Sunday, August 21, 2011

When I Grow Up, I Want to Be...Me

Somehow we learn who we really are and then live with that decision.
~Eleanor Roosevelt~

Here’s the thing. I’ve passed the fifty year mark and I’m still not always sure what I want to be when I grow up. I thought I wanted to be a professor, so I got myself a PhD. I love everything about teaching except marking. I especially hate having to tell those students who work their ass off on a paper that their masterpiece is at best only a B- paper. So I couldn’t teach full-time, but I have taught part-time for nearly a decade. This year is the first year in a really long time that I won’t teach a course in the fall. I’m okay with that.

I do have another career, another job. I love this job of mine a lot of the time. Earlier this year, I had to take some time away from work after a period of not liking it very much. I had the most amazing stress leave, really learned a lot of new things about myself, and remembered some old things that I had forgotten. Most of all, I learned how not to be so damned addicted to working. The time away allowed me to “reset” the proverbial button. I’ve blogged a bit recently about being back at work over the past few months. It’s mostly pretty okay. Other times, not so much, as you know from my post a few weeks ago. The odd day is extraordinarily awesome.

For background, you may need to know that in this other career, I am a public servant, a director of research. I like being in the public service. As someone who has been in recovery for several decades, I understand what being of service is supposed to mean. I have been recognized as a strong leader, a good teacher, mentor. A strong businesswoman. I believe those things about me, although I know that there are also a great many things I could be better at, on the job.

I’ve been on a quest for a long time to figure out who I am and how I want to be in this world. That includes figuring out who I am at work. Being a director of research is a good gig, it will help get me to my “Freedom 72” plan. However, this job, this career, is not my career dream come true. I dream of starting a business that runs retreats for women in recovery. I dream of finishing a screenplay that I am writing. I dream about writing a book about what happens to women who continue to work a program of recovery for multiple decades. I work a little bit each week, on each of these dreams. I’ll get there, I know I will. One day at a time.

I am fortunate to have figured out a few things. Above all else, I have come to believe that I just need to be who I am, wherever I am. Even at work. Perhaps even especially at work, where most of my insecurities come out to play. Even there, every day, I just need to be me. Imperfect, flawed and quirky Dawn.
So that’s how I generally roll. Still, the doubt sometimes creeps in. Am I “too much” Dawn at work? Should I shave off a bit of my Dawn-ness and try to be more of somebody else, perhaps somebody a little more closed? More quiet, reserved? Should I lose my silliness at work, try to be more mature, more often? I do wonder, once in a very blue moon.

Fortunately, the answers to these questions come to me. Last Friday, my answer came in a little booklet beautifully written by a researcher who is leaving our team for a new opportunity. It is one of the most thoughtful  gifts that I have ever received. In it, she wrote about our relationship as colleagues. I was her boss, but more than that, we were teammates. As with all of the people on this team of ours, I utterly adore her.

In the book, she wrote out a timeline of the past three-plus years, chronicling her impressive growth and development, and some of the fun we’ve had while we’ve worked. I laughed out loud at a lot of what she wrote. But she also brought tears to my eyes with the warmth of her words. She made a brief reference to my having gone on stress leave earlier this year, and then wrote:

I was so incredibly proud of you for taking care of your body, mind and soul, above all else. It is a lesson I will hold in my heart for my entire career and life. I’ve learned so much this past 3.5 years. I’ve learned how I want to treat coworkers, and how I want to be treated. I’ve learned to never give up on something (Good Lord, we went through a lot together) because you never know where it will take you. I’ve learned to stand up for myself, pave my own path, and find what makes me happy. I wish for you…an amazing journey in your career, life, soul…the ability and support to wear your heart on your sleeve and cry when you need to. I wish that I will never forget this journey, will grow my confidence and listen to my intuition, that I will be brave and do what I need to be happy. It’s been a wild ride, I’ll miss you.

For the record, I haven’t cried that often at work, but when I have, I haven’t been ashamed to talk about it. I am also openly joyful, at times. I really have come to believe that it is okay for me to just be me, at work. 

But I really want to say, thank you for the confirmation, sweet friend, dear colleague. You, and the rest of the amazing people with whom I work, are the reasons that just for today, I’m not going to quit my day job.


  1. Wow, Dawn, that’s an amazing paragraph from your colleague and friend. You have chosen well, sounds like, to stay with this group of people with whom you have this great thing going on every week.

  2. Yes, Lynda. I work with a remarkable team. It's Monday, and I am heading off to work. And I'm okay with that, today. I hope you have a great Monday, too. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Again.

  3. I love this post, especially since I'll be 50 in a few months and am still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up too. It sounds like you have had a wonderful career that has given you opportunities to help other poeple. Remember the John Lennon quote - "Life is what happens when you're making other plans." The words of your friend and colleague are so beautiful.

  4. "Imperfect, flawed and quirky Dawn."

    Me, right there, me to a T

    What I took from your colleague's words is a reminder that we're influencing and impressing our quest for living, our values, our priorities, upon others and that this impression is enormous.

    We're responsible, in so many ways, for our conduct.

    And the 50-thing . . . um, ya... just last May! You know that I walked away from a medical career and have since immersed myself in new goals. That recovery center for women,,,
    I have about five women who come to mind that are within our blog circle who would be PERFECT for such a proposition!!

    We must fly to a central location and discuss the details of such an endeavor!!!

    Loved your post today Dawn, but then, I always do

  5. Thanks, Dawn. I turned 51 on May 5th. I love the fifties, I do I do. We are on the right path, girlfriend. For sure.

    Thanks also to the other person who left a comment - the person with the long number of a name! You will love 50 too!