On the day of my last post, in the afternoon, I was permanently laid off from my engineering job. A disappointing thought to begin with, but I suppose I needed such a dramatic change to reshape my life.
It seemed that my apparent dissatisfaction with the corporate world was not enough for me to take further steps to make efforts to alter the direction of my life. I got complacent with having a certain routine and a way of life and a fixed amount of income received regularly. I had to be shut out of it, in a way, but still be assured resources to keep me alive in the liminal period between now and the next calling.
In the meantime, I started looking to the only other place I know for comfort and direction – academia. I started researching programs I am interested in, which left me further confused than before. I joined a reading group that discussed papers on history and philosophy of science, a field I seem to enjoy viscerally, but I don’t yet know if it is something I want to commit to.
Finally, I met with Dr. Jennifer Polk, who writes From PhD to Life. I thought she would be better able to guide my so-called quarter life crisis with her insights from within academia. I think I needed to talk to someone like her, because the attitudes that are held and perpetuated within academic cultures can become entrapping, without individuals even realizing how it is hurting them and curbing their growth. In the past, I had focused more on what interested me about specific academic fields, than what kind of a work environment I sought. This is precisely what got me into the mess of engineering in the first place. I love science and technology, and being able to understand nature and use it for our benefits, but through my experiences, I realized that most engineering jobs will only allow me to superficially understand the broader context in which I am working in. Furthermore, combined with my involvement in feminist and queer activism on campus, I was disappointed with how disconnected I felt with humanity at large. I had done a bit of lab research too, and didn’t like the idea of having to spend 12-hour shifts observing experiments for the better part of my life. And yet, I was still drawn to the idea of diving headfirst into academia, again! Jenn pointed out that to get to where I want to in terms of my career, it wasn’t necessary that I would have to return to school, and that I probably need a better understanding of my own strengths and what I traits I should utilize to feel more fulfilled. She directed me to some resources, notable among them the Authentic Happiness project run by Dr. Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania. While doing this assessment, I realized while my intellectual strengths may lie in certain areas, however broad, it was essential to align them with my emotional and instinctual drives as well – something I seemed to have neglected, while being absorbed in the supposedly hyper-rational world I had committed myself to. When people talk about careers, they concern themselves more with the pragmatic and unfairly little with the psychological and spiritual well-being of people. Both deserve attention, even for people like me who are stereotypically the furthest thing that can be from anything ‘spiritual’.
I am currently in the process of internalizing a lot of scary and conflicting things I have learned in the past, rather tempestuous month, but for whatever reason, I also haven’t felt the same kind of inner peace and tranquility in probably years. While my ‘career’ seems to have fallen apart before my eyes, it reached me to a tipping point; it triggered a journey that can possibly get my closer to my vocation. Honestly, I feel blessed and empowered.