I’ve come to appreciate those lightbulb moments that make you pause and contemplate your life. Recently, after two weekends of work I decided that I needed to get away for a bit and go on a road trip. It wasn’t really planned but I knew that I wanted a change of scenery and that I didn’t want to drive too far away. I drove to the next state over and found myself at my alma mater. I guess I should give the background story. My college experience was the first time that I had ever lived away from home. Outside of staying with my grandmother for a few nights, I had not been allowed to spend the night anywhere else. I packed way too much stuff and had to send most of it home. I was incredibly studious and was hyper-focused on making sure that the balance of my school bill was paid. I took a lot of classes and worked several jobs so that I would finish my degree as soon as possible. I lived in the library and sang in the choir. I knew a lot of people but was never invited to a party or asked out on a date. It was so nostalgic to walk back on campus eight years later with three additional degrees and years of professional practice. I had the opportunity to speak to students in the same classroom that I was taught in and it felt incredibly weird but full circle to be introduced by the title of “Doctor.” I was reminded of the fact that I’ve learned so much over the years and as a result my worldview has shifted a bit. There’s nothing like being reminded of where you came from and I think that acknowledging the past can be a way to give ourselves permission to create a future that we want.
This morning I was reminded of the fact that today marks a year since I defended my dissertation. It was one of the most nerve wracking experiences of my life and it was one that I didn’t really prepare for. You heard that right. I started practicing what I would say about two hours before it happened. I did horrible on the practice tries and my voice was shaking because I was so nervous. Afterwards, I just sat with a glass of my favorite wine and waited until I saw the email that confirmed I had passed. It was an incredible feeling. I wrote around a year ago that what I wanted to have a more permanent home base and that I wanted to seriously consider settling down. I moved several times and finally settled down and started working in my field. I started three new jobs and had an entire life overhaul. I’m a bit closer to believing that finishing the degree was worth it in the long run. I would still be paying back the loans regardless of whether I finished or not. I’ve traveled to several countries and decided to work a more flexible schedule. It’s been a roller coaster with a lot of changes. I’m still writing a lot but most of it is in response to my students and the traveling bug continues to bite me. I’m curious to know what the next year will bring.
This year has definitely been one for the books. So much has happened and honestly I didn’t have the opportunity to write as much as I wanted to. I have to say that overall this year was better than last one and I am definitely grateful for that. There were only two bone-crushing, crippling, and anxiety producing heartbreaks. Which honestly is probably a miracle in itself because I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve more often than not. I received a brand new set of initials that I had been working long and hard on for the last six years. Finally finishing school and receiving a PhD was one of the highlights of the year. The sigh of relief that I had after my dissertation defense was an amazing feeling. I traveled to several countries that included the Dominican Republic, Italy, Switzerland, Iceland, Aruba, Jamaica, Australia, Grand Cayman Islands, and Bahamas. I also presented at two professional conferences and got a job that I had been wanting for YEARS. I started a new career that I genuinely like. I moved across the country and met new people and learned more about myself in the process. I had the opportunity to do more couples therapy work which was challenging but enjoyable. After two years of traveling for work I decided to settle down for a bit and get my own place. I don’t regret it yet. Overall, it’s been a fairly productive year and I hope to do more in 2019.
I’m very late, but I finally watched the movie Acrimony today. I’ll admit that I didn’t have very high expectations but it was a decent movie. There were so many mental health and social psychology applications within the movie. The main character Melinda went above and beyond in trying to ensure that her husband Robert was successful. But throughout the movie it became clear that he was using her. Being the only spouse supporting the family financially for 18 years took its toll on Melinda and she snapped. She had lost herself in the marriage and in its subsequent downfall. She invested heavily in a dream that she saw her husband’s fiance getting and it was too much. The money that she had been given didn’t hold a candle in her mind to spending the rest of her life in luxury with the man that she held down for years. While ten million is nothing to sneeze at, she could never get the time back that she had spent in the relationship. The entire movie was an example of why doing the right things for the wrong person can be detrimental. Melinda’s family was supportive and tried to warn her from the very beginning but she chose her own path. It wasn’t pretty and it was full of frustration and in the end, loss. Yes, she was young when she first met Robert but she put up with working two jobs and leaving him at home sleeping every day for well over a decade. It’s good to believe in people but there has to be a limit. Yes, there were definitely some mental health implications but Melinda was incredibly hurt and she absolutely did not have the coping skills in place to adequately deal with a loss of that magnitude without losing her mind. She just couldn’t walk away and in the end she paid the cost.
Religion is one of those things that you aren’t supposed to mention in small talk. You don’t ask someone about their religious affiliation after you’ve introduced yourself because it is a hot topic. In the last few years the gap between myself and religious affiliation has widened significantly. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak at an international conference the focused on cultic organizations. Very interesting stuff. As one of the few people of color in attendance, I shared a bit of my personal experience with a branch of a religion that had a leader who dictated what to wear, what to eat, and where to go and expected to be obeyed. While the peacefulness of country living was present, it was overshadowed by oppressive rules that kept the leader in charge. During the duration of the conference I had the chance to attend seminars and meet other attendees who had once been in cults but left at some point. Many were born into various organizations that their parents had joined years ago. After the conference I wanted to read more about the experiences of individuals who had become caught up in cults and religiously abusive organizations. After meeting a few of the contributor’s at the conference, I read a book called Whispering in the Daylight and the author wrote about the cult led by Tony Alamo. It was fascinating and bone numbingly sad at the same time. One thing that was particularly sad was the fact that parents surrendered their children to be beat mercilessly and starved. They also allowed their girls as young as age 9 to be the “brides” of the leader. All in the name of religion and doing what they felt to be right. The question that always seems to be asked is how do people end up in these type of situations? The truth is that people tend to want a sense of purpose. Having a charismatic leader who seems to have found the meaning of life or claims to have some exclusive relationship to a deity can appear to be a good thing. It’s fairly easy to forsake all when one believes that not doing so would lead to eternal condemnation. By the same token, believing that your actions can earn you eternal bliss is an attractive idea. I think that it’s even different for children who grow up in that type of environment and have never known anything different. Reading the book about some of their experiences and how hard it has been and continues to be to adjust to “regular” life was eye opening. One thing that I believe is important to remember is that wanting to believe in something or someone isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. But it can become problematic when one consciously decides to yield their free will without reservation to another individual. It’s a strange dynamic that I find intriguing.
It’s weird to get a PhD. I know a lot of people don’t say it but achieving something like that makes you look at life differently. While my overall goal was to use the degree for higher education, I’ve found myself in the same field I’ve been in for the past 6 years. After all that time and energy spent and all the late nights and revisions and I’m not exactly working in my field full time. I need to have a strategy and to find out a way to maximize this new education level. This summer I plan to be more focused on having a plan and implementing it. I want to do more things and working on creating new opportunities. But I need to be more disciplined and consistent in order for it to work.
The past few weeks have gone by extremely fast but at this point I’m at the end of my doctoral journey. It’s been a long six years and I can’t believe that I have been in school consistently since 2008. That’s an entire decade of my life that I can’t get back. I haven’t even decided to real if it’s been worth it. However, I think that so far it has. I’ve had the opportunity to work full time and live in multiple places while working on my education. But now it’s time to make new goals as the ink on the new initials after my name continue to dry. I need to find something meaningful and while traditionally I’ve found that in education, I’m open for a change. If I’m being honest, I’d love to spend some dedicated time addressing my rotted carcass of a love life but that could be problematic and it isn’t a guaranteed win. It’s a hope. Needless to say, I have to fill my time with other things than school at this point. It’s going to be weird not having a paper due or assignments to complete. Right now my focus is on my job search and figuring out where I’ll be living next. I want to enjoy the feeling of completing the highest degree that one can earn but it just feels somewhat hollow at this point. It’s not a letdown but it’s just weird. I want to start writing more on a creative basis and I’ve been doing better so far this year with making in-person connections with people. I’ve had the opportunity to reconnect and have already traveled to Europe once this year. I would love to do more traveling but most of all I think I also want a real “home base” for once. Like an actual home/apartment where I live permanently. I want my life post-PhD to involve getting settled down at some point and moving to a different chapter that could possibly include marriage and kids. However, it’s going to take a huge shift in focus and being deliberate in creating the life that I want. I’m determined but I need to plan so that I know the next thing I’m working towards. I have to fill this empty space of time.