The absence of adolescence and the rediscovery of imagination

It feels like I defended my PhD yesterday, but I just celebrated three months at my current job! There has been much transition in the past few months (even in the past week as I change teams at work) and I feel like I'm finally emerging from the seas of change and processing some of it. This blog post is going to be an attempt to consolidate thoughts that have been swirling around in my head around finishing my PhD, starting a new job, and working through what I sacrificed in the pursuit of a PhD.

First off, I love my job. My days are spent writing and creating scientific content for pharmaceutical companies who are sponsoring cutting edge clinical trials. I then get to communicate the results to healthcare providers who can make use that of information and make a difference in the lives of their patients. I utilize my love of reading, writing, and understanding complex scientific ideas every day. The work I do feels like the perfect fit for my strengths. Working with a team has been a dream. Surprisingly, even though I read and write all day I still love reading in my spare time which is a blessing.

It is weirdly surreal to be done with my PhD. This is mostly because it was a five and a half year process, but also because it is done and I am done. Until leaving academia, I did not realize how much the academic environment negatively affected me in a myriad of different ways. I'm lighter, freer, and so much happier now. There is a sense of silent confidence of finally reaching a goal I have been working towards since a teenager. While it feels amazing to be here right now, I have been pondering the adolescence I sacrificed in the pursuit of this 10-year-long goal. 

People who knew me in high school and college would tell you that I had a goofy side. When I started college I felt like I had to hide that goofy side from everyone except those I was closest too for the sake of seeming more mature. Then during grad school, that goofy side was further buried under stress. In the past three months my goofy demeanor has returned and even been present to those I do not know well which is a sign of growth and less stress. 

Part of me wonders if this is me finally embracing the adolescence that I neglected for years. Ever since I was in high school, I have always been striving towards the next thing. I still participated in the typical high school things like prom and I had amazing traveling experiences during high school and college, but I was so focused on what was to come. My desire for checking off boxes and pursuing a goal wholeheartedly has helped me get where I am now. But it caused me to push myself to finish high school early and then have my next step to grad school lined up without taking a breath in between. I worried that taking off time to consider what I wanted to do next would derail me from my 'full steam ahead' attitude.

At the start of college 10 years ago, I wrote this blog post about living a double life - one life as a mature 18-year-old college student ready to take on the world and the other life as a fresh 16-year-old who was still a giggly girl. Reading this post 10 years later, I realized how much I stuffed my adolescence down a deep, dark hole within myself because I was so young finishing high school, going to college, and starting grad school. Being around peers 2-8 years older than me caused me to put on maturity like a too-big shirt. 

As we mature, we often place less emphasis on imagination which can be detrimental. I just started The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk and just finished The Evangelical Imagination: How Stories, Images, and Metaphors Created a Culture of Crisis by Dr. Karen Swallow Prior (to be published on August 8th). Both of these books are linked by the concept of imagination. Dr. Prior writes: "Imagination is central to the way we think, the way we go through our days, and even the way we believe and enact those beliefs." Dr. van der Kolk adds: "Imagination is absolutely critical to the quality of our lives... Imagination gives us the opportunity to envision new possibilities. If fires our creativity, relieves our boredom, alleviates our pain, enhances our pleasure, and enriches our most intimate relationships." In short, imagination is important and it does not thrive in environments of stress and burn out. I think I am just now rediscovering my imagination after finishing grad school. This has been evidenced by a bandwidth and desire to blog for the first time in three years, in moments where I just look off into the distance and smile because of where I am, and in the strong desire I have to read my Bible and study scripture. 

Having finished this PhD journey, I feel like I can finally live life in my 20s because this huge stressor is out of my life and I can be a carefree adolescent again since I reached my goal. I feel like I can let my imagination run wild as I envision new possibilities like Dr. van der Kolk said. However, living like I'm in my 20s feels far fetched. I still live in fear of people 'discovering' my age and treating me differently because of it. But at the same time I want to just rip off the bandaid of that knowledge so I don't have to keep tiptoeing around the truth. 

My goal was a lofty one, and on one hand I believe I had to sacrifice elements of my adolescence to reach this goal. However, it makes me question if such things should have been sacrificed, and if I could have found better ways to relax and to cope through the weight of responsibility. My parents never pushed me and tried many times to help me not feel the weight I solely put on myself. The moments when I question my past encourage me to look at where I am now and see how those decisions have played out.  I'm proud and thankful of where the Lord has brought me in finishing my PhD at 25. I'm not special, but I feel unique in where I am because of my age and it's high time for me to stop feeling shame about being young.

A part of me still mourns for the younger version of myself who forced herself to grow up too fast to fit into the life she desperately wanted to have. I have that life now, and I am grateful for the choice 16-year-old me made, but also sad at the weight of the world she carried for future me. If I were to go back in time, I'd tell little Emma to enjoy the small moments and not focus so much on the future. The contentment for where I am right now is incredible and I wish 16-year-old Emma had felt this contentment and hadn't strained and strived so much. I wish she had been a child for a little longer and let her imagination run free. 

Previous PostOlder Post Home


Post a Comment

Deoxyriboneucleic acids est awesome :)