An exit interview with the Dean

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About one month ago I had my exit interview with the Dean. Although I have always enjoyed a good relationship with the Dean (who hired me directly, I was not hired through my Department), I found myself growing increasingly nervous. I tried to allay my fears by conducting a Google search on exit interviews, but I could not find much information. I tried to talk myself down, but my fears grew and grew. Thus my the time D-day came, I found myself almost speechless with fear.

I arrived 5 minutes early (it’s not like I was being productive at my desk) and the Dean was running a few minutes late, hurrying across campus from another meeting. The Dean had a new secretary who was in place – a cheerful, bright soul, which was not what I needed at the moment. Feeling sorry for a newbie, I then decided to engage her in friendly ‘how are you settling in chat’ at I sat on the very edge of my seat, feet jiggling 60 miles / hour. Big mistake. My mouth and throat were dry and swallowing was a task akin to getting your first R01 (i.e. something to be worked on for years and only achievable by this every experienced). The secretary offered me a drink – given my issues swallowing I politely declined. Where by ‘politely declined’ I meant screwed my eyes up, uttered a strangled ‘umf’ and shook my head wildly.

The Dean came. She also offered me tea. I probably should have declined (see previous difficulties swallowing) but (probably to delay the inevitable) I agreed. Off we went to the kitchen and the Dean smiled and said “look, I am even washing your cup”. Tricks! Tricks! I was not falling into this trap of false kindness. I pursed my lips and grabbed the cup with a superior air. OK, OK, I smiled and simpered and gently took the cup while feeling bad, but hey, it is the thought that counts.

We sojourned to the Dean’s office and so the ‘interview’ began AKA the ‘why is my school not good enough for you after all we have done for you?’ The Dean appraised me, she raised and eyebrow, and she said “So… I understand why you are leaving”.

I. Was.Not. Expecting. That.

The Dean must have seen my surprise, because she countered “You think there is a better environment for you elsewhere. It is human nature to look around, find the best environment and gravitate towards it. I can’t blame anyone for doing that”. I was really shocked at her kindness and maturity and well… grace. Although I was nothing (relatively) to the School – one small grant, one co-taught course, not many publications, it is still seen as a loss when faculty leave. But what followed with the Dean was an open, honest, and frank discussion of what had worked for me, and what had not. The Dean said many times (in so many words) ‘I am sorry to lose you, when I employed you, I thought you were a great Scientist, and I still think that you are. I wish you would stay at the School’ and it was interesting to hear all about what she was doing, her motives and movements, her plans.

One thing the Dean said which really stuck with me (again, slightly paraphrased) was: “If you think you can do better Science elsewhere, then we have to let you go. We are a Science Institution, we have to support Science”. It was a grounding moment. Something I have been thinking about a lot recently, and may write a post on, is the ‘ego’ in academics, the ‘I’, the ‘me’ and how destructive it is. It was grounding to hear the Dean take the ‘me’ out and just focus on the School’s mission: to do good Science.

Not all my goodbyes were that positive – some, in fact, highly destructive. But I’ll remember my exit interview with the Dean as a wonderful learning / mentorship experience for me, as someone very Junior. Often, when difficult or hurtful / reject-filled situations arise at work, I’ll try to think “what is best for the Science?’.

Happiness in academia

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Pieces on the problems in academia seem to be endless. Forbes were hugely criticized as outdated after they claimed that University Professor was the least stressful job; and the difficulties of academia in the new funding climate were laid bare. Yours truly wondered whether it was unethical to bring the brightest and best students into such a harsh work climate. And now a well known academic blogger has joyfully kissed goodbye to academia and feels ‘liberated and happy’.

It is true that academia has become extremely challenging. For those not in the know, the financial crisis has reduced funding, and when your job relies on securing government funding there is increased uncertainty. The federal funding rate has decreased from 33% to less than 10%. That is, less than 1 in 10 grants gets funded (even less if you are lowly beginner like me), which means that you have to submit four times as many grants. So you spend your time writing unfunded grants, rather than say, doing the Science you love. Yet to stand out, you are supposed to be producing more Science than ever; which is somewhat of a challenge since the Earth, rather cruelly, has not decided to rotate on its axis just a little slower, and so give you more hours to the day.

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It’s difficult. I had many comments on my last post (some in private) with people desperately grateful to feel heard and understood. People who spent much of their private time crying. But we’re not leaving now, right (or at least I am not)? So we have to find a way to make it work. Which is a roundabout way of saying that I have changed jobs. In early February, I handed in my resignation. It was a long (5 month), and very difficult decision. I have only been in my current position for 18 months, and I have many, many wonderful things to say about my Department. Clearly there is some fantastic research going on there. There is also a reasonable amount of money, a Chair with an open door, and a collection of kind-hearted people. Saying goodbye to the people who had thrown me a beautiful baby shower just 4  months after meeting me was not a trivial undertaking.

However. As much as there was somewhat of a personal fit, there was not a professional fit. After 18 months, I did not manage to establish a research team with any of my colleagues. Science no longer operates in a vacuum; the image of the mad Professor sitting alone in their laboratory at all hours awaiting their moment of genius does not apply to bad funding climates where one has to be collaborative, with fingers in many pies, conducting safe (fundable) Science.

mad scientist

I think I came in with the wrong attitude. I tried to give my time freely; I sat on committees, gave lectures, organized seminars, never turned a student away. In my work I never turned a project down; I offered myself as free statistical labor and Chaired working groups. I think it is hard to take that this did not work out.

It was actually a very difficult time for me; I take these things hard (too hard I think), and spent a lot of time crying and scared to do anything.

As it happens, I have been working with colleagues at Baylor School of Medicine. I guess it is a better fit there. They really like my Science, and have bent over backwards to try to make my ideas feasible and fundable. There were some amazing and exciting moments in which we would have a discussion about what I thought needed to be done in the behavioral genetics of obesity, but how I felt these ideas were just not practical. I vividly remember my colleague Sheryl coming into a meeting the week after such a Discussion and saying triumphantly ‘I can do it! I can design the study you need!’. And she did. I have written grants with the behavioral group and been blown away by how much support and feedback they have given me, and by how many doors they have opened (even when I was not ‘one of their own’). I loved that after submitting a grant I heard the words ‘So… what is the next project we will work on?’. I see their papers come out and am jealous I did not work on that project. (<- this is always my no. 1 tip for people looking for an academic institution – do you wish you were on the papers coming out of that place?).

So, when they invited me to interview last August (yes, that long ago). I agreed. I was quite surprised when they offered me the position, and even more surprised about their willingness to accommodate my concerns about funding, and the kind of start-up and support I would need. It took a lot of thinking about; the group at Baylor are very successful, well-known people. I really spent a lot of time thinking ‘ummm… why would they want me? And will I be a giant failure in comparison?’. Baylor require substantially more grant funding than UT, even than UAB (although no formal teaching) which, as outlined above, is a difficult thing in today’s financial world.

I discussed things with my School. Ultimately, and it hurts to say this, they did not make an effort to keep me. The words were there, but when I asked if we could have a meeting to discuss my 5-year goals, what I needed to do to get there, and how I could make this path happen I was told ‘No. Just stay if you want to, and go if you don’t’. So, I picked to go to the people who had laid out concrete ways to support to me.

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It was phase 2 of a difficult time. My fear had been all along that it would be hard to live up to the academic credentials of the people at Baylor (they are really awesome), and there was some feeling that I would not however, I have been really spoiled in my training so far;  have always been told to push myself because I can achieve anything I put my mind to – that I am as capable as everyone as anyone else, and that success goes to the persistent: so persist! I was hugely respected by my PhD mentor Jonna, and given lots of analyses to lead at a young age. I was pushed by my postdoc mentor Donna to follow my dreams and by my postdoc mentor David to reach for the stars and keep trying. I was trusted with opportunities and made to feel good. And ultimately, I do best in an environment in which I have to strive to keep up – I do well if I feel I am not ‘making it’ and thrive in competition.

That is the environment I have chosen to gravitate back to – whether rightly or wrongly. The group at Baylor do demand high productivity, but they also love to see people follow new ideas and try new things. They love thinking about how they can push the boundaries of Science. I have a few collaborations there already and am enjoying working with people who make things happen – who turn ideas into projects.

So, from today, I was a member of The Children’s Nutrition Research Center, at Baylor College or Medicine. I promised myself that if I made the move, I was not going to live in fear of not living up to their standards or getting funding (that part of my life is over, right?). I am so excited to keep my epidemiology going (which is somewhat ‘safe’, and the result of an amazing mentor at UVA – where I would also move in a heartbeat) but also to explore new ways to bring epidemiological approaches to conceptualize and understand our eating behaviors.

Bad ass office

Bad ass office

And I have a BAD-ASS office, which currently has two fish tanks  (one salt water, one freshwater) and a whole tray of plants.

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I am excited because I can see productivity on the horizon, collaborations, and new Science. I feel valued and respected, even though these are people that I have so much to learn from. And coming full circle to the  title of this post: if you are in academia I encourage you to evaluate yourself and ask: do you have this? Are people excited for you to be a leader in Science? Do they recognize your unique needs and try to meet this? If you want independence: can you see that? if you want to be a part of team rather than a leader: do you have that? My old office mate Claire (very wise young lady) inadvertently prompted this move as well. She said that she and her husband were going to stay in Science until it was ‘wasn’t fun anymore’. Junior academics: are you having fun? I moved to have fun. Nothing is guaranteed anymore, so you might as well enjoy yourself on the way up or out.

The resolution to the problems in academia seems to me to be to find your happy place and stick it out as long as you can. I hope that this is what I have taken a step in this direction.

Image credits

http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1144

http://www.withlove-rachel.com/2013/02/i-may-be-geek-but-i-am-definitely-not.html

So Dr. Wood… should I do a PhD?

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Toasting my PhD

I am sitting at my desk at 10 am, just 8 hours after I last left it. The pattern of 3 out of 4 nights this week. To my left, a venti latte. To my right, a picture of Sam from his hospital shoot, with his 1 month hand- and foot- prints immortalized in plaster of Paris. At the moment I see way more of that picture than I do of my actual son. Last week I traveled Tuesday -> Saturday. I was on the office Sunday. This week has been 9am-2am most nights. I made it home for dinner once. I am working late on Monday, and travelling Wednesday -> Saturday.

Every time I see my son he seems to have changed; his face is rounder. I am sure he got taller. I am starting to be glad he has a picture of me in his bedroom. His deeply excited cries of ‘Mama’ and his plentiful kisses when he sees me are simultaneously reassuring and devastating. How can my heart be warmed and broken at the same time?

I take a drag of coffee, and smile at my student. He looks nervous and says “I wanted to ask you a question… do you think I should do a PhD?”.

The worst question. It used to be an awful question to answer for sub-standard students. How do you dash their hopes and dreams? How do break the news to them that they are not who they think they are? How do you make it NOT sound like you (a PhD-level Scientist) are any better than them? That we are all just different? [Hint: I use "Great question! What skills do you think it takes to do a PhD? Do you think you have those skills? How do you think you would develop them? What sort of base would you need? What might you do to acquire them"]. But this student shows all the promise of being a great PhD student, so easy as pie, right? A quick yes, and a cheer, and high-five and a discussion of all the wonder that lies ahead.

Except, Science has changed. Science used to be known for being tough, and full of rejection, but ultimately a fun and rewarding enterprise. Intellectually demanding, often temporally demanding, but the reward of leading a research team to answer you own personal curiosities about the world was a goal no one could put a price on. Now? The funding situation has been terrible for the last 5 years. When I submitted my K award in 2010 the world was reeling from the shock of NIH dropping the pay line from a score of 10-40 (out of 90) to 10-30. It was absurd, people said. It must go higher! For my final cycle they dropped it to 19 (although eventually upped it to 25 which is how I got mine funded). Yes, 25 out of 90. Wonderful.

Shocking.

Terrible.

But these were the tough times that you had to ride out.

Due to budget cuts, the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off - Images and gifs for social networks

But it didn’t get better. The funding rate stayed at ~ 9%. That is, 9% of grant written get funded. Or, 91% do not. And then what happened? Senior people got their grants cut, they got the number of years on their funded grants cut, they lost their lab technicians and their postdocs… so they wrote more grants to get them back. Making the grant pool more competitive. So the 9% funding rate, became more like 4-6% for new investigators.

So what do new investigators do? They take on more work. They pick up the slack the funding mess left behind to try to make a name for themselves, to establish themselves so they could not be competitive against Chairs and even Deans. They write more grants than ever before, and they do more analysis than ever before, and they snap at the heels of anyone who can give them something to do that might bolster their CV.

But it’s OK because they are following their dreams, right? Except they are not. Funding uncertainly means that only the safest Science gets funded, in the areas currently identified as ‘priority’. Science is rife with tales of ‘I do what is fundable, not what is important’ (the two are obviously supposed to be interchangeable).

It’s along climb to faculty. And then you get there, and there is no relief. You are the 32 year old provider for your family, working endlessly, unsure if you’ll even keep your job (and watching your colleagues lose their).

So, what do you tell your promising student then? You are the role model. You have papers, and the awards, and the grants they put on the pedestal with you. Do bring them down? Or do you take the responsibility for the life ahead? Your job is really to continue academia and bring the brightest and the best in. But those are the ones you usually feel the most empathy for. They are the ones you most want to help.

If life is really about happiness, at the end of the day, what do you say when people say

“Dr. Wood, should I do a PhD?”.

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OK, it’s not that bad. It’s really not. Not always. I have times when I just love my job. I come up with a new idea for a paper. I get work with an inspiring team. I lead a student to discover their passion. I travel to some cool places (although I am getting sick of Orlando, San Francisco and D.C., dear conference organizers). I get an interview with Good Housekeeping (yes! I did). I write a chapter for a medical student’s textbook, so I think I might actually reach some people (now there’s a thought). I like to think I will in some ways provide a good role model for my son (although there are many paths to doing that). But the Science we are in now, if very different than the one we got into just post PhD. And I think that we have a duty to prepare out students for that reality, so that they can make an informed choice.

And it has been different since the choice was work vs. Sam. Work has a lot to live up to.

For what’s it worth, with this student, I focused on the next step, not the bigger picture. I explained how rewarding, but how long, and how hard a PhD was. How I remember getting the night bus home from mine, and the night bus did not even start until 1 am. How I openly tell my PhD students that I expect them to work weekends, as well as evenings. How you are welcome to spend time with your family, and have every right to, but you have to understand you are in competition with people who do not – so make your choices accordingly. He still wants to do a PhD. I’ll leave the supervisor of THAT to deal with the longer term questions.

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An Aside: I wrote this post in respect for 2 of my 3 blogging goals for 2014. One is to blog at least twice a week so that I can join a blogging network, and be more part of the blogging community (OK, so I am not achieving that one yet – but see the working until 2 am thing, mmmmkay?). The others are to (1) be brave enough to blog about something other than Sam – it can be hard to sit and write about things I do not feel so confident in; and (2) to be more honest about the ups and down of life. 2013 was really very hard for me, and I hardly ever wrote about it. I think there is that tendency in all of social media: facebook, blogs etc. We write about all the good, and very little of the bad. I think that sometimes people that showing that things are tough is a weakness.

Personally, as a reader, that makes me feel really shitty about myself sometimes – like I am the only one with hard times, or that I should just ‘buck up and be happy’ because everyone else is. I want to write more honestly about some of the things that are hard in life, while of course celebrating and sharing the good things. This was an attempt at that. And I am hoping that it will turn out to show strength of character, not the reverse.

Images credits (stolen from….)

http://ammamarfo.com/2013/02/20/highlight-reel-syndrome/

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Really Huffington Post? Really?

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C’mon, I love the HuffPo. I like ‘crunchy’ / ‘hippie’ ideas – I even have such leanings myself. I proactively support women’s right to make choices about their healthcare. But can they not collide so horrifically in a piece such as:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/08/photos-home-birth-social-media_n_4549531.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000009

I’ll save you clicking the link. Ruth Fowler wanted to instagram every moment of her homebirth. She did – including her decision to have a whisky sour to take the edge off the pain (in her “all natural” [cough - alcohol?] birth]. She shared much of the pain, and the wait, and then boom: a cute little baby on an immaculate, naked mother… a big gap and ‘Oh, I woke up in hospital after a hemorrhage, took lots of fentanyl [a sedative] and ohmygosh my midwife and doula were amazing I couldn’t have done it without them’.

The Huffington Post called it the ‘uncensored… beautiful, messy, reality of homebirth’.

As someone who has been though a severe postpartum hemorrhage, let me disagree. That is bull. What we saw was beautiful, I will agree.

But I saw no mess. You want to know mess? It is when you bleed so much a biohazard bin is full, your blood runs off the bed, off the splash pads, can’t be absorbed and runs all over the floor for your husband to clear up. That is the mess.

This is the aftermath of a (much cleaned up) messy birth

This is the aftermath of a (much cleaned up) messy birth

And the reality? The reality is that in these births, the husband sits by helplessly, holding a newborn he is not sure he wants – if it costs him his wife.

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The reality is that it is not your midwife and doula you should be thanking, but the medical team (for me: 14 specialists and counting) and the nameless blood donors who allowed your child to have 2 parents.

The uncensored? The uncensored is not ‘yay I have a baby… ooooh fun! I am in hospital in soft focus and makeup with a cute baby 2 days later’. The reality is being wheeled to the operating room fighting the versed because you don’t know if you will wake up from it, it is waking up WITHOUT your infant despite wanting him desperately, it is waking up without you infant (fort he first time in 9 months) and being told they are ‘doing their best, but you are not out of the woods’, it is screaming in pain in the night, it is feeling blood transfusion after blood transfusion burn (10 units of such), it not being allowed to alone with your baby. It is gritty, and it is cold, and it is pale with blue lips and sadness.

Carefully place the baby by the mother... look, it is almost as if she got up and picked up the baby herself

Carefully place the baby by the mother… look, it is almost as if she got up and picked up the baby herself

Why do I say this? I do not think hospitals are perfect – I do think that unless you are informed and prepared to discuss and push for your views things may not go your way. I am not against home birth at all. AT ALL. I had a friend who just 5 months after Sam came told me that she was planning a home birth and I was all ‘OK, she knows what happened to me – cool’ and was pleased and supportive. But I am pro informed choices. And pieces like this spread the misinformation that if something goes wrong in childbirth its not that bad. It spreads the idea that hospitals are not necessary in any cases [Thanks to my doula! Thanks to my midwife! Umm... yeah... that's all I needed].

This “uncensored.. [and]..messy reality” [sic]” gives a completely false account of the reality of when something goes wrong. Not to mention: where is the father in all this??? Where are his emotions? His experience?

Women need to know what happens when birth goes wrong. They need to see the actual messy reality. They need to hear doctors and nurses thanked and know they did something amazing. Then they need to look at the statistics, see how incredibly rare it is, and make their own decision – with their partner (please involve your partner if you have one). And be loved and supported through it. But just as I hate medical professionals who overplay risks and rush to C-sections, so I hate crunchies who downplay what what the reality can be.

Personally, I would much rather read “Wow… it went really badly, here is how awful it is, but I transferred to hospital, survived and so would make the same choice again. See if these are risks you are prepared to face’. Let people make the choice: unnecessary intervention (likely) vs. the real consequences if it goes wrong (unlikely).

Ugh.

Of course, the important thing is how well it all turned out:

Love being a Mum!

Love being a Mum!

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A Quick Thank You

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Just a quick thank you to all the comments and emails I have received about ‘being fearless‘ in 2014. It wasn’t an empty post – it is something I am still thinking about and actively working at. Change is hard! It has been reassuring to hear of the number of people who feel the same, and so useful to hear your own thoughts and struggles. It has helped me reframe and understand mine – this is a first step to making a difference!

I am looking forward to sharing my journey with you.

 

 

A lesson for being fearless

Relaxing, Lekki-style this weekend

Relaxing, Lekki-style this weekend

Today was the first day back after the long Christmas break. I was about 1/3 as productive as I wanted to be. But, in the spirit of yesterday’s post, I am not miserable about it. I am not freaking out about what everyone else is / was doing. I am relaxing, taking the long view, and spending my evening doing fun stuff, knowing that the manic deadline-looming 4 am writing nights will come, like they always do in academia.

In my less-than-productive day, I stumbled across this woman – one Beautiful Existence (yes, that is her name). In 2013 she decided to only eat or drink anything from Starbucks, or a Starbucks affiliated / inspired company. Crazy. And probably inadvisable. But while I would not recommend it and I have no desire to try it, I did learn something from it.

When I first heard about the challenge on CNN my thought was a horrified ‘Oh my God, what a terrible idea, how dreadful’. Then I read about her results on Buzzfeed expecting tales of soaring cholesterol and addictions to ambien (a sleeping pill) and sentiments about Starbucks is really bringing down the world from within and we have to get rid of the venti or we’ll never solve the obesity crisis. But after reading her story, I came to the much more prosaic conclusion of ‘oh wow, nothing really changed for her’.

It hit me: really, this was not a catastrophic thing. There is no need to fear eating Starbucks for a year. You’ll be fine. It seems a big deal: it’s really not. It reminded me of 2009, in the last month of my PhD. Things were crazy. I left writing my actual thesis to the last minute and ended up writing a chapter a day, except for my methods, which took 2 days. At the same time I was co-leading an international summer school, and had joined a large multi-center research group and promised to develop some new methods for them on the analysis of sibling data. And I had my usual papers and work due. One day, it all got on top of me and I started to sob. Sob, sob, sob. Sob so loudly my ex-officemate Claire heard me all the way through two wooden doors & across 2 corridors in the other side of the building. She came to my office and, when I finally unlocked the door, said

“OK. Let’s make a cup of tea”

[it is very important that Americans understand just how integral tea is to solving all British crises. I recommend it].

Solves all ills.

Solves all ills.

But then, amidst my howls about how I could not possibly do it all, she said:

“OK, what would happen if you did none of it? Not a single thing?” I looked at her. “What would happen if you didn’t write your thesis?”.

“Ummm… my supervisor would be annoyed, and I would hand it in a bit late”.

“OK, what would happen if you did not get the summer school curriculum together?”.

“The students would still show up… we’d give them some lectures from last year… someone would bail me out”

“OK, and what would happen if you did not run these analyses for the multi-center group”

“They’d be annoyed. Their paper would come out a few weeks later”.

Ah. I see what you did there, Claire. No big deal. None of this is as catastrophic as it seems.

That is kind of what this lady’s Starbucks venture was to me: seemed horrendous and terrible and full of awful consequences. In reality: not a great idea perhaps, but no biggie. So, this is why I am not working tonight: it is not the end of the world that I had a bad (unproductive) day. There is no need to fear losing my job, never submitting another grant, never getting another paper out. I am learning to stop listening to what those around me are doing and go at my own pace. I could be unproductive for a whole week if necessary, and be fine. I could survive off Starbucks for a year and be fine.

We are lucky: we get a lot of chances to adapt and correct. Sweating the small stuff is overrated. Don’t give in to fear. Love life. Smile. Relax.

By the way – my thesis was in early and passed without corrections, the summer school was a roaring success, and I got one of my best publications out of the multi-center analysis group. Go figure.

Champagne for successful vivas for Harriet & me.

Champagne for successful vivas for Harriet & me.

 

 

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Looking towards 2014

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I love mother and son selfies - this is our first of 2014. Practicing our duckface,

I love mother and son selfies – this is our first of 2014. Practicing our duckfaces

I am looking forward to 2014. I have not made resolutions, per se, but there have been things bubbling in the back of my mind that I want to do, or change, or expunge. It’s been hard to put them into words or achievable targets – in the main because I am completely clueless as to what I can actually achieve anymore. Fitness? Health? Craft projects? I feel stuck that anything worth achieving seems out of reach (train 4x a week? NEVER), and anything achievable seems pathetic (get to the gym once every 2 weeks? Useless!). Then it hit me: fear. My goal for 2014 is to remove fear from my life.

I used to be fearless. I used to be known for being fearless. I once needed a reference for a job application, and asked my supervisor. S/he said ‘I am so sorry to ask this, but could you draft it, and I will edit it?’. I agreed, and they sent a list of words to describe me. Brave or some such synonym was the first and last epithet, and featured throughout. When I left UAB, David called me into his office and said nice things about how nice it had been to have me part of his research group, and why. While I know he does this with all his trainees, I also know David well enough to know that he would not be disingenuous and his complements would be honest. For me, he commented on how fearless I was, and said similar things in his speech at my UAB leaving party. I remember that talk so well, and now I am left wondering where that girl has gone.

I live a life of fear now. I fear losing my job, I fear my son not loving me, I fear people not being interested in my blog. Basically, I fear not being good enough (good enough for what? Not sure about that…). It’s a dark thing that has come into my life and paralyzed me. I desperately try to spend time with my son, making me late for work. When I get home from my shortened hours, I try to spend time with Sam even though I am tired and distracted. I must be with him… must bath him… must do the pre-bed routine. When he goes down at 8, I am tired, but I don’t make time for myself. I feel guilty and worried about work, so I sit at my computer, often fruitlessly, wasting time being unproductive – which feeds into my fear that I am failing at my job. Then it is a downward spiral: I am afraid to do any of my hobbies because I should be working / with my son. I am afraid to invite friends out to do anything because ‘oh, they probably won’t want to and I’ll just bore them’. I am afraid to write a blog post, because I have nothing to say, distracted as I am with worry. I am scared to do anything in the house because ‘I’ll probably mess it up’.

Basically, I am not doing anything because of REASONS, PEOPLE. Because of fear.

Love being a Mum!

Love being a Mum!

Enough! It is time to stop. I am a good academic. I am a wonderful mother. I don’t know if I am a good friend (depends on the company I guess…), but my friends are old enough to just not hang out with me, if they don’t want to. The world won’t end if I restore a piece of household furniture and don’t do it very well, just as the world did not end when I accidentally unleashed a spray can of green spray paint on our cream stairwell. It’s all good. I just need to go for it. Work hard, trusting myself. Spend time with Sam. Not spend time with Sam, when I need to do other things. Write a blog post. Buy a print. Make a coffee date. Carpe diem exactly as I used to.

I remember when SSG (my old academic group) went canoeing. At the end of the river we came across a rope swing into a lake. Everyone hesitated, except me. IT WASN’T EVEN A QUESTION. Of course I was going on the rope swing. And I did (ridiculously, because I let go too early and screamed too much and swallowed 1/2 an Alabama swamp). And then everyone else did. And it was an awesome time.

That is the Lekki I want back in 2014. Fun-loving. Fearless. The only standard I hold myself to is my own. No goals, no check boxes, just a desire to not be afraid. To trust myself and do what my heart wants.

Of course, I hope some things come out of this… I hope that

(1) I blog more. I hope I create more time and actually blog more.
(2) I get an exercise routine. I hope I stop being scared to fail at a training plan start moving at pace on a semi-regular basis.
(3) I go for it and decorate our depressingly student-esque house. I hope I stop waiting for everything to be perfectly assembled and just get some nice pieces here and there.
(4) I read more. It has been so long since I have read anything because I feel all my time should be work or Sam. I welcome some guilt-free time to lose myself in a book.
(5) I see my friends more. I stop worrying about being too boring / frumpy / whatever and just hang out with people.

More of this!

More of this!

2014 is going to be good.

Samuel’s take on Christmas in Texas

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Baby goats are awesome:

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Donkey rides are pretty good:

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Tractor rides are so good, they warrant clapping:

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Chasing ducks? The best! Can’t get enough of it.

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And Santa? Santa is NOT AWESOME.

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Even with Mummy, Santa is not at all awesome.

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Happy Christmas.

One moment, so many emotions

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The scene:

I am at the Christmas party. It’s been a long, tiring week. There is is another, longer, probably more tiring week ahead. Then a break, and while my colleagues are relishing their Christmas holiday, I will be working over it (thanks double grant deadline). A fellow faculty member skipped out of the party, but I felt too guilty. I mostly talked about Sam (I have been out two nights this week, and only put him to bed once!). Everyone asked if he was walking yet, and I replied “He can, but he doesn’t”. We have seen two steps, three steps, four steps, five… OK. Not five. Sam’s walking was confined to a few wobbly paces when he was making a beeline for his bottle. Once he realized what was happening, he plopped straight to the floor.

I missed the little munchkin, but my decision to stay was rewarded when a student said that she appreciated me being there and she was “sure I would rather be with my husband and Sam”. Well, yeah. But also, not yeah. This is my School, and my students, and I feel loyalty to them and want to go and show my face, contribute a little bit to the School spirit. Plus I like the people – they are all my friends in one form or another.

Then my husband sent me this:

Aaaaargh! Real actual, proper walking! I was so proud of my boy! Everyone had to see the video – from friends up to the Dean.

And then I was gutted: how could I have missed this? Missed it for an optional work event? A work social event?

And how many more firsts would I miss? How many more moments would Sam and his dad share that I would partake in via text message?

I raced home, and Sam walked about the kitchen for me. Although not much as he was, touchingly, only prepared to walk if it was to get a cuddle from me.

Bittersweet.

Happy Advent

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Christmascard2013_4 Ah Christmas time, always my favorite time of year. My ex-officemate Claire was at a work lunch many moons ago, when she mentioned my name. “Hmmmmm” said a guy I have never met “Is that the girl who is crazy about Christmas?”. Yup. That’s me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Basically I love the baking, the decorating, the crafts, the lights, the tackiness. The crazy excitement, the movies. I love it all. I wouldn’t have it any other way. But at Ecclesia (our beloved church home) 2 weeks ago, I saw this video which moved me deeply:

(It actually moved me to tears, but I seem to have a broken my tear switch when pregnant and never quite mended it).

Look, I am not going to stop sending cards, stop getting presents, or do anything drastic. Yet. But this video was the first time that I really sat and thought about what Christmas should be to a Christian. The celebration of the birth of Christ. To me, that used to be about going to church throughout advent, going to Midnight Mass, and remembering why we have this festival (unless you are Wiccan or Pagan… totally different reasons then).

Loved coordinating this nativity in 2008

Slowly (and I can be slow) I am realising that it is about more than that. It is about celebrating the birth of Christ. Which surely can mean nothing less than enacting what he stood for: love, charity, selfless giving, equality. I am not ready, nor willing, to make drastic changes to my celebrations (which I suspect I should do), but I have promised that this advent there will be some small changes:

No debt. No debt at all. We celebrate Christmas within our means. No excuses.

Charity work. Active serving of others. Active giving to others. Enough serving of and giving to others that it is inconvenient to me. That it is at my expense.

Christmas celebrations must not get in the way of more important things: serving others, friends, family. That means: no stress! I will build Christmas traditions that enhance my family. Other Christmas traditions: shopping / baking / whatever, happen with my son, or with my friends. Most of them should only happen if they are actively enhancing my family and friendships and bringing love, positivity and peace to them. At the very least, none of them may occur at the expense of them (so no: “Wes, can you take Sam, I have to do such-and-such”).

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I am looking forward to this season! I think this is what Christmas has to be about. Unless you are not a Christian: when you get to enjoy it without these thoughts, just for the party. Awesome :)

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