Sunday, July 1, 2012

Personal Mantras and Plans for the Future

Over the years I've had a few sayings that I take on as kind of mantras, that I repeat to myself over and over again when in a shitty situation. One mantra I have for when I get negative feedback (like when a paper gets rejected from a journal I submitted it to) is "Sometimes the things we least want to hear are the things we most need to hear." I actually found that saying written on an index card I found on the street while walking home from grad school in Philadelphia, a few weeks after my adviser sat me down for a very painful conversation in which she told me I was not acting "professional" enough, and that in order to succeed in my career I should be dressing differently and acting in different ways.  I kept that index card, and it now hangs on the bulletin board over my desk at work. I also have another index card up there, which I wrote, which is a quote from an Arianna Huffington op-ed I read a couple of years ago- it says "Failure is not the opposite of success, it's an integral part of success."  This third index card I have says "1. Who cares? 2.Compared to what?" which I wrote after attending a workshop as a grad student (Which I actually organizing) on preparing to write your dissertation. A very senior scholar who was leading the workshop said "The very first thing you should think about when thinking about what research idea to pursue is: Who cares? If no one cares, don't do it.  The second thing to think about is who are you going to be comparing your group to, because you can never study one group in a vacuum, you need to compare it to another group to contextualize your results."

Throughout grad school, when I was poor as shit and living in the ghetto and B had lost his job and I was constantly worried about money (and before I met B, when I was just poor and alone), my mantras were "Temporary seems permanent when you're in it" and "This too shall pass."  And in HS I also had another mantra which in retrospect is kinda depressing. "No hope=no fear" (which I found in the liner notes of a Type O Negative album). The idea being that if I didn't hope for anything better, I wouldn't be disappointed and I would suffer less, and also be fearless because there was nothing to lose.

That's the mantra which got me through my parents taking away everything from me to try to turn me religious again- I detached from personal possessions, because having those were a kind of "hope" and a way for them to control me.  My parents took away things like my stereo, my phone line, my flute lessons, and would put religious strings attached to everything they did help with- like my college tuition, which they would only pay if I was at the shabbbas table every week, even though I told them I was not religious my senior year of high school.

As a teenager, after one particularly bad fight regarding religion in which yet again something else was taken away (I think this was after my parents took away my flute lessons) I took a bulletin board I had and using various shades of that horrid "Flesh toned" nail polish that was the only nail polish I was allowed to wear as a kid (cause I didn't have paint) I wrote in big letters "NO HOPE=NO FEAR" right there on the bulletin board.   If I didn't want anything, or hope for anything, there was no way to hurt me. Plus permenantly altering/destroying that bulletin board was fun too.  There's something I love about painting- the permanency of painting something can be very enjoyable (even just painting and fixing things in my house is like this- I get the same feeling from planting new perennial bushes/trees/plants and laying pipes in the sinkhole- the feeling that "I have made a permanent mark here."). After that I hid it behind something in my closet so my parents wouldn't see, and if I recall correctly I surreptitiously threw it out when I was moving out at age 22. Or maybe I didn't, and it's still back there, who knows.

I wonder if those formative experiences contributed to my lack of materialism these days? I know lots of people are into fancy gadgets, fancy shoes, fancy handbags and jewelry. I could not be less interested in those kinds of things. I've now made 2 major moves, and each move involved a whole lot of purging on my end- my rule is when making a major move I keep clothing that still fits and that I've worn within the past 2 years, books, CD's, furniture, and one box of pictures and old yearbooks and such. And pretty much nothing else.

 I admit I've accumulated a few things here or there that may add up to about a box worth of stuff- small statues and pottery that I've gotten on various trips, some candles, a small collection of antique blue glass mason jars and antique glass electric insulators, and a shot glass collection from all the cities and countries I've traveled to in the past 10 years or so.  A whole lot of of art work, most of it purchased from friends or starving artists.   But I'm not particularly attached to it.

Actually a friend of mine had her house robbed recently, which made me think- as long as my pets and B were ok (cause I know someone whose house was robbed and they left the window and all her cats escaped- that sounds super horrible!), I don't think being robbed would be all that horrible. I'd get to buy all new stuff from my home insurance, and there's nothing here that I really am attached to at all. Most of my pictures that I really care about are online, as is my wedding video I believe (which I still haven't seen anyway, even though I've been married over  3 years). I would be a little sad about losing trinkets from Turkey and Rome from our honeymoon, but I don't think those are even worth robbing.

Either way, it struck me recently that my mantra in high school was particularly depressing and hopeless.  The later ones I had- "this too shall pass" and "temporary seems permanent when you're in it" are hopeful mantras, because I had an idea that things would eventually get better when I was in grad school and working towards my current situation. So even though I was in worse material circumstances then I ever was before or probably ever will be again, it didn't seem all that bad because I knew it was temporary.  On the other hand, in high school I don't think I knew that it was temporary. No hope=no fear is a very hopeless mantra, in which I was ridding myself of all hopes as a protective mechanism because there was no hope for a better future at the time.  All I could see myself doing was going to college, and then getting married to a jewish guy, being religous, spending every shabbas and yuntiff (holiday) going to shul, and maybe working at some boring office job while raising kids and being in charge of lots of housework (which I hate, and I do hardly any of these days- B is awesome that way). It's no wonder that looking back I was clearly suffering from depression for almost all of high school, during which I hardly had any energy to do anything at all and spent almost all shabbas every weekend sleeping to avoid going to shul and sometimes even meals with my family.

I love that 12 or so years later I have a much better outlook for the future.And on the present! What's even better is I haven't used ANY of those 3 mantra's (no hope=no fear, temporary seems permanent, this too shall pass) since moving down south. I have used the one about hearing hard things a couple of times, especially when a journal article got rejected (although later i found out that journal has overbooked acceptances, so was basically rejecting everything new- so I shouldn't have ever taken it personally, although of course I did), but that's one that will come in useful throughout my life, I'm sure. I'm glad I no longer have to use the ones that basically say "Even though this sucks, one day it'll be better." Because that day has come!

Recently I said to B: "we're living in the future!" Since my freshman year of college (2001) I had the dream of one day becoming a sociology professor. So I knew I would be going to grad school, and I then spent 6 years there. So for 10 years I dreamed and worked towards becoming a sociology professor. I didn't know if I would succeed, I had no idea which part of the country I would live in  Also, for a while there I was single and even though I assumed I would eventually get married, I didn't know who I would marry until a few years ago. I figured I would eventually buy a house, but i didn't know what it would like like. You know, the way when you're a kid you try to figure out what your life would be like as a grown up.

So for years and years I had been dreaming about the future and my future life living somewhere, working at some kind of job, and maybe married to some person and living in some kind of house. But it had all been a huge gray space until recently. My life had been totally planned until graduation, and for almost a decade, what came after that was a huge unknown. But now I'm there! I know who I married, I know what my house looks like, I know what job I have, I know what it's like to actually be a professor.

Now I need to start making new dreams. I turned 30 exactly a month ago, and a month into my 30s it's already looking slightly different then I thought it would be, but I'm also cluing into the fact that life doesn't end when your 20s end, I have decades ahead of me, and now that I've accomplished a whole bunch of my "Transition to adulthood" dreams, I can start working on "what will I do during my adulthood" dreams. Which includes things like tenure, and babies, and book projects (I pitched a book idea to an editor of a big press- and she LIKED it!  I'm starting the research for it this Fall!), and a small business that me and B are in the process of starting up in our spare time, and maybe even a bit of public attention to my research if I'm lucky (which is already starting to happen)!

Yesterday we were looking over cruises that we probably won't have money to go on for decades from now, but why wait to start dreaming and planning these trips?  The more we plan and save for them, the more likely they are to happen. I was originally thinking we could wait until retirement and take one of those 6 month cruises that go almost everywhere around the world- but why should we wait that long? We might be able to afford a cruise as soon as 10 years from now! Plus as much as a 6 month trip around the world sounds awesome, spreading out some of that awesomeness throughout my entire life (and not waiting until I'm in my late 60s and who knows what kind of shape) sounds a lot more awesome.  I want to take one that goes to Japan/China/South Korea and crosses over to Alaska, another one that goes to India and Egypt (to see the Pyramids!) - there are some of those that also go to Cambodia/Thailand and some even go to Australia and Indonesia/new zealand too (maybe that one will have to wait until the Suez Canal isn't full of pirates- this might be a post retirement cruise), and since seeing my friend's pictures of her trip to cambodia and all the lovely buddhist ruins everywhere, I'd love to check it out too.  And of course a cruise/land trip that goes to Western Europe since I've only ever been to southern Europe- I especially want to see the Louvre in Paris and Stonehenge in England. Oh and some day we are definitely taking a trip to Hawaii. And Mexico, I've never been there yet. Also one day I want to take a road trip that goes down Route 40 all the way to LA and stops at the Grand Canyon on the way-  the one part of the US I haven't been to at all is the Southwest and I'd love to see the American desert.

I figure the order will be roughly by my age:
Mid-Late 30s (post tenure): Hawaii, and Road trip across the US (this one might be early 40s- want to wait until we have kids old enough to appreciate it and not be insane the whole trip)
40s: Japan, China and Alaska (don't want to wait too long to see those glaciers) cruise or Western Europe cruise, Mexico (Hopefully by then the drug war will be over)
50s: Whichever one of those we didn't do in our 40s and/or Egypt and India cruise
60s: Whichever one of those 3 cruises we didn't do yet. And a galapagos islands cruise if we're rich by then.

Of course since being in academia is awesome, there's always the possibility that a conference will take me to one of those places earlier. In fact there's a conference in Australia next year in my subfield that I'm contemplating applying to, just to have the chance to visit Australia. Unfortunately my travel funding for my job isn't completely unlimited, so if I did that kind of trip I'd be paying part of it out of pocket or have to raise the funds some other way, plus none of the research I'm currently working on fits the theme of the conference so I'd have to start something new. But either way, there will be more of those types of opportunities in the future.

So getting back to the original point of this post, what are some personal mantras y'all have? Or am I the only one who does that?  And where do you dream about visiting some day?


  1. All rising to a great place is by a winding stair. Francis Bacon.
    I cut it out of a magazine ad probably in the seventies, and framed it. It's hung by every work space I've had since them.

  2. What an awesome list of places and things to do! And you will do them! What a dream! I wish I could even begin to dream of that kind of stuff, but my dreams are just so much simpler and far less grandiose. If there's anything I should take as a mantra it's - dont lose your dreams, even though they seem downright impossible.

  3. What a great post. I hope you're able to fulfill all the dreams you have now like you were able to fulfill your previous dreams.

    Just putting in a plug for kids. No matter how much people make a huge deal about how hard they are, the work is worth it. I think you'd make great parents.

  4. Conference etc. travel certainly can make traveling to see the world a lot easier even though you have to put in your own money to do the private travel parts. So just last week I was in Western Australia for the first time (already been to all other Australian states and territories). In March we were in New Zealand for the first time. Last year I got to Austria (job interview), Korea, India (those two for the first time) and the US (all latter academic travel related). Coming later this year is Spain for the first time and in 2013 Ethiopia, which will be the furthest off the beaten track I've been. We are only looking to buy a house though now for the first time - I'm 47 and my wife is 36... And still thinking about children (we need IVF).

  5. "I figure the order will be roughly by my age:"

    Here's a good mantra

    מענטש טראַכט, גאָט לאַכט.
    Mentsch tracht, Gott lacht.
    Translation: Man plans, God laughs.

  6. Enjoy your first midlife crisis. I think we all have them around 30 now... I also had a quarter life crisis at around 25...

    First midlife crisis: 2-3 years after "school." For high achievers, the goals you set out for @ 14 (high school -> good college -> good graduate school) and you're in your life. Now you think "is this it?" In high school and college, everything was so epic, now it's more of a grind. That prompts the first "what should my life look like moment."

    Second in the 30s, the third life crisis seems to be the "WTF is going on with my career," is this how my life should look. Also, in your 30s, the effects of bad nutrition and exercise starts to hit you, so if you haven't been taking care of yourself, you feel it.

    But the important thing is, you have the partner that you want to spend the journey with. Never forget that, never back-burner that. Jobs come and go, careers may come and go, even children come and go, but your spouse is supposed to be there for "life" so keep that relationship front and center.

    But yes, the third life crisis is that you are in full-fledged adult mode (sans kids), the early kid years were kind of a blur for us, but now we're not in the "early" mode, we're in our life, and is our life what we want? If not, what can we do to get there.

    6 month cruises are rough on the non-retired, and might NOT be fun, since everyone else on the cruise is going to be retired. :) But I know plenty of people that LOVE cruising... both for young "party" cruises like 3-5 days in the Caribbean, to more exotic ones that let you hit a lot of cool ports.

    Enjoy and best of luck.

  7. "Take everything that comes your way as experience".

    I don't see you as the type that would really like a cruise. The ones that aren't aimed at kids or scheduled for school breaks tend to be geriatric. They also just skim the surface of different places, without really getting into the local culture.

    As an academic, you will have opportunities to:

    1. Got to conferences
    2. Do research abroad
    3. Take a sabbatical or parental leave
    4. Become a visiting professor elsewhere
    5. Make friends/have contacts around the world

    All of these things require effort, but they are doable and will allow you to travel sooner, cheaper, and get more in touch with the local culture. We rarely use conventional hotels. Instead, we stay with family/friends or use vacation rentals.

    The American Southwest can be great while pregnant or with young children. I went to Utah when I was 20 weeks preg, and it was great to be in a state where people don't drink, smoke or even like caffeine. If you drive, it would be relatively cheap. You don't need to spend much on activities - just the views while driving, and the entrance to the National Parks, would be enough.

    I'm also a freak who likes travelling with children. We spent 6 weeks hiking across New Zealand and Australia when my kids were 3 yrs old and 2 mos old. It was a great family bonding experience, it was less expensive than a 2 week cruise would have been, and babies can be quite portable if you breastfeed and have a good baby carrier. Stick a baby in a front carrier, and away you go! We also hiked Lake Superior Provincial Park, across Lake Louise and all over Israel with a baby this way.

  8. I've already been on a cruise, and I kinda love them. :) Yes you only skim the culture, but you can see a whole lot of places in a very short period of time, you don't have to worry about moving hotels and making arrangements in each place, and if you pick the right cruiseline there are plenty of awesome excursions that I assure you are not geriatric- on our honeymoon cruise we went kayaking in Croatia and we were totally pushed to our limit by these damn Australian people (they are all so fit!) and in Santorini Greece we hiked to the top of a volcano and went swimming in hot springs and still had time after the excursion to take a local bus to a black sand beach across the island on our own, and get embedded in the local culture a bit. We also stayed in Rome for a few days before the trip and did tons of little visits there (including a day trip to pompeii and lots of random wandering around rome). I know it's touristy and it's full of horrible people to some extent, but I had an awesome time on my last cruise and I think it's a great way to travel the way I want to travel- I want to see like, everything! :) I also know quite a few people in academia who do cruise tours in their area of expertise- the cruise we went on was an "Ancient empires" cruise, and there are lots of more educational/geeky cruises too. :)

    Unfortunately given that my research is very US-focused and that we have 2 dogs (and for me having a dog is more important than traveling) I doubt I'll be doing many semester abroad or visiting profs overseas, but who knows, right? I have like 35+ years until retirement. A friend of mine who does only US-based research is about to do a semester abroad in the Netherlands and is bringing her husband and kid...and as long as we could figure out a good pet situation (or time it for in between pets) B would be totally down for something like that.

    I want to do the southwest when my kids are at least old enough to maybe remember part of it.. :) But maybe when they are like 5 or 6. I also fully intend to take my kids with me traveling (which I do 1-5 times a year for work and 3-6 times a year for family/fun- this year I'm flying somewhere or driving 10+ hours an average of once a month, and I have lots of frequent flier miles I've been building up)- when I was growing up we had a family vacation every year to wherever the American Psychological Association conference was that year, and my dad would go to the conference while my mom would take us around to see stuff...I want to do that, only with my husband taking around our kids (and me skipping out on the conference or staying an extra day or two to go with them!). :) Also intend to take them along with me to some select smaller family-friendly music festivals- my regular festy camping buddy is pregnant right now and we've already talked about how we will camp together and split watching her/my future kids. :)


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