Monday, September 26, 2011

On making choices

I seem to be having an identity crisis these days. I hear it's quite common amongst others in my age group.

Many people have them upon reaching a major milestone or realizing a significant achievement. Some have one earlier in life, and others, much later. Some, like me, have them often. Apparently, it's a personality trait to be constantly searching for new, or bigger and better. Perhaps it is why my interests and ambitions are so varied... It keeps me feeling involved and evolved, growing yet dedicated to the task at hand.

Since the past few months have been so tumultuous for me, it's no wonder that finally submitting my thesis proposal would be a major source of relief. While everything else in my life is still a developing story, meeting my academic deadline is definitely good news. Yet, more than ever, I find myself wondering what's next. One bundle of stress has been replaced by a gazillion others.

Where does my future lie, I ask myself day in and day out. When waking up or trying really hard to fall asleep. When switching tabs and trying to get some work done. When doing the dishes or showering. When... Well, you get the point. It's a major source of worry for me.

As an overthinker and an overanalyzer, I've been picking out all my interests as they peak and asking myself if they're the path I want to follow. I love Kingtson dearly and have made many friends here, but let's face it, my career goals probably require a move. Then again, there's the possibility of staying in Kingston forever and ever, because I love it so.

I'll let you in on a not-so-secret... While I've been working on my Masters', I've also been applying to jobs that would fall under the "dream" category. Social media consultant positions in the sports industry, marketing, communications or social media director with pro sports organizations, even reporting at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Some applications have gone further than others - sometimes quite surprisingly! - but in the end, all roads have led to disappointment and doubt. Perhaps it's the "ongoing research" part of my CV or the tiny little fact that I can't legally work in the USA unless someone sponsors me. Or maybe I just suck at writing captivating cover letters for an HR audience - I do tend to aim them more towards Senior VPs. Or maybe, just maybe, I'm not good enough.

Because after all, that's the thought that always sparks identity crises, whether on the personal or professional front. "Maybe I'm not good enough."

And the worst part is, there's no way of truly getting an honest, accurate answer. People will rarely tell you to your face, and though rejection letters seem to be saying that you're not, we've all learned by now that sometimes, it's just because you weren't the right person at the right place at the right time who knows the right insider. Or at least, that's what they tell me. That and, "Don't give up!" or "Sometimes you have to take a step back to take a step forward," or any other similar supposedly encouraging clichés.

Let me be blunt. I am not a spoiled, stuck-up brat who thinks the world should be handed to me on a platter. But I've done my due diligence, and I'm tired of entry level positions that go nowhere. I know I can do the job, anyone who's ever worked with me knows I can do the job, heck! Even random network contacts on Twitter know I can do the job! And yet this road seems to lead nowhere. It's hard not to get discouraged. I will keep applying, but there's only so much disappointment and rejection one can take.

And so one must explore other avenues. Yes, I still crave work in the sports industry. I crave it like I do chocolate when I'm PMSing (or any time, really.) But the world doesn't stop spinning or wait for you to understand precisely what it is you need to get that little boost, gain that tiny little edge, and get you where you want and need to be to feel fulfilled professionally.

Other roads that seem to hold this promise include the previous mentioned "Stay in Kingston forever because I love it" scenario as well as the brand new and surprising (to me) "Pursue a PhD" option.

No, really! The girl who was afraid of completing a thesis is still here, but she is now freaking out about comps (comprehensive examinations), committing to a long-term research idea instead of a spontaneous one, quantitative courses like Statistics and Variables, and, more urgently, taking the GMAT or GRE standardized test. That's the big one. The barrier to entry, so to speak. At least from way over here, comps seem relatively benign in comparison to the big, looming, "better score high or forget about it" standardized test.

Yes, I'm aware there are courses and study guides and practice tests. Still. Fellow graduate students, when was the last time you took a closed book, closed environment exam? (Don't answer that, MBAs!) It's a scary scenario when it's been a while, and yet one I'm increasingly strongly considering. Or at least exploring. I've still got a thesis to write, after all, and I would really prefer a program that allowed me flexibility in my course plan so that I feel intellectually stimulated and challenged in all the right ways. And like I'm finally on track. So if you're aware of any excellent innovative Sports Management PhD programs in Canada or the USA, I'm all ears!

And then there's the Kingston plan. I've said it before (at least twice in this post alone!), I <3 Kingston. There's something about it that's charming and exciting. Perhaps the mix of old and new, the blend of city and country. Whatever it is, it repeatedly fills me with joy and childlike glee. Maybe I could build a life in Kingston, I think. Consult (social media), communicate (PR), start a business (CarShare Kingston). All three options are interesting and viable and have been suggested to me by other Kingston residents as well. But these feelings are eerily similar to ones I've felt before about the media industry and the sports industry, and we all know how that's working out.

If I were to choose Kingston, I think I would run for City Councillor in 2014, the next municipal elections. It would be interesting, challenging, stimulating, and it would make me feel like I'm accomplishing something important by representing my fellow residents at City Hall. It would also be a responsibility I would wholeheartedly enjoy and dedicate myself too.

These traits are also the ones friends and colleagues point out when I mention the possibility of doing a PhD. "You like research and you're good at it." It's true. I love digging, discovering, and sharing. I've often been told I would be a good teacher. I would like to think I'd be a better professor - I'd be teaching people who, for the most part, are in my classroom by choice. The only aspect of academia that I'm not 100% in tune with is the highly political process of funding applications and other higher education administrative games.

Maybe I'm an idealist, but I believe that most research has value, and that should be enough for funding agencies. I'm not sure where the money should come from, but I just don't like the thought of competing against my friends and colleagues every year, not just for money but for tenure. It gets to be damaging. Sure, I'm pretty competitive and I like to win. But I also like harmonious working environments and I feel like this process fosters quite the opposite in most departments.

In the end, I may choose a completely different path, perhaps one that hasn't even been revealed to me yet. Meanwhile, I'm struggling with the three roads in front of me. Doing nothing is not an option, though delaying a choice by defaulting to Kingston might be. At as now, there is no pressing urge to commit to a single road - except to stop the clock in my head from ticking annoyingly - and I will keep marching along on all three for as long as I can. But ultimately, a choice must be made, and as application deadlines creep increasingly closer, I must at least decide whether I will be deciding now or not.

Maybe I'm just impatient. Maybe I'm just letting various sources of stress gang up on me, overwhelming and confusing me. But this identity crisis is as real as any, and the planner in me wants to know now, so at least I can cross certain items of my to-do list, thereby reducing overall stress levels and allowing life to proceed at a totally tolerable, no longer terrible, operationally cautionary rhythm and rate.

As Douglas Adams would say, "DON'T PANIC!"

Monday, September 12, 2011

On summer

Is it September already? Welcome back to "real life", they tell me when they learn I'm in Grad School. After all, the beginning of September means the return to classes and homework, right? Then I mention that I'm a full-time, year-round student who has been working on research and writing papers all summer. Their response? Usually something along the lines of, "Oh."

For most grad students, the only difference between summer and the "school year" is that your supervisor likely isn't teaching and in fact, might be on vacation. Also, you probably aren't TAing, so you have more flexibility over your activities and whereabouts... as long as you get all your work done on time.

Understandably, the days all melt into one another, and the desire to take extended breaks on beautiful sunny days is often overwhelming. However, work is work and deadlines are deadlines, and at the end of the day/week/month/summer, it all has to get done.

I submitted my thesis proposal to my supervisor last week. THE big task on my summer to-do list will soon be crossed off, once I officially submit it to my soon-to-be-formed thesis proposal committee.

To me, this feels like the beginning of summer. I can finally move forward from all the drama, academic and otherwise, in my life and start fresh... More or less. Though my health issues aren't resolved yet, negative test results are a form of diagnosis, so we're getting closer. I'm feeling secure in my friendships and my connection with the Kingston community. And I really enjoyed my sports TV break, working the LPGA CN Canadian Women's Open in Montreal for CBC, despite the ridiculous weather.

I think I'm getting better at figuring myself out and what I want and need in life. This means I am finally allowing myself to put "me" first at times and do things for myself instead of letting people I like (or want to like me) walk all over me. (Granted, I never let them walk ALL over me, but I did give them much more leeway than they deserved.)

Life, my friends, is good. This is what growing up is all about. And this summer made me realize that you really do keep learning all life long, and you keep growing up, bit by bit, until your life comes to an end.

And now that summer has ended academically, it's time for me to catch up on all the little things you let slide while working away on projects or studying for exams. You know, the cleaning and sorting and cooking real food for dinner. Taking care of yourself and rewarding yourself for all your hard work by actually getting things done in other sectors of your life. This is what summer is all about.

My summer starts now.