Once in Lifetime Plans and New Chapters in Life

The older I get, the more I realize, there are no such things as once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Not even that five month trip I took one time to New Zealand.


once in a lifetime

On Saturday I facilitated an orientation at my church for new leaders filling new positions in our new governance structure.  Watching people share their hearts, passion, and vision for these new roles, clarifying expectations, and being able to have a small part of this day was the culmination of an epic summer for me.

Each week this summer I felt stretched to my limit as I helped coordinate elements of this church transition and nominating process, alternately navigated my disappointment and elation about certain parts of my internship, and felt the full weight of being done graduate school.

However, in order to lead this orientation, which I desperately wanted to do, I turned down the opportunity to run one of the North Shore Trail Series races – despite my New Years Resolution and my 30 by 30 desire to do these things.

(Also – speaking of foiled plans – for the second time the Stand Up Paddleboarding appointment I’d made with friends was cancelled due to inclement weather – I may have to scratch that one from the lists.  Or blog about how i’m going to manage things that I’ve missed the window of opportunity on).

This choice between two things I really want to do is representative of one of my Secrets of Adulthood I think.

There are no once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

For me, this paradox, something both true and not true at the same time, comes up over and over.

As a teenager and young adult I felt bombarded by this phrase, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities were being thrust at me from all sides – to study abroad, choose a college, date, take summer jobs, travel.  Everything seemed like it gleamed with the possibility to change my life, and if I didn’t make the right choice I was going to miss out.  Trusted and not-so-reliable sources all had opinions on what the right choices were, too.

With a little bit of time on my side I’m beginning to see that there aren’t really any once-in-a-lifetime opportunities – even though, technically – everything is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

If you stand back a moment you realize – the event can be repeated. A five month trip to New Zealand.  Getting a college degree. Acting in a play.  Taking part in a flash mob. So you missed this one – don’t worry – there will be another chance with the right amount of money, time, or friends.

Taken as a total experience however, with each of the particular and terribly personal details in place – everything is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  I won’t get to travel “by myself” again – even if I choose to go alone on a trip, simply because “myself” doesn’t exist the same way it did in 2006 – without a husband, child, masters degree, and deep rooted involvement in a local church. Even if I take the same trip, follow the same route, and go by myself – it won’t be the same – it will be something new.  It will be a different once-in-a-lifetime experience.

As much as I hate the cliche “live every day as if it were your last” when I consider the sentiment behind it – that each day is a very particular occurrence, that won’t happen again – I am inclined not to gag quite so much.

Although – if every day really were my last – I’d eat donuts for breakfast daily.

Here I sit – with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of job hunting for a new position in a new field.  I have a certain amount of trepidation and desire to run straight back into the arms of all or any of my old jobs (yes, even outdoor education).  I’m choosing to call this a learning opportunity, and to take it as a chance to continue to be stretched to my limits, because it’s bound to make me uncomfortable.

Yet, at the same time, this isn’t the first time I’ve job hunted, and based on my readings and research on the topic of career development – it’s completely likely and predicable that I will not only change jobs, but careers several other times in my life.  I will invent new ways to tell my story that make it seem as though these moments of self-doubt and transition were simply logical next steps that I navigated with ease.

So… once in a lifetime… or not.

The end is…

My favorite writing teacher of all time used to say “The beginning is important and the end is important, but the end is more important than the beginning.”

But guys… I am really terrible at endings.

Let’s talk about for a minute about the beautiful 10 mile race I ran last weekend.  It started out winding alongside the Merrimack River, 60 degrees, no bugs, feeling strong.  I loved those first 3 miles… and then came these terrifying, muddy, slippery hills where no joke, the leaders of the race passed me at mile 3.5 (because it was an out and back type of race.)

That’s okay, I can handle being slow – I’m used to it.

At mile 5, the manned water break at some DPW kinda outbuilding, an hour had passed and I was feeling… okay, but sort of not that great. A tiny voice in my head was saying “Just get a ride back now with the empty water jugs.”  But I quashed it and started jogging beside this great lady with a killer sense of humor, and we covered a couple of those terrible hills from mile 5 to 6.  At this point, I was struggling hard, so I fell back.

At mile 8, if there had been any way to magically transport myself to the finish line, I would have taken it.  I probably would have paid money to get there (and I’m pretty stingy with my cash).  I was calling down curses on the day I signed up for this race and every freezing day in March that had prevented me from training outdoors. (I’m kind of a wuss about freezing weather and running outdoors).  Unfortunately, I had to walk run stumble my way to the end. And then cram dry cookies in my mouth.  While popping my blood blisters.

Gross, Beth. Just gross.

Why that disgusting story?

Well, I’m coming really close to the end of grad school, really close, but not close enough. There are 5 more weeks of classes left and a few papers, and then that’s… not quite it. There’s this tiny lil’ 300 hour internship I need to find and complete.

In general, in my quiet moments, I sit down and think, why did I sign up to do this again? The more I studied this field, the more I liked it (different than the first go-round of higher ed).   However, I picked one of those degrees that doesn’t guarantee you a job and a title at the end.  If you study education, people know you’re going to be a Teacher.  But if you study Industrial Organizational Psychology, you don’t get to call yourself a Psychologist at the end of the MS. Unfortunately.

I feel like I’m at mile 8.  The end isn’t quite here yet, and even if I had the internship all sorted out, there’s the matter of all the things I’m interested in knowing more about, and finding ways to incorporate them into life.

And getting a job.  There’s that too.

If there was a way to magically transport my way to the end, where I can see the finish line (ie: the next steps in a career) I’d take it.  I’d even pay some money for it.  But as far as I can tell, I’ve got to stay on the course before me, and run the last couple miles, and trust that will get me there.

Getting through the last couple miles is hard.

Parenting and Grad School: Some Surprises

When I took the GRE, three weeks after I gave birth, my biggest concern wasn’t so much passing the test, as finding a place to pump breastmilk before I spent well over 3 hours in a room in front of a computer away from my son.

That’s the sort of surprise I’ve run into continually as I make my way through my part-time master’s program.

I thought finding time to study would be an issue, but between naps, bedtime at 7:30 pm, and babysitters, the real issue has been finding time to think coherently.

I wake up in the morning with my mommy pants on (that look suspiciously like sweatpants), make breakfast and read a half dozen Curious George books.  Then I get the kid set up with his train set, and sneak in a few paragraphs of my latest text book.  When he needs a snack, I stop underlining, and start making a peanut butter jelly sandwich.

After cooing through “The Wheels on the Bus” to send him off to nap, I switch into grad assistant gear at 1:30 and spend time collating, updating social media, and doing mailing list material.

While I’m making dinner, I’m planning how to respond to the latest case study post on the online discussion board.  When my son is brushing his teeth with daddy, I’m packing my school bag to get in a few hours of study and reading at the library – or I’m heading to class with peers who have just put in 8 hours at their jobs, a whole different environment.

It can be pretty difficult (for me) to transition between these different type of thinking and the differences in reacting to scholarly vs. juvenile literature.  In fact, the surprising thing I’ve learned is how to re-frame my mindset in order to get work done to switch between strategic thinking, planning, or simply being creative.  This act of switching gears, I think, could help me in the long run.

Unfortunately, another surprise is that it requires a tremendous amount of mental energy to switch between these types of thought.  I’ve learned it’s pretty necessary to take the first five to ten  minutes to identify the goals of the study session and how I’m going to achieve them.  It’s also necessary to identify time when some thoughts won’t be allowed to intrude, or I won’t allow myself to access certain materials (eg: facebook!). Since much of my work happens at home: the site of school, parenting, writing, relaxing, and work, It’s very easy (too easy!) to let boundaries blur into each other.  It takes a little lot of work to get those boundaries to the perfect state of impermeability.

If you’re a parent looking to start grad school, as well as stay home with your (young) children, I recommend recognizing that the mental effort involved is totally different than either working, or school sans offspring – BUT – It’s not the type of difficult you might be expecting.

Being a Grad School Parent

So, now I’m a graduate student and a stay-at-home-mom with a near-15 month old.

How did this happen?!

I’ve been trying this role and idea on for about 12 months, and it’s been one tiny toe into the giant lake of academia each month.  I’ve written a little bit about my mixed feelings about college at all here.  I’m also fairly certain that I told some of my college friends to talk some sense into me if I ever tried to go to grad school.  None of them have turned up yet though with a well thought out argument or a swift kick to the head. I’m not yet sure they won’t.

I decided to look into graduate school March 2011 when I was six months pregnant and contemplating the options of being a stay at home mother, returning to work at my current occupation, or well, something else.  I chose something else.  I took my GRE exam a mere six weeks after giving birth.  Yes, I did all my studying as I struggled through nights where I didn’t string together more than three hours of sleep in a row.  Thank God that’s over.

I made the decision to apply thinking about the flexibility of staying home and balancing study during naps.  It’s also easy for me to make the choice to see friends during the day, and study at night.  Something that full time graduate students, or full time career/students don’t always have the option for.  It’s important to me that I don’t sacrifice friendships (which I just wrote about last week) for a life of studying!  I also had the hope of returning to work when my son is ready for pre-school in a new and exciting career. In short, it seemed like good timing.

I got accepted in the MS of Industrial Organizational Psychology program in November of 2011.  I took my first class this spring, and it wasn’t difficult – in fact, I’m fairly certain it was deceptively light on the readings.  I took my second class in the summer – six weeks of statistics, about 20 hours of work per week.  That was more what I imagined as I balanced study during naptime, church commitments, and the excitement of starting a new blog with my friends.

This fall, I’m taking two classes (yes, it’s part time) and completing 10 work study hours per week.  As I’m sitting down this week counting up the hours of my time I’ve committed to school and other projects, drafting out nights to study, and nights to relax, and compiling a list of questions to ask potential babysitters, I decided to google “grad school parenting” to find out what others suggest and recommend.

How Common is This?

This article for example says there aren’t that many doctoral student mothers.  I don’t quite fit into this category anyway, since I’m not intending to complete a doctorate. (But, well, that’s what I said about a Masters Degree too, so we’ll see about that. Eventually.) In my anecdotal experience I know two other stay at home student-mothers.  I’ve heard from several middle aged women that that was the route they chose. I also really enjoyed the comments in response to this article about how one person handled the balance.

How do you do it?

I’m interested to know this as it relates to me, but also, how it relates to any intellectual who is also a parent.  A lot of grad school (or any job) is finding someone to care for the children, and getting a good idea of how much time it takes you to do a project then being sure you’re ready at that time to tackle the project.

However, particularly with intellectual and artistic projects (writing, composing, studying all come to mind) there’s a little something else that goes into the mix. Call it creativity, insight, or real learning if you want.  How do you get that if so much your day is the taken up in the same fifteen phrases, the liturgy of parenting (as this blogger puts it)?  I feel as though I often spend so much of my best “thinking hours” enjoying the simplicity of the park and taking care of activities of daily living.

When it comes time to study at night my brain is exhausted. I want it to be different, but it often isn’t.  That’s what I’m looking for as I balance parenting and grad school – the intersection between integrating and compartmentalizing my different roles in life – allowing real thought to happen amidst some of the more mindless aspects of parenting.

Do you experience difficulty being creative after caring for a small child, or turning out your “best work” no matter what that might be.  What are your thoughts on this?