Taking a Leap of Faith

by Naomi Watkins

Just before Christmas, I took action in a way that I would never recommend anyone else ever do: I resigned from my tenure-track academic job with no next plan or job in place.

And I have until the end of June to figure out my next move.

The short version of how I came to resign: Mix a lot of horrible workplace politics and systemic issues that forced me to really examine the root causes of my unhappiness. Was I unhappy and depressed just because of this specific workplace? Or was I also unhappy with my work as an academic? Working through the answers to these questions involved a period of depression, some weight gain, an extended summer vacation full of healing, Priesthood blessings, a lot of cursing, hiring a career coach, lots of ongoing conversations with many people, and reading about other aspiring Mormon women’s stories of success. Some of this process I hope to chronicle in future posts, but today I’m especially reminded at how incredibly difficult it can be to pin down my path—especially when I’ve thrown away the roadmap or script that was dangled in front of me as a young Mormon woman.

A profound spiritual experience set me on the PhD path. And while in the midst of dissertating, I really had no idea what I was going to do once I defended that dissertation—although that’s a fact that I never voiced out loud. I simply knew that I needed to get that PhD. So with a PhD in hand, I applied to academic jobs, not necessarily because I was in love with the path of academia, but because that path seemed the most natural one; academia was the supposed Land of Oz for those with PhDs. It was a yellow brick road laid out for me essentially until I died. So when I was handed my ruby slippers in the form of a tenure-track job, I took it.

And for the most part, academia has been a comfortable home; it’s a place that I know well. I understand its routines, its dysfunctions, its constraints and possibilities. And I know that it’s a job I can do. And I do it well. But I know that academia is no longer my permanent home. It is no longer the right place for me to be. So I’ve made a leap with one big toe still stuck in my academic home, and I’m hovering in mid-air trying to figure out in which direction to sail and eventually land. Unlike an established life roadmap or script, forging our own path requires that we do the hard, uncomfortable, obstacle-ridden work ourselves. Or so it seems.

For a long while, really up until me sitting down to write this post, I have felt sheepish using the AMW community as my own network and support group, primarily because I am half of its public face. It’s been a strange position to be in—to have created this community to offer the very type of assistance that I need. For a while, I foolishly believed that I needed to have my own professional life all figured out in order to provide support and encouragement to other women. And that’s silly. But that kind of vulnerability can be frightening. It’s one thing to write about my past; it’s totally different to share my present. I can bind the past in a pretty, tidy bow, and I can rattle off my past accomplishments for you. But my present is messy and uncomfortable and unclear. There’s a lot of space for publicly failing; there is also a lot of space for growth, opportunity, and connection. So I’m taking my own dang advice—use God and His Spirit, use community, use gifts and talents, use grit and determination. Aspiring Mormon Women was born from my experiences in my academic home. It’s fitting then that AMW is a piece to helping me find my next place to land.

I felt so free and invigorated and strong and peaceful on the day that I resigned. I had absolutely no fear. I keep returning to that moment and others when I’m in the midst of what seems like never-ending darkness, when resigning seems like most asinine thing I’ve ever done.

I’ve taken a leap of faith. And so many of you are leaping along with me.

Let’s help catch one another, shall we?

25 Comments on “Taking a Leap of Faith

  1. May your leap be graceful and your landing be soft and sure.

    We’re here if/when it’s not.

    xox

  2. I am so here for you, Naomi!!! I bow to your courage. . .

  3. I believe you already know my feelings on this, but I can’t say to say it enough. You are one of the best women I know. I look up to you in so many ways. Things will work out. You have more courage than I could ever hope to muster up. And at the risk of being super cheesy, I am so very proud of you.

  4. Congratulations, Naomi, on figuring out what wasn’t working for you, and being wise and kind enough to move on to the next stage of your journey! I thought of this story from Parker Palmer when I read your post: http://www.onbeing.org/blog/when-way-closes/7255. I love this: “…way has never opened before me,… but a lot of way has closed behind me, and that’s had the same guiding effect.”

    Can’t wait to read your future thoughts during he next phases of your adventure.

    • Laura — That is the first time I have read that quote and I love it. The times in my life when ways have closed, I have kicked and screamed. But the way closing led me to make big changes that turned out to be for the better.

    • Laura,

      I also love that quote. I’m writing it down and putting it on my bathroom mirror. So lovely and true.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing your journey. For me, the “in-between” and “in-process” stages are a little shame-inducing. I feel a little ashamed for not knowing what I want, for not having a concrete plan, for not actively working toward an admirable goal.

    Thank you for being willing to be vulnerable and share with us what real, engaged life looks and feels like. Also, I would like to hear more about your experience with a career coach.

    • I am 100% with you, Kristine. I still feel like I should know what I want at this point in my life, and why don’t I have it all figured out? But then, how many of us really do?

      And, yes, a post about my experiences with the career coach is in the works!

  6. I’m with you, woman. I did the same thing for myself last November, and have been on a bit of an odd track since. It’s so weird, and I don’t yet have the 20/20 hindsight to coach you, other than to say that if you’re experiencing what I’m experiencing, you feel extreme peace in doing things that make no sense (financially or career-wise). I’m not living the high life. I’m actually being extremely frugal and essentially work non-stop on things I’m mostly not getting paid for. Yet I feel an odd peace through all of this, even as my mind blinks DANGER! DANGER! DANGER! over and over in my head.

    So if that’s where you’re at, #sorrynotsorry, I guess. But I guess we’ll see if the two of us come out the other side with a similar tale to tell. I, for one, am curious.

    • Yeah, that’s about where I’m at, Sheralyn. We should pow wow.

  7. Thanks for the post. I’m taking my leap of faith now, and I really appreciated your thought that you don’t have to be perfect in your field to be a good coach. I’ve been wondering about that, since I’m not perfect yet, but I’m being spiritually supported and guided in starting a business anyway. I appreciate your thoughts!

  8. Kudos to you, Naomi! I’ve made it to 40, constantly believing that when this gets settled, or that gets fixed, or this thing happens, life will “settle down”. It doesn’t. I think that–somehow–every single one of us is in transition all the time. Granted, this one is a pretty big one, but at some point, it will ease up and you’ll look back and see a pretty amazing path. Keep at it, and enjoy the journey itself–I’ve noticed that’s generally where the growth and the terror and the joy and the guidance all come (at least for me). The easy stuff is just so you can catch your breath in between. Best of luck!

    • I’m looking forward to that easy stuff, Holly. 🙂

  9. What you did shows so much strength, courage and faith! Something better must be around the corner but you can’t find it without taking the leap! Great reward doesn’t come without risk.

    • Wow, Rosalyn. It’s like we’re living parallel lives. Good luck to you!

  10. Yes! Absolutely here for you. I’ve found that risk involves vulnerability but it’s that openess to vulnerability that is at the root of really living. Things will all work out. I loved this line you wrote … “But my present is messy and uncomfortable and unclear. ” A beautiful mess – so much potential to grow within. All the best!

  11. I have taken odd leaps, and even been pushed, over several cliffs. I have learned there are three results when leaping in faith. A net will appear, you will land on your feet, or you will learn to fly. I have no doubt of future flight for you. The stomach dropping fall prior to lift-off however is always full of white knuckle screams, but at the end of the ride you always giggle!!! I’ve heard you!
    Thanks for sharing … because I might need a push soon!

    • Thanks, Angie. I’ve been using several of those resources. So helpful!

  12. Thank you for your willingness to be vulnerable. I believe that when we’re vulnerable we have the opportunity to connect with and help others who face similar challenges. But it’s not easy to do. We are all pulling for you. And I’ll be excited to hear where your journey takes you.

  13. My arms are wide open and ready to catch, though I suspect they will remain empty as I watch you soar.

  14. Really lovely, Naomi. I hope you find your new path and new home soon.

    xo,
    Rachel

  15. I’m glad you’re taking your own advice. It’s good stuff. Leaping is sometimes joyful, and sometimes painful. And sometimes it takes a stubbed toe or flubbed landing to learn how to adjust for next time. I know you will learn from your experiences, and come out stronger, as you create a better situation for yourself.

  16. Pingback: During the Dark Times | Aspiring Mormon Women

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