”).  No matter what anyone says.

Carpe momness.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Today I am Grateful…

I’m selfish.  And self-centered.  And I have (as Meredith Grey on Grey’s Anatomy would say) a dark and twisty side that sometimes takes over.

And boy, do I complain.  I complain at work.  I complain at home.  I complain on social media.  I complain about my kid, my family, my work, the weather, how hot my office is, my weight.  I complain.

But today I am grateful.  Today I am thinking about two friends roughly my age who have recently had serious health crises.  One had a double mastectomy after getting breast cancer for the second time.  She’s a single mother of two girls in and barely out of high school.  The other is a man I know professionally, but now feel like I know personally after following his journey through stomach pains that turned out to be a plum-sized tumor that now has surrounding blueberries, which is scary.  It is being taken out today (“fruit extraction”) and my thoughts are with him.

Today I am thinking about my mother, who died at 69 of cancer, six months before I got my son, the grandson she’ll never know.  (Although I’m convinced she does know him from wherever she is because I swear I hear her laughing when he does something that makes me crazy.  She loved the “payback” concept of her kids having kids.)

Today I am thinking about friends who have been through divorces–or worse–in their marriages.

How can I not be grateful every day for these two awesome guys?

How can I not be grateful every day for these two awesome guys?

Today I am thinking about people who have lost children, truly the most horrible experience I can think of.

And today I am grateful for things that I complained about yesterday.  Today I am grateful for:

  • Having so many opportunities to do work I love that I’m overwhelmed.
  • Having an energetic (and healthy) kid who runs me ragged.
  • Having a sweet and loving husband who doesn’t mind being portrayed as either “robotic” or “stable.”
  • Having students to teach (some of whom actually want to learn!).
  • Having the opportunity to live my dream when I get to move back “home” in six months to raise my son and be a multipreneur.
  • Having no answer (because there are so many possible answers) to the question, “What will you do as an entrepreneur?”
  • Having so many kind friends and family members that sent my son birthday presents and cards that I can’t find the time to write all the thank you notes.

Sure, I’m still hurt that my own father said “No, thanks” when I suggested my husband, son, and I come visit after Christmas visit (after 1,000 “Come visit us” comments from him).  But today I’m trying hard to remember to be grateful that between us, my husband and I still have one parent left.  Our son has one grandparent left.

And I’m impatient to move home to the beach.  But today I’m trying to be grateful that I have a job that gives me the chance to help (when I can) college students figure out their careers.  Because I totally dig that.

And I get frustrated at students who go through the motions and give me snarly faces in class.  But today I’m trying to be grateful for the ones who “get it” and who are making the most of their time in college.

So dark and twisty or not, today I am grateful.

Carpe gratitude.

What’s the Big Hurry?

This post is going to seem contrary to my usual “Carpe everything!” and my personal motto “Now is better than later.”  But it’s been on my mind for a while.  What’s the big, honking hurry everyone seems to be in these days?  Why are so many people (including me sometimes) so focused on getting to the next thing that they forget about the now things?

I have had several college students who got engaged during their senior year of college…or so soon afterwards, they still had awkward hair from wearing those ridiculous mortarboards.  Many got married to high school or college sweethearts.  They had been together a long time, so they were “soulmates” or such.  As soon as they graduated (and sometimes before), they got married.  Although I suspect some of them are in college to get their M.R.S. degree (yes, that phenomenon is alive and well, at least here in the South), some of them surprise me.

Really, no one looks good in mortarboard. But I was still happy to be getting my Ph.D.

Really, no one looks good in mortarboard. But I was still happy to be getting my Ph.D.

I’m not saying getting married straight out of college is necessarily a bad thing (and I will again catch all kinds of flak from my friends who did this and are still happily married).  But these kids (and yes, I think of them as kids) are missing out on experiences that come with being single in your 20’s: having your own apartment and never having to fight over the remote with anyone or eating the last of the chocolate peanut butter ice cream in the freezer.  Life-shaping stuff.

Without my single years in my 20’s, I wouldn’t be who I am today.  Maybe I’m just a late bloomer, but I needed that time to feel lonely, to learn to be alone happily, and to make some moves I could never have done as part of a couple or family.  I am not at all the person I was in college.  Or in my 20’s, for that matter.

This “what’s the big hurry?” also applies to the career types who are in so much of a hurry to climb the corporate ladder that they forget there are a lot of great things to experience (and learn) where they are–and more importantly, outside of work.

And to the students who are in such a hurry to graduate that they forget why they are in college in the first place–to learn, to experience “college life” which is a unique once-in-a-lifetime free-for-all the likes of which we long for the rest of our lives.  Don’t get me wrong, the Real World is great.  But there’s something about college…

And to the dreamers who are always thinking about the future (this is where I’m guilty) instead of relishing the present.

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery. Today? Today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.”  –Kung Fu Panda

I read a blog post by Rachel Macy Stafford “The Day I Stopped Saying Hurry Up.”  It struck me right in the gut.  How many times have I said that to my son as he watches the ants scurry around on the anthill or searches for the perfect rock?  Because wherever I need to go or whatever I need to do, I need to do it now.  Because now is better than later.  Only sometimes the now thing is the anthill and it’s really not going to make a big difference if I get to the office 10 minutes later.

When's the last time you took the time to climb a tree?

When’s the last time you took the time to climb a tree?

My life could have been very different.  I could have gotten married right after college except that He Who Shall Be Known as The One That Got Away and I couldn’t seem to get our acts together and ultimately married other people–all for the better I’m sure.  Instead I spent some time alone, learned to move around to different cities, eat out by myself, enjoy business travel, and accept the torture know as dating.  Ultimately I married Mr. Perfect when I was 32 and he was 35 (yep, late bloomers).

Lately I find myself in less of a hurry (my husband, one-speed Phil might disagree)…sometimes.  I’m a work in progress.  But after seeing so many friends and family struck down with serious illnesses, I realize hurrying past today toward tomorrow and next week and the next experience causes me to miss a lot of things and leaves me empty.  Now it’s time to stop and smell the roses.

Carpe now.

Treat Every Time Like the First Time–for Everything

This was the first week of the semester at the university I teach at.  I taught  pretty much the same courses I’ve taught every semester for the three years I’ve been here.  Shoot, they were basically the same classes I’ve been teaching for the last 11 years I’ve been a college professor (at several different universities).  Yet I was nervous as heck about walking into class the first day.  Some of my colleagues said they were too.  We decided that was a good thing.  Being a little nervous keeps us sharp and on our toes.  It may even have made us better professors this week.

A few nerves might be good thing to keep me sharp as a speaker

A few nerves might be good thing to keep me sharp as a speaker

The same thing happens to me when I speak to a group.  Although I have been a professional public speaker for nearly 15 years, I still get nervous each and every time I step out onto the stage (or dais, riser, carpet, or whatever).  And maybe that’s just the natural state of things for an introvert like me.  But I think it’s a good thing.  The fear at the beginning makes the feeling of accomplishment at the end all the sweeter.  Especially if it’s a hit (I ad lib and go rogue on myself sometimes, so what comes out isn’t necessarily exactly what I’d planned–sometimes a good thing, sometimes not).

I was recently reading this post “16 Ways I Blew My Marriage” by Dan Pearce at SingleDadLaughing.  What struck me was (a) he’s hilarious and (b) he was saying basically that we should treat our relationships as new all the time (my interpretation, not necessarily his).  When we get too comfortable, we get lackadaisical.  When we get lackadaisical, we stop trying.  And it shows.  Apathy and discontent ensues.  Fade to gray.

I have over time gotten apathetic about things like friendships, restaurants, vacation destinations, and activities. But maybe that’s because I started taking people for granted, ordered the same dish every time, didn’t research new destinations, and didn’t challenge myself, respectively?

I fortunately have yet to feel apathetic about my marriage (14 years and still going strong!), but I do occasionally ask my husband if it’s absolutely necessary that we walk around the house dressed like hobos in our very worst looking (but absolutely most comfortable) clothes.  [Despite this post, I do not anticipate putting on heels and slathering on make-up every day for my husband.  There is a limit.]

And if I’m completely honest about why we had a kid (in our 40’s), it was at least in part because of an outburst (ok, melt-down) I had one night about the boring predictability of our lives (work until 5:00, dinner at 6:00, watch television 8:00-10:00, rinse, repeat.  With an (almost) 4 year old now, nothing is predictable.  And it’s pretty awesome…because every day is a brand-new experience.

I’m going to try harder to find the “new” in everything and to treat every experience like it’s the first time.  Join me?

Carpe new!

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