Four-Question Interview: Centered Ph.D.

January 19, 2008 at 4:14 am 2 comments

Nancy Lee is a friend of mine from my doctoral student days. We hit it off, as we both had “real life” experience prior to entering academia, found certain hard lines of our field a bit confounding, and questioned whether we wanted to take the hard-driving, tenure-track path.

As some of you know, I jumped ship four years into my Ph.D. work, in 2004, left with a Master’s, and am quite content about both the experience and its end. (See my whole story in the forthcoming book, Mama, Ph.D.)

Nancy, on the other hand, stuck it out, and  completed her doctorate in 2007.  I’m so proud of her for accomplishing the goal that meant so much to her.

Then, however, against much pressure, and after much agonizing, Nancy still decided not to follow the traditional tenure-track path, at least right away.  (This is a big deal in the academic world.) She is doing some teacher-training work for the university, taking some training herself to be a yoga teacher, and just taking a breather to figure out what she really wants.

As many of us know, stepping away from others’ expectations of us takes a lot of courage.  So, I asked Nancy to share a few of her thoughts about success and “having enough,” in my latest four-question interview.

Here are the answers she wrote for us. You’ll see the academic in her, and also the centered yoga woman:

 1) What does “having enough” mean to you?

Having enough means I’m generally content because I’m living according to my personal values. For me, having enough means knowing your limits, setting boundaries, and making peace with what you think others expect of you versus how you intend to live your life. Having enough means a woman no longer needs to justify her actions to others—let them be perplexed by your decisions, it’s okay.

Having enough is also about what I choose to surround myself with and how much is enough to make me happy. This could be in the material sense. But it can also be in the sense of external markers of reputation, prestige, or rank. Some people thrive on acquiring more stuff. Others are addicted to achieving greater distinctions. Still others are driven by both. For me personally, having enough means feeling pretty satisfied that I don’t have to be that way and the world won’t stop turning. Having enough also means giving back to others—because I have enough to go around!

2) What do you think about the concept of “having it all” in our culture?

Without getting into the sociological and historical reasons, I think “having it all” has come to be the standard of success for certain socioeconomic classes in American society. For example, the burden can be heavy for middle-class women who internalize contradictory class standards: there is the drive to excel professionally that can conflict with the drive to have a home life, especially for women with children.

If a woman wants a certain standard of living and/or must accrue enough social capital in jobs that are driven by prestige, then the negotiation between work and family life can become a singular source of anxiety. Especially as middle-class women are today also under the pressure to be “perfect” moms, which typically means they’re expectated to squeeze out more quality time with their kids even as their work environment fails to provide them the necessary flexibility to do so.

From my roots I know that working-class women are far from immune from the work-family balancing act and in far too many ways have it much tougher. But they may or may not have a concept of “having it all” since this notion seems only possible if one has attained a certain level of educational, economic, and social capital to make the idea (or delusion?) a feasible prospect. Working-class women are perhaps less burdened by the idea of having it all than by the problem of having not enough, e.g. income,  health care, child care, education, etc.

3) How do you define success?

Success can be the feeling connected to an achievement. The achievement in question can involve your job, your family, hobbies, or anything in which you invest effort and sacrifice and positive outcomes result. Success can make you happy, but to be happy you needn’t be successful.

Personally, I think contentment is a better measure of happiness than success. I also think that the older I get, the easier it is to ignore social expectations of success for the rewards of living life according to personal values and priorities.

4) Can you describe a defining moment in your life when you had to choose between “having enough” or pushing for more? (And how did it turn out for you?)

After graduating with my PhD this summer, I was offered a prestigious postdoctoral research fellowship at a prominent research university in the medical and public health sciences. After anguishing for weeks, I turned the offer down. My husband could not relocate with me; I considered but in the end decided against setting myself up for a gruelling weekly commute.

I felt flying between two cities on a weekly basis (in a job sure to suck up more than 40 hours a week, as academic research jobs inevitably do) would affect my health and also put great pressures on my marriage. I didn’t want that.

The postdoc would have looked fantastic on my academic CV. But the pressures I would’ve had to face wasn’t worth the bragging rights. I’m happy to report that I don’t regret the decision one bit. Other doors have opened and my husband and I are leading the life we want.

*****

Do you relate to Nancy?  Have you ever walked away from others’ expectations? How did that go for you?

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Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Enough Body Drama! Thank You, Nancy Redd. A Culture of Comparison

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Reza  |  January 22, 2008 at 12:11 am

    Dear Friend,
    A group of researchers at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, are investigating effects of Weblogs on “Social Capital”. Therefore, they have designed an online survey. By participating in this survey you will help researches in “Management Information Systems” and “Sociology”. You must be at least 18 years old to participate in this survey. It will take 5 to 12 minutes of your time.
    Your participation is greatly appreciated. You will find the survey at the following link. http://faculty.unlv.edu/rtorkzadeh/survey
    This group has already done another study on Weblogs effects on “Social Interactions” and “Trust”. To obtain a copy of the previous study brief report of findings you can email Reza Vaezi at reza.vaezi@yahoo.com.

    Reply
  • 2. Dena Dyer  |  March 8, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    This was such a great interview. Thanks for talking to Nancy. She is a maverick in the sense that as a woman, she is not letting others define who she should be. I’m glad to be acquainted with her…and she gave me a lot to think about!

    Reply

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Welcome!

You are visiting "Having Enough (In a Have-It-All World)"...

Blog Mission

To spark conversation about redefining success (as individuals, families and institutions) and to counter "never enough" messages currently circulating in our culture.

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Megan Pincus Kajitani: Writer, Editor, Former Academic Overachiever and Career Counselor, Mom, Wife, Feminist, Gen Xer, Californian who believes that change is possible View Megan Pincus Kajitani's profile on LinkedIn

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