Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Facing Decisions

The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way lead on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
 I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

I know this poem is frequently cited to the point of almost being cliche but I find myself reflecting it on lately. Since finishing my PhD last June I have been faced with much uncertainty and many decisions. I have been looking for a permanent, full-time (but not necessarily tenure track) position at a university or college, and as such have been applying for a lot of positions. I scored my first interview for a term position shortly after defending, was offered the job, and chose to accept the offer. This meant I then had to obtain a leave of absence from my non-academic, full-time job and to move to B.C. for one term. Because the position is temporary and his successful, promising career is in Edmonton, my husband remained at home with our cats to hold down the fort. My fieldwork has taken me away for months before so maintaining our relationship long distance for a term seemed like a reasonable sacrifice for the important experience this position would provide.

Now my term contract is coming to an end and I find myself at a cross-roads. 

Do I pursue further opportunities in B.C. that may or may not someday in the future (2 or 3 years at least) lead to a full-time job? This would mean additional time away from my husband on and off for a couple of years while waiting for a job that may never happen. Should the full-time position come up, and should I successfully obtain that position, we'd have to bank on my husband agreeing to leave his current career path and agreeing to move our lives here permanently away from our family and friends.

Or do I pass up on these opportunities hoping that something closer to home will come along? There are so many advantages to staying home: we get to keep our house, my husband can remain on his promising career path, and we can remain close to our family and friends.

But I worry that if I turn down too many offers or pass on too many opportunities eventually I'll run out of both. I worry that I won't be happy unless I'm pursuing the career I worked so hard towards, or that I won't find something to fill the void  if I never get an academic position. In all honesty, part of me also finds the prospect of having to start over somewhere new kind of exciting too.

Although I love the idea of taking the road "less travelled by" and feel that in many ways I have always chosen the overgrown, untrodden path, I no longer have the confidence nor clarity to even identify which path is which. Worrying has led me to another quote from which I have taken great comfort and returned to contemplating many times in my life:

"We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” ― Joseph Campbell 

I think this may be the better mantra to focus on. Rather than focusing on identifying my path and worrying if I have made and will make the "right" decisions, right now I think the only decision I can and should make is this: breathe and let go. 

With every breath in, I will take in all the wonderful things I have in my life right this moment, and I will take in the life that is waiting for me. 

With every breath out I will release the anxiety and uncertainty, and I will let go of the life I had planned. 

And I will trust my gut, which has led me down so many great paths on so many great adventures, because that is the other cliche quote I should keep in mind: that it is not the destination, it is the journey.


  1. Robert Frost on his own poetry:

    "One stanza of 'The Road Not Taken' was written while I was sitting on a sofa in the middle of England: Was found three or four years later, and I couldn't bear not to finish it. I wasn't thinking about myself there, but about a friend who had gone off to war, a person who, whichever road he went, would be sorry he didn't go the other. He was hard on himself that way."
    ~~Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, 23 Aug. 1953

    Just so long as you, Katie, aren't too hard on yourself. Enjoy the journey! :)

  2. Oh Katie, I feel for you. There are so many crossroads in life and I can understand your anxiousness right now. These kind of decisions can be the most challenging but they also come with the most personal growth and enlightenment.

    No matter what path you choose, know that love and support surrounds you.