The serendipity of what do I do next?

Transitions to next phases in our lives can often involve momentous decisions. The story I’m about to share suggests to me that sometimes we only become conscious of our priorities in life and the directions in which we wish to travel, when faced with such a decision. Sometime in late fall of my senior year, I realized that it was “time” for me to apply to graduate school. So, I went to the university’s main library to look at graduate school catalogs. Suddenly, out of the blue as I was staring at the shelves of catalogs, a question came to me that had not previously been in my conscious mind. I thought, I must not only decide where to go to graduate school, but in what field of study?! I must have been ready for this question about what life circumstances to seek out next, because although I was certainly a bit surprised, I was not shocked by the question, and indeed, it made sense to me as the right question to ask. I no longer wanted to be a physicist.

The environment provided by the rows of college catalogs looking down at me had precipitated a new, and fruitful, line of inquiry. Those catalogs had a transformative impact on me. Obviously, there were four years or so of life experiences that led to this awareness that was just now entering my consciousness, but the catalogs helped. It reminds me of a decision-making strategy that a friend suggested to me a few years later. Flip a coin to decide what to do, and then notice whether you are happy or disappointed with how the coin came up. After four or five hours of looking through catalogs, and related materials such as research reports, I had picked a field of study—higher education. The following fall, I began graduate studies in higher education and sociology of education at the University of California, Berkeley. Certainly, there was serendipity involved, and in any case, I’ve been forever grateful that I made the decision I made.

Mentoring to support my finding my own voice

Throughout this book, and the companion book (Bilorusky, 2021), I’ve emphasized the importance of our trying to write in our own voice. Further, as I’ve suggested above, especially important, is finding our own voice in our choosing, re-evaluating, changing, and pursuing our life paths. In my experience, it helps enormously if there are others to encourage this. In everyday life, my mother encouraged me to “be myself.’’ In academia, Dr. Weir and other CU honors professors encouraged this in all seminar discussions and the papers we were expected to write.

At the University of California, Berkeley, I had the extremely good fortune of having a major faculty advisor, Dr. Paul Heist, who always enthusiastically supported me in developing my own ideas, possible future paths and pursuing them. Paul Heist helped me explore options for an initial internship that would be genuinely of interest to me—I wanted something in student affairs. So, he helped set up one for me in the Dean of Students Office. Again, by good fortune, it was at a special time, during the People’s Park movement at Berkeley, where I was both a “mild-mannered” activist and an intern in the Dean of Students Office. I ended up being more the advocate for and educator about the “student activist perspective” than the intern learning the ropes of how that office was supposed to function. However, I did learn some about that as well.

In a sociology class, my professor, Arlie Hochschild, who was at the beginning of her amazing academic career, was always modeling and encouraging any and all questioning and thinking outside the box. She showed a consistent and sincere interest in knowing what each of us, her students, had to think about various issues. She always seemed to be literally on the edge of her seat, eager to hear more about why we thought what we did—no matter how well developed, or spontaneously preliminary our ideas were.

They modeled for me, in academia, what my mother had modeled in my earlier years. Listen eloquently to others, respect and appreciate them, be interested in learning from them, and ideally even, leam with others and engage with others in full-scale collaboration. In my experience, collaboration may well he the most powerful force for transformations.

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