If you open your heart and turn off the chatter in your brain, be still, wait, and listen, the universe will speak to you. This truth is something I forgot all the years I was depressed. But these past few months, as I practice more stillness, more silence, and as I listen to my intuition, the universe seems to be realizing that I am back. And it is talking to me!
I don’t know if anyone’s ever experienced this. Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, okay, crazy lady. Or maybe you’re thinking, yes, I know this feeling. Sometimes I doubt the signs. I think, that’s just you interpreting that event in favor of what you want. Sometimes I think, how can you doubt what the universe is putting right in front of your face? Sometimes I think all we have to go on is interpretation.
Ever since my…well, I don’t know what to call it. My “awakening?” Emerging from the depression and the fog of the ego’s endless narrative felt like waking up. Or at least like having sat in a room with my eyes closed for years and years, and then realizing I could open my eyes and see the endless colors and textures, and get up and walk out of the room into infinite space. Anyway. That’s another post. Ever since that, I’ve been questioning if I’m on the right path. I just sort of applied to graduate school and showed up here, blindly assuming I’d eventually go on the academic job market and try to get a tenure line literature professorship. I never really interrogated my deep discomfort with it all. I assumed the constant feelings of self-loathing and coming to terms with disillusionment were part of the deal. Seemingly everyone here is unhappy, so why shouldn’t I be?
(I should say that some people, my dear boyfriend included, find scholarship to be a deeply rewarding line of work. But I want other things. So I’m reevaluating.)
Well, as I continue to listen to my intuition and disconnect from my ego, what I feel I should be doing in the next season of life, the next part of my journey, keeps shifting. At first, I thought I should probably just leave grad school at some point in the next year. Intuition says, “leave the academy.” So I was fluctuating between that or just toughing it out. Kind of an all or nothing approach. But in talking to trusted friends and imagining the best path, I have come to feel that I should stay and get the PhD but work towards a new career path in my fringe hours. The intuition was correct, but I was reading it too urgently. I can still get the degree but with the full intention of not entering the academy when I finish.
The full intention of not entering the academy when I finish.
I cannot tell you the weight this realization (dare I call it a decision?) has taken off my shoulders. I can take my comprehensive exams and write my dissertation, knowing full well I will never go on the academic job market. I don’t need to spend money going to conferences, toil over fellowship applications, or stress over getting published “at least three times” before graduating. Because in the hours I would have spent doing those things to make myself a marketable academic, I will be doing (and enjoying) the things to become established in something else. What that something else will look like exactly in five years, I can’t really say. I’m focusing on the day to day, the process rather than the product.
So…I’ve scheduled a phone conversation with a life coach to talk about life coach certification programs! Ahhh! All the signs point to it. My need for creativity and self-direction, my deep desire to have meaningful face-to-face conversations with others about self-development and personal growth…all these qualities I have that were there all the time (since childhood!), but got buried away somewhere when my ego took over, may be able to shine if this path unfolds for me. My plan is hazy right now, but I imagine doing the certification requirements in my fringe hours, but still working toward exams and teaching and earning my stipend in the meantime.
I had sort of arrived at this plan a few days ago when I was home for Thanksgiving. My mom was holding a garage sale to get rid of everything she had KonMari’ed (I gave her the book last Christmas), and I was sitting outside in the cold helping her with customers. Towards the end of the morning, my mom had to go inside for some reason and I was tasked with holding down the fort. Well, this woman came up the driveway while I was out there alone and introduced herself as a new neighbor. I told her I was visiting from North Carolina, and she asked what I do up here. I told her I was working on a PhD in English, and she laughed, sort of startled.
She had just left a professorship at a New England university teaching Comparative Literature.
We talked about where she did her PhD, what she taught, and then I asked what brought her down to Georgia. Well, her university didn’t offer tenure and she was finding it difficult to make a living and raise a family. So she left her job and started an organizational coaching business.
Are you kidding me, universe?
My jaw dropped and I told her the short version of my recent thought journey. She was so excited and maybe just as blown away as I was. And now we have a date to have tea when I go back in December. Because I have a million questions for her.
Does that seem like the universe saying “go”? Or am I reading too much into it? It feels like a big, bright green light.
So I drove back here yesterday, binge listening to Jess Lively and sort of daydreaming about how to make this PhD work for me. And then I realized I’ve already laid all the pieces in place. At this time last year, I was interesting in mid-nineteenth-century reformers, but my committee said that was too broad and that I needed to focus. I realized early in the summer that no graduate students in the field in my department are doing religion, and that seemed like a big gaping hole that I could easily fill. I started doing some reading on it over the summer, and it seemed promising. Then, this semester, I am taking my last required seminar, on postsecularism, where I became interested in how the religious and the secular relate to each other.
I know–what is the point of all this? I’m getting there.
Well, in my class, I started to trace the ways in which early American Protestant ideals were slowly stripped of their religiosity and became gradually more secular as the reformers I had been interested in took them over, and now today, the sort of self-improvement ethic we’re all interested in is kind of a secularized extension of the original American Protestant values. So what if I use my exam reading and dissertation to explore the various manifestations of that process in antebellum America? I would be doing research on the earliest versions of the thing in which I am interested in now and pleasing my committee!
I’m not sure if that topic will resonate with others, but when I realized that it could be a thing in the car yesterday, I felt such a profound sense of “all is right with the world.” It feels like I have been setting myself up all along for this path. Like the universe had my back even when I didn’t.
I might be reading into the signs, but it feels like they’re there, smiling quietly. I choose to smile back.