Monday, May 16, 2011

Icarus I am not

My Dad loves to remind me of Icarus every time he thinks I am working too hard or pushing too hard.  While it is true that I have always worked somewhat single-mindedly, there has always been a reason to do so. When I was younger, I had to work hard because every day I didn't was one more student loan I had to take, one more day of poverty. Now, I feel compelled to work hard every day because each day here is a day away from my husband, who is my family.

Lots of people present arguments to me to try to convince me that I need to slow down, take the scenic route through graduate school. Once again, a faculty member compared me to Icarus. After all, I will never have this time again.

That's true. I will never have this time again.

Every morning when I wake up alone, every orders change, every evening when I hope we have time to skype and I think about the fact that I will never have this moment in time again. I am beset by what ifs. What if Senior Jefe's number is up for an IA again? What if it comes up and I can't be there to support him as he prepares? What if it happens and for some reason he doesn't come home? What if our last kiss was skyped?

If any or all of these what ifs occurred, would it make sense to know that I missed them because I was too busy doing an extra side project or going on a field trip or simply kicking back and smelling the roses and having a beer?

I realize most people are trapped by the paradigm they live in and that the faculty member who said this to me probably thinks he gave me great advice. After all, he went and did all kinds of neat things in graduate school., things I won't experience if I keep trying to stay on course. But he also went through graduate school with his girlfriend (eventual wife) by his side. That makes a huge difference. And now, she stays at home with the kids, so he doesn't have the pressures on him as an academic that I will face (i.e. raising a family as a single-parent, possibly geographically separated from my spouse for extended periods, or worrying that he will walk out the door and it will be the last time I see him).

I just worry that all my hard work will be for naught, because of the serious disconnect between America and it's military. It was a disconnect I found offensive before because it leads to people comparing my situation to something akin to my husband being gone on a business trip. The last time your spouse left for business, I bet you didn't worry that he would lose his leg in an IED attack as he meandered back to his hotel after the conference he was attending. There's a big difference between a business trip and what my husband does. Now this disconnect is spilling over into my job prospects, where academics are suggesting I am not serious about my work because I am trying to finish in a reasonable amount of time. What exactly is wrong with wanting to finish on time? What is more important, that you spent 6 yrs in graduate school to publish 5 papers, or you spent 4 to publish 4?

Maybe neither of those things are. Maybe the most important thing is perspective, which is something Icarus didn't have. I know that I can fall back any time I need to in my degree program and take a scenic route if I start burning out. I also know that to choose that course up front is potentially a case of being so invested in doing good things that I fail to do the really important ones. I don't want to fail at the most important things in life, like having a solid family and building a strong next generation of it. Spending time with my spouse is really important, because if he dies and I neglected our relationship for another publication, I will have made a really poor decision. I am pretty sure Icarus never thought far enough ahead to thing about what is important in life. More to the point, if turning your back on the people who are important to you is what you have to do in order to be a successful academic, I am not sure I want to be one.

Therefore, Icarus I am not.

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