I find myself working through the new normals of a major transition this spring.
In May 2003 as I finished my master of divinity degree at Calvin Seminary, Hennie and I started talking about the potential of me pursuing a doctorate. In 2005, I started a second and more research-focused master degree, timidly wading into the academic waters again to see if we were up to the more rigorous demands of a doctorate. Then in 2009, we said yes and I immersed myself in the Doctor of Theology program at Wycliffe College. I defended my thesis earlier this year and formally graduated last month, concluding a 13 year conversation and constant reality in our home.
As I work through the new realities of post-graduation life, I am paying attention to four aspects of some rather mundane shifts that are helping me to recalibrate. While these four shifts might not transfer to every circumstance, I have found them helpful in identifying some new beginnings that are emerging in the midst of this significant ending.
The absence of an externally imposed structure (academic assignments and thesis deadlines) has created all sorts of suddenly “free time” in my daily and weekly routines.
Rather than immerse myself in a new project, I’ve allowed some fallow space to exist in which I can play and simply be present. I’m casually reading through the Complete Calvin & Hobbes collection. I’ve gone on a few meandering hikes. Almost nightly, we’ve played games with whichever of our kids are up to it.
While not structured, the keeping of time in a more leisurely and playful way has been good and even restorative during this major transition season. Though I am starting to miss some of the disciplined reading, the absence of the academic time constraints has given room for a less serious, more joyful contentedness to take root and grow.
I have had a bit of a deja vu experience in the last few weeks. Thinking back 21 years, I recall how Hennie & I would get consumed with details for our upcoming wedding. Somewhere in that process, Hennie asked: “So what are we going to talk about on the day after our wedding?” I replied with something like “How good our wedding was.” But in her question, both of us began to recognize that our vision and our conversations needed to expand far beyond the wedding day in order for our marriage to thrive.
The same has been true with my doctorate program. So much of our conversation has focused on what it was going to take for me to complete the program that, at times, I wasn’t sure how to talk about life after graduation. Future planning seemed on hold. Weekends away and summer vacations always had a shadow of upcoming assignments and chapters hanging over them.
Since defending my thesis, I have noticed other conversations coming to the surface. Some of them are rather ordinary: gardening in our backyard, Detroit Tigers baseball, reorganizing the garage, or the latest X-Men or Marvel movie. Others have been more substantive, focusing on other people’s situations and dreams and calling me to listen more than I speak. My project (and how good it was) is not the central topic to which all conversations somehow return. The conclusion of my doctorate has created room for other conversations to grow, conversations not limited to my plans, my work, and my deadlines.
In moving toward that healthy – but seemingly, ever-elusive – goal of living a balanced life, endings provide room to look at where life has been out of balance. With the end of my doctorate program, I’ve realized that I have seriously neglected my body in terms of sleep, food, and exercise over the past few years. And so, I’m getting up earlier, working out more, and transitioning my diet away from carbs and processed sugars.
Admittedly, I’m deliberately doing a pendulum swing away from the life of the mind and toward the well-being of my body, right now – and that’s okay! Sometimes, as one season ends, we realize how lopsided we’ve become in terms of our self-care. As I regain physical health, I anticipate settling into more of a balanced posture. But for now, I have room to give extra attention to a much neglected area of my well-being.
Imagination & Curiosity:
One of the more surprising experiences in this particular ending has been the re-emergence of imagination and curiosity. It’s somewhat related to the conversations aspect above. Yet, the difference is that there is suddenly freedom to explore possibilities.
Completing a project like a doctorate often involves the steady and persistent discipline of choosing what not to pay attention to. You learn how to sift through material and evaluate whether or not it is relevant to your topic. In such a context, reading and thinking can become myopic and isolated. Too much curiosity not only kills the cat, it also lengthens one’s program.
Over the last month, I’ve been surprised to find curiosity tentatively returning. A flower I did not recognize sparked a google search, as did a fact one of my kids shared about the planets. I picked up Bruce Cockburn’s Rumours of Glory – an artist I know little about, though I have friends who greatly admire him. I found myself sketching a new design for our backyard garden and simply sitting out back wondering what the next few years might contain. The freedom to imagine what could be and to be curious about random topics has been refreshing.
What about You?
When you go through seasons of transition, what are the areas of change you notice? What new life do you see growing in the midst of other projects or seasons ending?
Are there questions you ask or resources you turn to as you go through transition periods? Whether major or minor, how do you navigate these seasons?