Facing the future

Two weeks ago I was in the warm, comforting environment of my mentor group meet-up when my mentor asked me point blank, “How is your career planning going?” In that moment, I froze. I couldn’t remember what the status of my soul searching future career plan was. I then remembered I had begun thinking seriously about post-graduate plans some time ago, only to let them get pushed to the back-burner by more pressing present day lab work and life events. After all, most of my post-graduate plans rely on having a PhD, so I can’t forget about that! Perhaps my procrastination was in part due to some fear of the ever-looming question mark that I felt like I was always facing. Doesn’t sound familiar at all, right my fellow PhD students *wink, wink*.

It’s taken me a long time to come to a point of acceptance that it’s okay not to have every little detail planned out about the future because so much of it may be hinging upon future outcomes that I cannot predict (as much as I shake my magic 8 ball). However, I’m realizing it’s helpful and appropriate to have some sense of what I want to do (broadly speaking should be okay) to help guide my current endeavors. I have begun facing these ominous questions not as an act of escapism of my present day graduate school life, but to ensure that I’m doing the best work that I can do now to put me in a position that I want to be in in the future. It’s important to remember that we got to where we currently are by hard work, and we can’t stop that hard work because we are afraid of unknowns (i.e. what career path is best for us). In my opinion, one the most important things that have helped me face the scary question mark that is my future has been a better understanding of myself and what I desire in my life to be happy. We need to be realistic with ourselves and not force ourselves into a glass slipper that just doesn’t fit.

So, happiness, huh? And no, I don’t mean the happiness of other people around you, but your very own individual happiness. Something that each and every one of us deserves to have. I began to better understand myself and what I require for happiness through my practice of mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness has helped me be honest with myself, even if that honesty scares me for many reasons (do I *really* want a career as a tenure-track faculty member of an undergraduate-focused academic institution?!). Another source of clarity that I found from mindfulness was a better understanding of my personality, my strengths, and my weaknesses. The big question is does everything line up? Do my characteristics mesh well with my desired career option. If yes, great! What do I need to do now to be in the best position possible when it comes to finding that job. If no, can I look more honestly at career options that are more suitable for who I am? Personally, I have felt more peace in this process thanks to my practice in mindfulness. The whole process of needing to stay grounded in the present moment while facing the future is so contradictory. However, facing the future while being grounded in the present moment will likely provide paramount perspective. With that, I’ll say thanks as always for stopping by this week’s Mindful Path to PhD! Comment below with your own thoughts/ advice on how you face the future.

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