I was reading a book this morning and the author says that in his travels around the world, he learned to ask people he met, not just, “Where are you from?” but also, “How did you end up here?”

I found that a particularly interesting question because my life has taken a slight turn lately. I am now teaching at California Indian Nations College, a new tribal college in California. As a result, twice a week, I drive right past the University of California, Riverside where I earned my Ph.D. in 1990. Some of my friends from graduate school took a tenure track job right out of school, stayed in that same place for the next 30+ years and are now retiring. (The academic job market was very different then than it is now.) They might have bought a nicer house in the same town as that first job and moved a couple of miles.

What I did in the same period of time

  • Moved to Minot, North Dakota for a job as assistant professor, while also teaching classes for the tribal college on the Spirit Lake Nation
  • Moved to Jamestown, North Dakota for a job as associate professor, while also working as a consultant doing evaluation and statistical analysis
  • Moved to Santa Monica, CA and
    • Worked as a consultant doing evaluation and statistical analysis
    • Been a post-doctoral researcher studying Latino families of children with disabilities
    • Worked as a statistician for a multi-billion dollar company
    • Worked as a contract programmer at a major pharmaceutical company
    • Co-founded a consulting company on the Spirit Lake Nation, with two partners
    • Founded a company doing customized software development and also taught graduate courses in research methods, multivariate statistics, biostatistics and epidemiology at three different universities
    • Co-founded a company making educational games, 7 Generation Games
  • Moved to Santiago, Chile and worked on expanding users and products for our gaming company.
  • Moved back to Santa Monica and
    • Kept expanding 7 Generation Games, taught graduate courses in multivariate statistics, biostatistics and epidemiology for one university and online classes in game design and mathematics for middle school students
    • Developing academic programs for California’s new tribal college

The even more winding road came BEFORE all of that. I was the world judo champion, majored in business for my bachelors and first masters degrees and was an industrial engineer before I went back to graduate school to study educational psychology, applied statistics and psychometrics.

Some paths are straight and others are winding country roads

dirt road with trees with leaves turning from green to orange
Maybe North Dakota. Might be ConcepciĆ³n in Chile.

You might think the conclusion here is that my decision was right and theirs sucked. In that case, you are reading the wrong blog. I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if I did take the straight and narrow path that was in front of me when I graduated. I’d have a much bigger retirement savings, a house that was paid off, colleagues I had known for 20 or 30 years. My children definitely would have had different lives if we had stayed in a small town. Ronda never would have started judo. I wouldn’t have been able to send Maria and Jennifer to attend NYU and USC. Maybe they would have figured it out somehow. Who knows? Julia never would have been born.

I’m not sure that the straighter path is easier

I don’t have any standard of comparison because I’ve always followed a winding road. Listening to some of my friends, though, I can see it is not all coasting down the straightaway. People stay with a spouse they don’t love because neither of them wants to sell the house, move school districts and downgrade their standard of living. Staying in one company or university may mean putting up with those same colleagues who irritate you for decades.

I am pretty sure you cannot become a completely different person

That is the one thing I do know. When I try to envision staying in the same town, same job, doing the same thing for 40 years, I just cannot imagine myself in that spot. Hurray for Mr. Chipps who taught English at the same boys’ school until he died. Even though he is a fictional character, I know there are people like that. They love teaching English or being an accountant or whatever it is, they continually get better at it and their students/clients/ accountants love them.

I am the opposite of that person. Several years ago, The Julia Group became profitable to the point that I could have just continued forever with it comfortably as a lifestyle business, making an easy six figures with vacations in tropical places every few months. So, I decided to wind it down and co-found 7 Generation Games with Dennis and Maria. Now that 7 Generation Games is scaling up, I took on another job building new academic programs for a new college.

Can you become less of the person you are?

I don’t mean less as in “not as good” but rather as, “not the exact same”. I don’t know the answer to that I aim to find out over these next couple of years. That’s an explanation for another blog.

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