Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Following the Money, Sort Of

Ginger at Ramble Ramble is starting a new writing prompt group. I don't know how often I'll play along- the limit on my blogging is more often time than ideas- but I thought I'd at least do a post for the inaugural topic. She put up two questions as prompts this week: Why did you start blogging? and What's the best decision you ever made?

I've written about why I blog before, so I figured I'd tackle the second question. It is a surprisingly hard question to answer. I've made some good decisions in my life (and yeah, some bad ones, too, but that isn't what the question was about). But which would be the best? They all sort of build off of each other, in the way that life does.

The first decision that I remember thinking of as really important was my decision to go to The University of Chicago for college. I can't really say why I chose to apply there, but I know why I went: they offered me a full tuition scholarship. I had a couple of other scholarship offers, so it wasn't as simple as choosing the only place I could go for free. But once the acceptance letter and scholarship offer from Chicago arrived, my choice was made. It was a perfect fit for me, although perhaps not for the reasons I thought when I accepted the offer. I accepted the offer with happy thoughts of the life of the mind and other phrases from the U of C's brochures. But it was actually a perfect fit because the academic rigor started to build my confidence in my abilities. I'd had a lot of good educational experiences before college, but was rarely really challenged. I also grew up in a place that was fairly conservative and went to a high school in which many of the students in one of the dominant social groups belonged to a religion that advocated for women to take a secondary role to their husbands. My family did not believe that, and my parents always supported me in my undertakings, and made me feel like I could do anything I wanted. But I think the combination of the fact that I was rarely challenged academically and the fact that a lot of my peers believed that a woman's place was in the home led me to sell myself a bit short.

That all ended in college. It wasn't an instantaneous thing- not by a long shot. Like many people I've met since, a lot of my college peers looked at my long blond hair and generally sunny disposition and judged me to be a lightweight. My performance in my classes seemed to reinforce their opinion, and I started to see myself as a lightweight, too. Part way through my first quarter there, I was sure I'd made a mistake, and I started thinking I should transfer some place else. Having never faced much of an academic challenge before, I didn't know how to study, and although I was not failing any of my classes, I felt like I was in over my head. Then the guy I was dating at the time, whose family lived in Chicago, didn't invite me to visit him for Thanksgiving. I spent the long weekend in the dorm, a bit bored and angry. And I studied. I studied so well that I aced my chemistry exam the following week. That surprised a lot of people, including me. From that point forward, my performance in my classes improved, and I started to believe more in my own capabilities. By the time I graduated from college, with an A- grade average, I felt like I could probably handle any challenge.

As I was finishing up at college, I decided to go to graduate school. Again, I can't really say why. It just seemed like the thing to do. Of course, the graduate students I knew tried to talk me out of it- that is sort of the duty of all graduate students, to warn people considering graduate school that it isn't all that much fun. Despite their best efforts, I was not deterred. And again, the specific choice of school was influenced by money. I won a National Science Foundation fellowship, which meant that I'd be bringing my own money into whatever graduate program I attended. A lot of graduate schools essentially said "That's great!" and offered no improvement over the standard graduate student compensation package. One or two said "That's great! You don't have to be a teaching assistant if you don't want to be one." The one I went to said "That's great! You can have an extra $3000 per year."

If you had asked me at the time, I would have said that the program seemed like a really good fit for me. It did- but so did several other programs. The honest reason why I went to the school I went to for my PhD is that extra $3000 per year.

It worked out well- the program was good. It was also very customizable, and because of that I graduated with training in both science and databases, which helped me land an offer for a job at a biotech company. I also had an offer for a postdoctoral fellowship, and I really agonized over which offer to take. For once, the deciding factor wasn't the money- or not entirely the money, anyway. The biotech job paid literally twice as much as the postdoctoral fellowship, but it also offered me more independence. Looking back, I can't actually believe I agonized so much over that decision, given the huge difference in salaries, but at the time, leaving academia felt like a giant step into uncertainty.

That particular job didn't work out all that well- but it set me on a career path that has served me well. And it was at that job that I met my husband. He would not appreciate me telling the entire world the story of how we ended up together, so suffice to say that money had nothing whatsoever to do with it.

I think I can get away with saying that when I met Mr. Snarky, I was at the tail end of another relationship, although I didn't really realize that at the time. In due course, the other relationship ended, and Mr. Snarky was there, offering me another option. I tried to warn him off- he was sure to be my rebound guy, right? But he said he didn't care, and I decided to give him a chance. And here we are, 12 years and two kids later, still happy.

I don't know which of these decisions was my best one, but I'm glad I made them all the way I did. However, I also tend to think that life has a way of working itself out, most times, so I suspect that if I'd made different decisions, I would probably have gotten to an equally happy place. I don't usually agonize over decisions. I've never really tried to state my decision-making philosophy, but perhaps it is this: do what seems best at the time, and trust yourself to make the best of where those choices lead you. And if everything else seems equal, picking the option that works out best financially is a pretty good way to go.

How do you make decisions? Can you look back and pick a decision you consider your best one?


  1. Anonymous5:35 AM

    Every decision I made that lead to me marrying my guy.

  2. When I listen to my instincts, they're great. I knew during the first conversation I had with my now-husband that he was the one for me, and what still surprises me is that everything I thought then about why we were perfect for each other were right on. So that's one of the best. The decision not to wait to have kids. The decision to turn on its head everything I had been working on and move into a new area for my dissertation - terrifying but so rewarding.

  3. I'm trying to do Ginger's writing prompts too, but I couldn't figure out the answer to this one. For me, it's more a matter of time than ideas but I figure it would be fun to participate. On my drive to work today, I thought I nailed down a possible "best choice" which would be choosing my college. That choice definitely influenced me for the better both socially and intellectually. However, in general, probably my best choice(s) are a series of small choices -- to remain debt-free and never run a credit card debt -- because that has given me and my spouse a lot of mental relief and freedom of choice.

  4. I don't think there's been one best decision. There have been a series of them that turned out to be good for the life I have (and like!) now. Probably the most random that turned out to be good was going to the second bar of the night on February 15, 2003, which is where I met my husband. I was having a good time at the first one, yet I went to the second. Good thing I did!

  5. Moving to the US.

    That's the one decision that enabled me to have options and ultimately make all sorts of other decisions, instead of continuing to live in my home country where a great many doors would never open.

  6. I love this post. So much insight into the World of Cloud :)

    I also remember some complaining amongst my peers about the fact that most grad schools didn't offer any incentives if you brought your own fellowship, and man that seems like a lifetime ago. (I guess it was.) Love that you chose your program for that reason!

    The best decision for me was easily my college choice, which led to good jobs, great networking, *and* my fabulous hubby.

    I chose it for the sole reason that it was in So Cal and sunny year-round, and it terrifies me that at 15 I had to make such a huge decision that affected so much of the rest of my life. How the heck am I going to handle it when my girls have to choose? Urghh.

  7. Best decision: going on the blind date with the man who is now my husband.

  8. This is a great post.

    I suspect my best decision was moving out West. Of course, that then opens up the possibility that my worst decision was leaving the West again, but then I ended up with my son, whom I would never give up even for seeing the Milky Way on a regular basis again. So it's hard to say.

  9. My best decision was switching from an Arts degree with a planned Asian politics/language degree to engineering. It was very left-field but has led to so much good stuff in my life (a challenging career, confidence, meeting my husband...) I am sure my life would have been awesome too, if I had not changed degrees - but hey, I like this awesome and can't foresee what kind of awesome my life would have been otherwise so I may as well say it was my best decision!

  10. I love hearing about all of these decisions. I agree that no matter the choices, you'd probably end up happy, but it's fun to reflect on the choices in THIS path that got you where you are.


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