When I joined a gym in February 2010, I planned to work out for like a year, lose 100 pounds, and be just awesome.
When I started my PhD in July 2013, I expected to finish in four years, be promoted to a new position at my university, and bust out “Dr.” with ease.
When I sat down to write this post in October 2018, I knew how wrong Past-Meg had been.
I have lost (almost) 100 pounds and I do have those PhD letters behind my name now, but what the journey has been and what I have learned through the process has been vastly different from those expectations. I did eventually quit the gym, but after eight years instead of one, and because I was enjoying running with friends or alone much more than spinning on a machine. The weight loss part of this journey has been successful, with about 50 pounds lost in the first year and the rest going through a bit of a roller coaster to my current, generally stable, place. I’d like to get rid of the remaining 3-4 pounds, just to hit that original goal, but all of my clothes fit well and I can walk up stairs without taking a break, so I feel healthy no matter what the scale says. And with my 12th marathon about 18 hours away, this whole exercising thing definitely became more of a lifestyle than I expected.
The biggest piece I didn’t expect about “accomplishing” my weight loss goals was that it would uncover new needs to work through. I was in serious denial about my poor health for a long time. I always blamed camera angles or fashion trends, rather than the multiple donuts I ate that morning. Now I know that by multiple metrics, I am healthy and skinny. But the image I have of myself is still of the girl wearing XXL shirts and size 24 pants. I keep wondering when everyone is going to figure it out, when in reality, its me who has to keep working on seeing truth. The mirror is my unexpected ally these days to help me see what others see.
For my PhD, the program included the anticipated piles of books, pages of writing, gallons of red ink, and years of not-enough-sleep nights. Sitting at the graduation ceremony during my second week in the program, I can still recall staring up at the new Doctors, and just wondering if I would ever have the wisdom and perseverance to stand beside them. Each passing semester provided more confidence that I (and my classmates) would get to that graduation stage. Some semesters felt like that movement forward while carrying a baby elephant on my back (in case you’re wondering – baby elephants are around 200 pounds). It was inches forward, especially during dissertation phase, but I held on to those hard won inches with all that I had.
Like the health journey (which is a much better way to frame it than weight loss), the outcomes of my education are not what I thought when I applied. Rather than achieving promotion to a director position, I took a leap of faith and quit to focus on my dissertation and find a new place that didn’t have the same ceilings to hit my head on. A lot of fear and trembling went into that decision, especially as it felt like “the plan” was falling apart. But moving forward from my last day in that role, I have never regretted the decision. I’ve missed my students and friends, and I’m sad that the journey I hoped for was not possible, but I leaving was right to find the next chapter. And #WhatsNext is definitely still written (I will get to share a bit more of that story in a few weeks).
I suppose the moral of the story is that Greatest Accomplishment(s) are not the end of a journey, but the end of a chapter. The next chapter is built on what has come before, what you have learned by going through, and who you want to be as you grow up.
#52sparks is my year-long writing series based on an art prompt challenge. The title is inspired by a quote from Star Wars: The Last Jedi: “We are the spark, that will light the fire that’ll burn the First Order down” (Poe Dameron). The spark that lights a fire to toast a marshmallow or to ravage a forest begins in the space of an inch. So just imagine what hundreds of inches and words can do.