Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Finding Cristy

How would you define yourself and your role?
I define myself as ‘Pamela.’  I don’t want to be categorized. I feel very strongly that there is a ‘new normal’ for all of us — not all of us fit in this very neat and tidy labeling and banding.
~Bitter Infertiles Podcast, Episode 20: Living Childfree
In 2010, Grey and I entered into marriage counseling. Having come up on almost the year mark of TTC without success and with me on the verge of finishing graduate school, our fights were becoming increasingly bitter. I remember feeling so stuck because I wanted so many things in life. I wanted a family and a home, but I also wanted a career. And that career path I was striving for was threatening to separate us with others around me dropping the idea of us living apart for awhile so I could start a postdoc. I remember Grey being so angry about me trying to obtain all the labels while seemingly discounting his feelings. Through counseling we began talking and finding solutions to all that faced us. Still, it was a hard time.
Fast forward 5 years. Though the Beats are here, the career that I always envisioned has failed to manifest itself and I'm rapidly facing burn-out from trying to jump through all the right hoops. About 2 months ago I applied for a position that I knew would be a bit of a long-shot, so I wasn't too surprised when I haven't heard back. But then an email landed in my inbox announcing interviews for potential candidates for this position. The top four. And it was when I read through their qualifications, saw what they had to offered as part of their packages and how disappointingly boring and benign their career paths were that it hit me that I was done with this road. Utterly and completely done.
Our society is one that is obsessed with labels. When you meet someone, it's the labels that help us quickly determine if this person is someone we want to associate with further. Either they are a (enter job of choice) or they are a (enter hobby/activity/sport of choice) or what ever else one might use to categorize themselves. Since the Beats have arrived, I find myself encountering a new group labeled "parent" where topics revolve around childcare, child-related equipment, parenting-related woes and other topics that I know would have sent a younger-version of myself screaming for the hills. Still, it's the labels that help us find familiarity; help us take those first steps to commonality.
The thing is, I am more than the labels attached to me. And increasingly I've been feeling more and more boxed in because of them. Instead of finding commonality, many of these labels are acting as barriers, limiting the interactions I want to have. A lot of this has to do with the programing in my head, engrained from such a young age, but it's hard too to do anything when you're feeling judged.
The big area for this has been with my career. For too long, I've believed that the career path I wanted was one working at a small college, setting up a research lab to use to educate my students. But with the current funding environment, the competition has gotten completely unreasonable and many of these institutions are now hiring people who clearly were trained for research institutions. In addition, I'm watching many go on to do postdocs which are averaging 8-10 years; a transition step that was originally meant to be for no more than 2-3 yrs max. All the while, as I watch many work more and more for less and less, there still exists the stigma for anyone who leaves academia. That by doing anything else those people automatically earn the badge of "quitter."
One major gift from infertility was learning that many times you need to shed the labels or redefine them in order to get what you want. Sure, it would have been wonderful to get pregnant the way most others do and surprise Grey with the news. Instead what I hold on to is the imagine of him lovingly carry the dewar containing the Beats when they were frozen embryos, transferring them from one clinic to another. Yes, there are days I wish we didn't have the debt we do from IVF nor that we had to lose the others along the way. But Grey has reminded me that part of what makes our family so special is how hard we had to fight to get here. And that the angels that we lost are far from gone; they now are watching over their brother and sister. 
But one final gift infertility gave me is knowing that the fear of failure and the worst case scenario is always worse than the reality. That someone else's "I can't imagine" can actually be the beginning of something so unique and special. Yes, those roads are often bumpy and hard, but a lot of the time they are also the most rewarding. The most freeing. And the one's where you are most likely to find yourself. 
So, I'm officially shedding a label. I have obligations I need to fulfill, but I'm now job hunting in a new way with a new outlook. I've already begun networking and looking into opportunities that I never would have considered before. Getting advise from others who I hadn't considered to ask. All the while, gauging myself and checking to see "is this possibility something I can see a future in."
All of this scares the crap out of me. The chance for failure is certainly high and I'm sure I'll look like a fool. But I no longer care. Because I know that at the end of the day, I'm more than a mother, a wife, a scientist, a rock-climber, an educator, a swimmer and a knitter. I'm more than the labels that have been assigned to me. Just as I am more than my infertility. At the end of today and every day to come, I am Cristy.
And that label certainly doesn't fit into any neat and tidy package.


  1. I'm sorry that your career path is not going the way that you would like. We are all afraid of change but maybe instead of you looking like a fool, you are going to find something that is even better than what you had hoped for originally! I wish you the best of luck finding your new career!

  2. This is the best post, Cristy! I can relate to those labels so much. Love that you pointed out that the worse case scenario is always worse than reality. Hoping so much you are able to shed your fear and labels and find the path you're meant to go on. Hugs!

  3. Cristy,

    You're never going to know unless you try. Set the bar high and go for it. We are more capable than we give ourselves credit for.

    Best wishes.

  4. I think I've commented to this effect before, but I spent a lot of time and money studying for one career path only to discover I really disliked it. Making a total switch was very scary, but in the end it was SO worth it I can't even explain. You're one tough mama and you can do this.

  5. Kudos to you for taking this plunge. What I suspect is this: people will find you different, interesting, fresh. And your heart will speak for itself. Deep breath ... we'll be here cheering you on.

  6. This thought reminds me of the Breakfast Club - we are more than our labels. I am proud of you for seeking something else for yourself and seeing where life will take you. I know how scary it is and how much you need change, so I will just send out tons of hope and luck your way.

  7. I can't tell you how much I needed to read this right now --> "But one final gift infertility gave me is knowing that the fear of failure and the worst case scenario is always worse than the reality. That someone else's "I can't imagine" can actually be the beginning of something so unique and special. Yes, those roads are often bumpy and hard, but a lot of the time they are also the most rewarding. The most freeing. And the one's where you are most likely to find yourself."

    As for the career stuff, you're dead on. I work at a small, liberal arts college (SLAC) and I'm so sad to watch academia chew my colleagues up and spit them out. We hire R1-aspirants, move them to the middle of nowhere, then gawk on cluelessly when they choose to leave. All the while we have post-docs scraping by when all the while all they want is to be TT at a school like ours. I'm one of the "lucky" ones that is doing - at least on paper - what I always wanted. Yet still, here I am, uncertain and uprooted because after attaining all that I thought I wanted, I now find myself unable to sell the house my dad left me when he died last month, unable to bear the thought of raising N so far from my hometown, so desperately wanting to accept any job I could conceivably get that would move me back there. When you're parentless, when your hometown feels like the only parent you've got left, all those career plans seem to fly out the window.

  8. From a fellow lapsed academic who got waylaid somewhere enroute to my chosen, 'perfect' career (a trajectory some of which had to do with attempts at family building, and a lot not), I say good for you for seeking out those alternatives. You may not find the perfect career choice in the next thing you do either, but I will say this: it'll be an education, an adventure, and you won't be left holding onto any 'what ifs'...Life is too short! I wish you the best of luck in finding yourself and your bliss.


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