Until I reached my 40s, I’d always had clear goals.
Growing up as a child, I wanted to be a scientist, like my Dad. I wanted to do a Ph.D., like my Dad. I wanted to travel to many parts of the world, just like my Dad. Looking back, I can see that his accomplishments became the yardstick by which I would measure my own success. Being focused and driven, I accomplished all of these goals while I was still in my 20s. I became a scientist, moved to the UK, completed my Ph.D. and started to travel, visiting research laboratories and giving presentations in various scientific venues around the world.
In my 30s, I was equally productive and goal-oriented. My research studies were published in reputable scientific journals and as patents, and I continued to travel for both work and pleasure. However, this is where my goals started to diverge from those of my Dad, as I wasn’t interested in teaching or pursuing an academic career. I’d realized that people in academia were not particularly well compensated, particularly given their workload. As a university professor, my Dad had to constantly seek out funding to support his research program, while maintaining a full teaching workload and ensuring that his administrative responsibilities were being met. It was hard work. I resented his long working hours and how little time he seemed to have to spend with my brother and me. On top of that, he still had to find extra work in the weekends, so that he could afford to buy a car and keep us afloat, financially. My Dad has always had a fairly idealistic view of life, whereas I’ve always been more pragmatic, like my Mom. Realizing that private industry offered better salaries and provided more opportunities to scientists, I made it my career goal.
After my Ph.D., I settled into my career in the UK. I ended up working for an American company (DuPont), and when they downsized their European activities, they relocated me to their corporate headquarters. I was excited to return to the USA, as I had fond memories of living here as a child. Within a year, I’d set myself new goals, returned to school to complete a course in business management and then switched careers within my company.
Now in my 40s, I seem to have a reached a crisis point in my life, triggered by challenges in both my personal and work life. Following a long and grueling fight against cancer, my mother died 2 years ago. More recently, another close family member died (a great-aunt that was the matriarch of my family, and someone that I loved very dearly), after her own difficult battle with cancer. While still coming to terms with their deaths, I found myself suffering further losses, this time at work. Over the last couple of years, DuPont has been facing challenges as well, and in an attempt to appease the markets, it’s laid off many employees or forced them into early retirement. Over the last 6 months, I’ve lost my boss of 10 years, mentors, colleagues and close friends that I’ve known for many years. Essentially, they were my DuPont ‘family’.
Now in my mid-40s, these events have left me unsure of where my life is going. I’ve run out of goals for myself. Instead of feeling satisfied with the progress I’ve made in my career and with my life, I feel discontented, restless and stranded. I’ve run aground.