Are there things you’d really love to be doing but aren’t?
It could be anything
- spending more time with your kids
- writing something different from what you’ve been writing
- using your research to serve the needs of some community
You are probably telling yourself some story about why you can’t do it. That story may or may not be true. A lot of people might be reinforcing your story. A lot of those stories are just fancy ways of waiting for someone to give you permission. Or to guarantee that you won’t fail if you try. Or some other gremlin story that’s keeping you from making the contribution you could be making.
If this thing you are not doing is really important to you, you can find a way to do it.
I was reminded of this recently when I discovered that someone I had once been close to had died a few months ago at the age of 50. Ailsa McKay and I knew each other when we were both early in our careers. She was passionate about women and poverty. She did the academic work she did to understand the mechanisms that tied women and poverty together, and to develop policy proposals that would get women out of poverty. She not only published academic papers but also built the relationships necessary to influence policy both in Scotland, where she lived, and more widely. (Go read that obituary to get a sense of it.)
She didn’t always pick the safe options. She figured out what her best contribution was and she made it. She believed strongly that feminist economics was important so she worked with other feminist economists to build their association. She believed that governments could and should examine the gender implications of their budgets, so she worked to develop processes for them to do so. She was a devoted mother, so she spent time with her kids. She climbed mountains. She drank wine with friends.
And she did get and keep an academic job. She was promoted (no one in the UK uses the term “professor” for anyone other than a full professor). She got the rewards. But she didn’t drive her career by how to get those rewards. She drove it by a clear vision of what she wanted to achieve and what was important.
What if you won’t live long enough for whatever you are waiting for to happen? What if it never comes? What if it comes too late for you to really make the difference you could make?
More importantly, what if those stories you are telling yourself are not true? What if you could allow your vision to lead you?
Maybe your vision isn’t anything that will ever get you an obituary in your national newspaper of record. That’s not the important point. The point is that life is short, sometimes shorter than you think. If something is really important to you, you should find a way to do it. Now. Before it’s too late.
Edited May 31, 2016.