Sunday, October 12, 2008

Ten Year Plan, rerouted.

I missed my 10th college reunion this year because my new baby was too young to travel. I was looking at the pictures in the alumni newsletter and I was reminded of my first few days at the college. First year students arrived on campus a few weeks ahead, for a Language & Thinking Workshop. Even though I was a transfer student with a year and a half of credits from my university in Brazil, I signed up for the workshop to get acquainted with college life before things got really going. One of the first workshop assignments was to come up with a 10-year plan, which I could, at the time, recite in my sleep.

My plan was to spend a year in college in the U.S. then return to Brazil to finish my degree. I would then get married, get a Masters degree, have a child, go for a Ph.D., have a second child in the middle, and maybe a third child after I finished the degree. It seemed very straight forward to me, and without major snags other than finding myself a husband in 3 years time. The professor that was teaching the class told me he was quite impressed that my plan intertwined career and family, as not many did. I couldn't see why anyone wouldn't, you need both right?

Of course my plan started to derail in less than a year, when my parents decided to extend my dad's sabbatical and stay in the U.S. for a second year. I was faced with the decision of going back on my own or staying the extra year and a half that would take me to get my B.A.. One of the advantage of staying was that I could enroll directly into a Ph.D. program, skipping the Masters degree required in my own country. Another one was that there was more research options in plant science, which I knew was the field I wanted to study. It seemed like such an obvious decision to most people that I could not understand why I was having such a hard time just staying.

After mulling it over for weeks I did the most irrational thing I have ever done in my life. I flew to England with an expired student visa and dropped my fate at the counter of the U.S. Consulate in London. If they renewed the visa I'd go back to the U.S., if they didn't I would return to Brazil. A very fancy coin-toss, but the visa was renewed and I ended up with a B.A. in Biology instead of a degree in Biomedicine.

Hence, not only the first six years of the plan got scrapped, but I also found myself in the midst of a doctoral program with no husband in sight. But as John Lennon once said, "Life is what happens to you when you are making other plans." The husband came along when I was least expecting it, and by the end of those 10 years I was pregnant with my first child. By that point I had started planning less and (maybe) living more.

Sometimes it feels overwhelming just to plan experiments for the next month, let alone planning holiday vacations. My end goals are still the same, but I feel like I'm meandering towards them. The scene that comes to my mind is of a car trip with my dad and my sons this past summer to St. Augustine. My dad brought along his GPS, but insisted on navigating himself as he clearly remembered how to get there. It had only been 10 years, the roads hadn't changed right? The 1.5-hour trip took 3 hours, with us hearing the GPS say "rerouting" for half of it. I'm tired of hearing the "rerouting" in my mind. When it comes to life, I should just turn off the GPS and follow the scenic route.