I have been moving in pursuit of my academic goals for 11 years. Since graduating high school, I travelled from Ontario to Alberta, to Newfoundland, and back and forth between Manitoba and Newfoundland, for a total distance of more than 17,500 km. And that just counts fully uprooting and moving my life between provinces, not including travel for many conferences and visiting friends and family. I am now in the middle of a coast-to-coast trip across the country for one of said friend and family visits. My journey started when I left from St. John’s to Vancouver last month. I’ve been in Manitoba for the past two weeks, splitting my time between Winnipeg and Riding Mountain National Park (RMNP). Soon I will be driving back to St. John’s via Fredericton (for the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution Conference).
My experience is not a unique one, many of my friends and colleagues are constantly on the move. Everyone in my lab has travelled quite some distance to complete their degrees and all of us have a few more moves in our future. This means we are often looking towards an uncertain future and our current situations are temporary, which can be unsettling.
Academia makes us constantly integrate ourselves in new communities and adapt our lifestyles to new environments. What can we do to reduce our resistance to the changes that come with life and especially life in academia?
Form comfortable habits. Habits are the backbone of my well-being, and luckily most are things I can take with me anywhere. Some examples are: running, working at coffee shops, listening to my favourite podcasts, cooking, and communicating with friends and family.
Maintain personal and professional relationships, remotely. I have so many people and we are often in different places at any given moment. I consistently put in the effort to maintain these relationships. While it’s difficult to never have all of your people in the same place at the same time, it’s through traveling that I met many of these amazing humans! Technology allows us to keep connected in so many ways.
Often, we need the opportunity to miss something to appreciate and cherish it when we get it back. Being present in the moment allows us to know this appreciation wherever we are in any given moment. Right now, I am grateful that RMNP is filled with so many things that bring me peace, like horseback riding and nature, and things that bring meaning like public outreach (last week I was a special guest at the Where the Wild Wolves Are Campfire). Winnipeg offers the best of what a big city can (cool work spaces, vintage stores, and vegan and gluten free options).
Some things happen because it’s the right time, but often things happen because it is the right place. Everything can only be what you make of it wherever you happen to be. ‘It’s not the right time or place’ is a great excuse that I use for myself to not take opportunities. I let uncertainty win out over potential. I am attempting to understand the root of my resistance so I can push myself to embrace opportunities and not limit myself unnecessarily.
Sometimes when I’m struggling it helps to consider the alternative: How would I feel if nothing ever changed? What if I never experienced uncertainty?
Being static comes with its own set of challenges. Without change we can become dangerously cemented in our perspectives and actions while the world takes off around us. If you feel like something isn’t right, staying in the same place or with the same people doesn’t solve this problem because things will change with or without you. Moving with the change means we are living dynamic lives. We need to take ourselves out of our comfort zones to figure out where our limits are. Accepting changes as they come leaves the door open for reflection and renewal. Feeling unsettled is difficult and uncomfortable, but it also means you are exploring, and you haven’t reached the end of your journey.
Graduate school is not the destination, and I hope we all can find some comfort that the future contains many possibilities that we haven’t imagined yet. I am going to try to accept that most things are temporary, and the future is often uncertain in the hopes that this will reduce some stress associated with this dynamic lifestyle.
“There is nothing so stable as change” – Bob Dylan