Tuesday, March 25, 2014

There is no knowledge so hard to acquire

as the knowledge of how to live this life well and naturally.

Michel de Montaigne


In all of biology, living things follow a growth curve. The first is typically called Exponential Growth and is a linear upward climb. Next comes a plateau: the maintenance phase. Then there is the final decent toward death. The way in which we live our lives seems to follow the same general growth curve, and the whole concept has been on my mind a lot lately. 

Mario came back from a marathon work trip last Friday night. He had back-to-back meetings, and our 3000 mile distance from his company headquarters only compounded the issue. Flying from one side of the country to the other to see us for six hours is far from practical (though he'd do it if I asked... a gem, that one). He missed Kiddo's parent-teacher conference. I single-parented and slept alone for two weeks. I am married, after all, and the hard work that goes into a sustainable relationship should entitle you to co-parenting duties and nightly spooning. Not to mention that he returned home a tired, empty shell of a man. He turned around and left for another meeting at 4a Monday morning. The fact that others sacrifice much, much more does not escape me, but this particular platform is saved for my thoughts and perceived troubles. (Gosh, though, my hat goes off to those who serve and their families.)

I am in the fortunate position, living in the place, time and circumstances I do, to decide my own fate. How I want to live this existence. To define my personal standards and write my own constitution. Although the past few years have felt a little out of my control, we are making great strides toward changing that. We are moving in July to a place of our choosing. A place where Kiddo and I can get the educations we need and want. Closer to friends and family. A place where Husband's commute via air will go from 6+ hours down to two. I should be satisfied with our progress. These are big changes! But I want more. Which brings me to my central question:

When does exponential growth end and the maintenance/stationary phase begin? And how do you know when you get there?

We've spent ten of our eleven years together actively building Mario's career. Nurturing his talents and seeing him through promotions. Which has called for a lot of sacrifice. At what point do we come to the conclusion that he's "made it"? Will he ever feel that way? (For the record, I thought he "made it" a long time ago. I'm beyond proud.) He makes a good living and loves what he does, but more often than not at the expense of his personal life. We have one child and our time left raising him is now in years, not decades. I want both of us to be there for every school event, personal accomplishment, and to send him off to college together. And I want to be there most nights to make sure he earns a spot in the college of his choice. I want to know the other parents at the school and to feel a sense community. I want all that for Mario, too, and I know he feels the same way.

Lately I've been pondering the rabbit hole that is grad school. My goal is still to apply to a physician assistant program in the coming years, but I'm not ready yet. I want to work in healthcare for a bit (a prereq for PA school, anyway) and spent some time not feeling overextended. Although I don't intend to pursue a PhD, I'm keenly interested in a master's. I like research and earning a graduate degree in the meantime carries a certain appeal. I wouldn't accrue any more student loan debt, but there are many programs that will pay me a stipend and allow me to achieve something beyond a bachelor's degree.  Then perhaps I'll feel more prepared to sacrifice my personal life for a few years so I can achieve my dream career. But I always come back around to the same issue: when does it end? After a master's? After PA school? How long will my education drag on? When will I feel like I have accomplished enough?

We are still young. But we've also worked really hard. Nose to the grindstone us two. When do we get to the stationary phase of our lives? Will we ever? And by stationary I don't mean stagnant. I'm talking about the point where we go to work every day doing what we love (so it doesn't feel like work), while earning enough money to be debt-free and travel and perhaps have a small getaway home. A time in our collective life where we can set down roots; something that has evaded us thus far. Where we experience not only financial freedom . . . but personal freedom as well. Because, at the end of the day, nothing matters aside from those two boys. Strip away the money and house and things and I will still be blissfully happy if all I have left is them. 

Are these lofty, unrealistic goals? I don't think so. You write your own story, for the most part, and I want to write mine a certain way. A way in which I get to watch Law & Order with my husband before bed every night. Where we date each other with abandon. I am incredibly fond of my husband, you see, and I want to spend the majority of my life looking at that ruggedly handsome mug. A life where my hard earned education is the ticket to a fulfilling work life. But only to the point that it facilitates an even more fulfilling family life.

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