I’ve been wanting to write about this topic for some time now, but haven’t quite been able to work out what I wanted to say, so I kept putting it off for other posts. But now decisions are looming for us and, frankly, the topic occupies our minds right now.
The fact is every form of refuge has its price, and there is a cost to living your dream. Sometimes, if you just leap right into things, the cost may be the dream, for now.
This blog is called Blue Ridge Dreaming deliberately. Paul and I grew up in the Blue Ridge, moved away for a while, and have long dreamed of returning. We made that dream come true a year and a half ago. (Those of you new to the blog can follow the links in this post to read the whole story, beginning here, here, here, and here.)
But the dream wasn’t just about location. It was about lifestyle. And, for Paul, it was about having a chance finding meaningful work, a new career path. For years, Paul toiled as an electrical engineer, plugging away at jobs that barely interested him yet demanded much of him. He never truly felt engaged in his work, excited about what he was doing, and still he spent more time working than doing the things he most enjoyed. It was soul-sucking and his body was showing the strains.
As we began to fantasize together about returning to our beloved Blue Ridge, we started to think about what kinds of jobs we could get if we were to move. There aren’t exactly a lot of high-tech telecommunications firms in Western NC. Somehow, he started thinking about teaching. He wondered if he would find that enjoyable, if that was something he could do in the mountains. He started looking at job ads for community colleges and even the few regional Universities in WNC. Eventually, something came up—a University close to Asheville (where Paul’s family lives) and in the community my father has made his home for 15 years. It was a University teaching job and required only industry experience (which Paul had in spades) and a Master’s degree (Paul also has). So he applied. He was offered a job, which he turned down.
Then he got sick (read about that here--part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) and our priorities shifted. Why wait for our dream? Life won’t wait, so why should the dream? The second time he was offered the job, we jumped at the opportunity.
And so here we are. Living in the mountains we love, close to our families, with schedules that allow for more free time than we’ve had since we were 18 years old. And, for Paul, doing work that he has found he loves, work which fully engages him and challenges him and makes him happy to be there.
But here’s where the paradox lies: in order for Paul to keep teaching long-term, he is required to continue his education through the doctoral level (something else that has been a dream for him). And here in Western NC, where the economy is largely based on tourist and service dollars, there aren’t many opportunities for doctoral degrees in Engineering. In fact, there are none. So, Paul is faced with the idea that in order to obtain the credentials to move his position beyond that status of visiting faculty and into tenured faculty, he very likely will have to leave his position and we very likely will have to leave the area.
There are nuances, of course. There are two programs within a driving distance of under two hours. And there are programs in Education (not Engineering) that are entirely online. But the former means working full-time, studying full-time, and spending precious free time (family time) on the road. The latter means doing something much less interesting and much less transferable for the sake of convenience. And, to me, it seems that if a person were to commit to something as rigorous as a doctoral program—especially if that person of 40 years old and has a young family—the program should be something that interests him, not just the fastest way to keep this one job. After all, we’re talking about a career here. Not to mention lots of time studying and researching and working.
So far he has applied to, been accepted to, and offered scholarships to two programs—one in Texas and one in Florida. Both far away from here. Both requiring us to move the family. Both requiring me to find full-time work, full-time daycare, and a new home in a strange community where we have no support system.
Both options also offer other things—the chance for Paul to do something he’s dreamed of, to work on something meaningful and interesting, to change the entire direction of his career, to have new options open to him (and us) later. They offer an adventure for us at a time when our children are young and resilient and (relatively) easy. They offer us a chance to secure the lifestyle we want in the future.
So, questions abound: Should he take the easiest route to keeping this one job (an online degree in education)—even if that route means he might not be able to go elsewhere if he had to for a job? Should he do what interests him most? Does he do it full-time, giving up the job he currently has for a few years with no guarantee it’ll be there when he gets done? Does he want the doctoral degree most of all or does he just want to do what he can to continue teaching and to stay here?
Is the dream of a PhD worth sacrificing—perhaps temporarily, perhaps permanently—his dream of living in the mountains, close to family, in a place he loves?
Do we give up this dream for a while in order to take steps to safeguard it for later?