Independence Every Day

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When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was given a list of prompts and asked to write down my wishes for her. Here is what I wrote.

Dear Sackling,
 
I hope you learn to trust your inner voice
I hope you laugh at yourself
I hope you respect that life is fleeting
I hope you aren’t afraid to go all in
I hope you grow indomitable
I hope you never forget that life is as meaningful and joyful as you make it
 
love, mom

Looking at these hopes, they can be more concisely written as “I hope you will be independent.” I have been thinking a lot about independence while reading blog posts about women in science, women in a room full of men, graduate students considering alternate paths, and professors so overwhelmed with administrative burdens that they don’t have time for science. Anxiety abounds. PhDs whisper about jobs outside academia. Female scientists whisper about wanting children. It is all terribly backwards, isn’t it? These are our lives!

Though the pressures and expectations of academia certainly do exist outside of our imagination, we should not let them determine the course of our lives. I have a sneaking suspicion that these rules for behavior are not rules at all. Do what you want and people will have to respect it. It may take a while for people to adjust. Some probably will respond negatively, especially if it makes them question their own life decisions or increases their work load. In my own experience, I have found that after an initial knee jerk reaction, people are generally supportive. If they aren’t, they are not the right mentor or friend for you anyway.

One unexpected but welcome outcome of openly exploring other possibilities for my future is that science is fun again. The anxiety and guilt have lifted and I can enjoy my time in lab.

What if we all lived without apology? Or, as Sheryl Sandberg said in her Barnard College commencement speech, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” Being subdued by others is discouraging, but realizing that you are effectively subduing yourself is completely demoralizing. When considering your own lives and how you can be more independent, I hope that you all grow to be indomitable.

***

 Indomitable

definition: impossible to subdue or defeat
synonyms: invincible, unconquerable, unbeatable, unassailable, invulnerable, unshakable, unsinkable; indefatigable, unyielding, unbending, lionhearted, strong-willed, strong-minded, steadfast, resolute, determined, adamant; unflinching, courageous, brave, valiant, heroic, intrepid, fearless.
antonym: submissive.
Apple Inc. Dictionary

4 Responses to Independence Every Day

  1. Kelley O'Donnell

    I have encountered so many undergraduates who ask whether they should go to graduate school. They often have an aptitude for science but no particular passion for it. I wonder what they would do if they were not afraid.

    Your post reminds me of Parker Palmer’s statement (in “Let Your Life Speak”) that “the willful pursuit of vocation is an act of violence toward ourselves–violence in the name of a vision that, however lofty, is forced on the self from without rather that grown from within. … Vocation does not come from willfulness. It comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about–quite apart from what I would like it to be about–or my life will never represent anything real in the world, no matter how earnest my intentions.” (Let Your Life Speak”)

    Your exhortation to independence is an important one. Taking the time to find one’s bliss is an act–and may require a lifetime–of courage.

    • Georgeann Sack

      I think true vocation (as Palmer describes it – a calling, your ideally suited life’s work) comes from a combination of willfulness and listening. You can not sit around and wait for the answer – what should I do with my life – to arise in your mind. You must go into the world and try things, then pay attention to how your mind and body respond. Then try again. In Let Your Life Speak, Palmer describes how he goes down many paths that were wrong for him before finding the right one.

      One difficulty I have is that in committing to a path, I am also forming relationships with other people and I feel obligated to follow through. I care about people very much and do not want to harm anyone. Figuring out how to respectfully exit, or to just say no in the first place, is a skill that I am slowly learning.

  2. Thanks so much for writing this inspirational piece, Georgeann. You are so clearly letting your passion and purpose overcome the ‘shoulds’ we tend to carry around as scientists. I shared related sentiments in a blog on leadership and risk-taking earlier this wk – http://compassblogs.org/blog/2013/07/02/true-leadership.

    • Georgeann Sack

      Thanks Karen! And thank you for sharing your wonderful blog post, it definitely resonates. I especially love the idea that “being truly vulnerable is a pathway to leadership”.

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