No, it’s not the Daring Bakers today though the 27th of every month, it usually is. But not today. Because I wasn’t enamoured with the challenge, because I don’t have to. Because it’s ok to say no. So I challenged myself to make chocolates instead. But this post is about more than just the Daring Bakers and making chocolates, it’s about making choices for the right reasons.
As many of you know, it’s been an incredibly hectic year for me with a full-time job, part time grad school, the blog and, well, life. So often people would say to me “I don’t know how you do it all” and quite frankly, I often wondered the same thing myself. And the answer – well I did it all because I could. Like the little engine that could. Until I couldn’t any more. Yes my incredibly well-managed multitasking life came crashing down around me in late February when I fell ill with what was later diagnosed as an inner ear viral infection causing extreme nausea and dizziness (nothing like an ear infection in case you were wondering, that would be a walk in the park compared to this) and later, a viral infection, causing extreme fatigue (reminds me of when I had mono – glandular fever – in university). All this rendered me much sicker than I ever remember being in my life for a couple of weeks and feeling like I have been hit by a truck still, weeks later as I try to get back to normal and go about my business.
As I was recovering, I started to think about all the things I couldn’t do but wanted to. Work (I missed the boys!), normal life (I have never cancelled so many plans in my life as in the past few weeks) and blogging. Do you see one part of my crazy life that does not feature in the things I was missing? Uh, huh, grad school.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love being a student. In fact, I would be an eternal student if I could afford to. But anyone who has completed a PhD will understand how demanding it is by itself, let alone if you have a regular full-time job on top of the studies. The program I was enrolled in was supposed to be designed for those who were working full time and on paper, looked do-able. After all, I completed an MA a few years ago when I was working full time. Neil will remind me that I had no life outside of it and he is right. But an MA is 2 years long. My PhD stretched out ahead of me with at least five more years to go. Five more years of doing a full day’s work and heading home to hit the books for another few hours most nights. Five more years of sitting in my office on the weekends reading papers instead of relaxing. Instead of cooking. Since I started my blog, I have found such pleasure in cooking and baking (and photographing the results and writing about it) – something that totally took me unawares – I never expected to love it this much. And there is something very wrong with someone’s life when they are reading a paper about second language pronunciation pedagogy and they are actually thinking about what they want to bake on their study break. Someone’s priorities would seem a little screwed up.
So yeah, that’s me. Even before I got sick, I was contemplating a break from my studies next year to take stock and really decide if this is the path I want to go down. It’s such a huge time and financial commitment that it would be wrong to go on just because I can. Just because you can do something doesn’t make it the right thing to do. So I am taking a year off my PhD (maybe more? who knows..) to think about it with a clear head.
My life has actually been fraught with me making these types of decisions, if I look back. When I was 19, I quit a much coveted position in a journalism course to do a B.A. My dad (former journalist) was probably shaking his head but mum and dad just wanted me to do what would make me happy. Ironically, I could probably have used staying in that program a while longer but I still maintain that at 19, you have no real idea what you want to do with your life. Later, I did an Honours degree in French and then a teaching degree because I didn’t know what else to do. That B.A. definitely did not open up a precise career door like a Journalism degree would have.
After that, I started a PhD in French literature (special interest area: adultery in the novels of Guy de Maupassant – seriously, what was I thinking) and my life led me to France where I felt it was more appropriate to be studying literature. That would be the first PhD I never finished and I remember agonizing over that decision, over much wine and cheese in my 18m squared chambre de bonne. Being scared to tell mum and dad because I though they might be disappointed in me (again). But they were fine. Because they knew I was happy, pursuing my ESL qualifications in Paris. And that decision couldn’t have been more right for me.
A few years later when I had finally scored what was arguably the best EFL teaching job in Paris, I left after one year, to move to Canada to be with Neil. I KNOW mum and dad were truly shaking their heads at that one. But again, trusting my instinct turned out to be the right thing. Here I am 11 years later. Something about that decision must have been right. But that was also a heart-wrenching decision. Leaving my beloved Paris. To move to anglophone Canada. Never in a million years would I have imagined that would be my destiny.
And now I find myself in a similar position. Knowing deep down what the right thing to do it. But worrying about what people will say and think. I am not a quitter but this taking a break thing feels like the weak thing to do. And the stubborn Taurus in me fights that. I mean, I should be able to do everything and do it perfectly, right? Wrong. It’s ok to acknowledge weakness. It’s ok to say no.
So this month I said no to the Daring Bakers and their “edible containers” and made my own chocolates instead.
The other day, as I hit “send” on my final paper for a while in my PhD program, I decided I wanted to try my hand at chocolates. It can’t be that hard, right? I mean, I have cracked the perfect macaron, chocolates shouldn’t be too hard. My neighbour was laughing as I told him what I was doing now that I was “free”. “Making chocolates? Really?” but then he said “Good for you!” Yes, good for me. These chocolates are far from perfect. They are very tasty. But they are ugly. But that’s ok you know. Because now I have a whole year to perfect the art of making chocolates, or work on bread, pastry and other baking tasks that still elude me. Because I can. And more importantly, because I want to.
** Don’t forget to check out next month’s “Forever Nigella” event – I’m hosting a street party in honour of the Royal Wedding and would love for you to join me. All the details here.