For the past two years I have been employed by a project, a project, which is ending in exactly one week. I have met and had the pleasure of working with some fantastic people during these two years, and for that I am grateful. I have had quite a bit of flexibility and have had a lot to say about how, when, and where I’ve worked – all things that I’ve found are very important to me – but still I have to admit, this wasn’t exactly what I had imagined when I opted out.
But that is the thing about opting out. When you opt out in order to opt in to the next thing, it isn’t forever. That is a misconception people have about opting out. If someone opts out to become a stay-at-home mom, or if they opt out to change careers or to adopt a completely different lifestyle, people generally think it’s forever. But nothing is forever, and opting out and in is only until one’s wants and needs change again.
The people I have talked to who have opted out all say this. While many of them say they finally feel like they are exactly where they should be, they also say that this is good for now and that they are fully aware that their situation not only might, but will change before long and that they will want to, or have to, figure something else out.
This is the thing about life. Nothing ever stays the same, and in a way that can be comforting. For those of us who are parents, children grow and become more independent. Or maybe we realize that we weren’t quite done with the lives we opted out of, maybe we want to opt back in again. And maybe opt out again further down the road.
I wrote a paper with two colleagues of mine a couple of years ago and we used landscapes as a metaphor to describe what careers really look like (instead of the dated linear career model that so many companies still idolize but that really doesn’t correlate with how people really live their lives). In a careerscape you can walk forwards, backwards, sideways, up mountains, and through valleys. Sometimes the sun shines, and sometimes natural disasters strike. And most things are hard to plan.
Just because a person takes another path than the one up the mountain for a while, or decides they need to wait out a storm, doesn’t mean they aren’t ambitious or they don’t want a career. It just means something else is going on in their lives right now, that needs their energy and attention.
What does this have to do with my project? Well, even though this wasn’t how I envisioned the new life I opted in to, this project came at a good time. Just the fact that I had a job set up when I finished my PhD and didn’t have to scramble to find one was pretty great. And also, the project made me realize that I wasn’t completely done with the career I had opted out of. Who knows, maybe before long I will opt back in to another job like the one I have been doing for the past two years. But either way, I’m quite excited that in one week I will be able to go back to living my dream. To living and working the way I originally wanted when I opted out and in. For how long I can and will want to do that remains to be seen. But it doesn’t matter; it’s where I want to be and what I want to be doing right now. Until something else comes along.