Multipotentialite Midlife Crisis

Multipotentialite Midlife Crisis

I learned a new word! Not just any word, one of those words that makes the seemingly random events in my life morph into a meaningful pattern.  One that coincidentally seems to speak to my soul, with things I’ve been stressing out with turning thirty on the horizon. Drumroll, please… “A multipotentialite is a person who has many different interests and creative pursuits in life. Multipotentialites have no “one true calling” the way specialists do. Being a multipotentialite is our destiny. We have many paths and we pursue all of them, either sequentially or simultaneously (or both). Multipotentialites thrive on learning, exploring, and mastering new skills. We are excellent at bringing disparate ideas together in creative ways. This makes us incredible innovators and problem solvers. When it comes to new interests that emerge, our insatiable curiosity leads us to absorb everything we can get our hands on. As a result, we pick up new skills fast and tend to be a wealth of information.” — Emilie Wapnick, Terminology, Puttylike  Sound like you? Well, this is definitely me. Yes, from the first day of kindergarten, I knew I wanted to teach and from the first day of high school physics, I knew I wanted to teach physics. Because I always knew what I wanted to do, my “multipotentialism” had remained hidden but it’s always been there. As an undergraduate, I picked up a minor in Asian Studies “just because”. Sure, I ended up pursuing a doctorate in Physics Education Research (PER) which is a mixed field- I’ve always “lived” in physics departments and had to take the same qualifying exam as any PhD but at the same time, I was taking courses in English departments on analyzing qualitative data, in Psychology about tests and measurements and in Statistics. Lately, I’ve been interested in organizational change so reading a lot change management books from business.  While I believe physics departments need people with expertise in the discipline as well as research-based strategies about how to best convey that information to undergraduates, this is not always well received. The “real” physicists may judge me for “diluting” my degree with education, but I knew I could not do “just physics” all the time. I suppose I love learning, so as an undergraduate and graduate student, this tendency served me well. In graduate school, fellowships and teaching opportunities through physics facilitated my ability to travel internationally to an extent that I became nomadic for a few years. Traveling has become a huge part of my identity, almost as much as “teacher” and “physicist”. Traveling led to me to experiment with writing. I started my own blog, started “interning” for an online magazine about food, wine and ethical travel then scored a freelance gig for a South American travel company. Despite always thinking of myself as a “numbers” person instead of a “words” person, I was amazed how my writing was getting published alongside people who devoted their lives to literature. When the tourism board of Colorado invited me on a press trip, it was humbling to be surrounded with people who worked for NPR, the LA Times and Oprah magazine.  Then it was my turn and I raced through my introduction to disguise the fact that I didn’t feel I belonged, “I’m Katie. I graduated with a PhD in physics was last week. I write for Epicure & Culture”. No one was more amazed than me, that dabbling in something opened doors to new worlds; it required curiosity more than “skill” or a massive amount of effort. But what do I want to do with my life? Within the month, I’ve started a new job in Vancouver but as a non-tenure track position in another city with unaffordable housing, I’ve also been wanting to “settle” somewhere more permanent, which means thinking about a “long term” job. I don’t feel like I’d fit the typical “tenure track” mold but that’s the most obvious choice for the path I’ve been on. I’ve always been curious and love the challenge of trying new things but quickly lose interest once I feel like I’ve “figured something out”. When I already seem to be losing interest in this temporary job, I wonder whether “long term job” should even be in my vocabulary. The department head at Auckland said he pictured me as galloping on a horse in a “wild west” situation, leaving a trail of improved physics departments in my wake. “The man who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The man who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before” –Albert Einstein...

2017: Reflecting on a “Character Building” Year

2017: Reflecting on a “Character Building” Year

“Some periods of our growth are so confusing that we don’t even recognize that growth is happening. We may feel hostile or angry or weepy and hysterical, or we may feel depressed. It would never occur to us, unless we stumbled on a book or a person who explained it to us, that we were in fact in the process of change, of actually becoming larger, spiritually, than we were before. Whenever we grow, we tend to feel it, as a young seed must feel the weight and inertia of the earth as it seeks to break out of its shell on its way to becoming a plant. Often the feeling is anything but pleasant. But what is most unpleasant is not knowing what is happening… Those long periods when something outside ourselves seems to be waiting, holding its breath, unsure about what the next step should be, eventually becomes the periods we wait for, for it is in those periods that we realize that we are being prepared for the next phase of our life and that, in all probability, a new level of personality is about to be reveled” –Alice Walker 2017… with what happened on the stage of global politics, I wonder if this year was a good year for anyone. Personally, it wasn’t one of my best, containing a lot of death, the temporary loss of my best friend with the end of my most significant relationship and a lot of misery as I prepared to end my two years of living in Auckland, New Zealand.  I earned a Fulbright to live in Cape Town which gave me a second chance to live in South Africa on my own terms but I decided that because of the instatibility over there.  While I know its for the best, it feels like the death of a dream, like I’m ignoring the irrational part of me was convinced that I belonged there for a year. Despite the fact this year wasn’t too much fun, as difficult things in life are, it was informative.  As the year (finally) comes to a close, I thought I’d share some of my reflections with you, the good, bad and the ugly. 1) Good things come to an end and that’s ok “Not everything in life is supposed to become something beautiful and long lasting. Sometimes people come into your life to show you what is right and what is wrong, to show you who you can be, to teach you to love yourself, to make you feel better for a little while, or just someone to walk with at night and spill your life to. Not everyone is going to stay forever, and we still have to keep on going and thank them for what they’ve given us” -Anonymous When I returned to the States briefly for a conference in July, one of the blog fans I didn’t know I had ran up to me and asked, “why haven’t you updated your blog?! The last I read, you met an amazing guy and everything was perfect and I want to know what happened!!!”. “Oh,” I replied, a bit shell-shocked but flattered. “That ended.” I responded at the time, with limited energy for elaboration. For those of you who do not know, I did meet an amazing Kiwi guy about four months after I moved to the country and was almost about to give up and return to the States. We dated for about a year and it was, by far, the most serious relationship of my life and it did inspire me to do crazy things like apply for my New Zealand residency even though living at the bottom of the world was a struggle for me. While I told him I was willing to return to New Zealand in a few years and I won’t mind it as a place to raise a family, I knew I had to get out for a couple years while I was young and early in my academic career. Eventually, the stress of constantly trying to figure out my next step (which will be starting as a Science Education Specialist in Vancouver, Canada) got to us and we mutually decided that we need to focus on our own careers right now. Furthermore, as our relationship progressed, my love of travel made it clear we want different things. Despite the fact it was mutual, despite the fact we both logically knew it was for the best, the hardest part of the breakup was we still really enjoyed one another’s company, respected each other and wanted the best for each other. Initially...

Life With No Regrets: The Passing Of My Grandmother

Life With No Regrets: The Passing Of My Grandmother

“Katie! You made it! I can go in peace now.” It was around 2 AM at John Dempsey Hospital in my hometown of Farmington, Connecticut. I had been on planes and in airports for over 30 hours, my hair was greasy, I was exhausted and I needed to brush my teeth… but all of a sudden, none of that mattered because I finally made it, to say goodbye in person to the last of my living grandparents. I gave her a hug, choked back a hugely unattractive sobs and tried not to cover her cheek in my snot. “Don’t be sad,” she said quietly and calmly. “I’m not,” I blubbered, “I’m just so happy to be here. I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it”. “It means a lot you’re here”, she replied, worried about what I spent on the last-minute, long-haul flight from Auckland, which of course, was not even of slightest concern in a situation like this, a precious moment that could never be recovered. My mom had warned me that she was tired and confused, but she put on a good show for me, reminiscing, “Katie, I’ve never met anyone who lives as deeply as you do. I don’t know if it’s the lupus or what, but you’re always making the most of each day. All the places you’ve been, all the things you’ve accomplished… I just don’t know where you came from!”. “I came from you, grandma”, I said quietly, too much of a mess to really explain my thinking at the time but I’ll outline some of the ways she’s influenced my life here. At 96, she was eager to get to heaven, catch up with friends, spend some quality time with her mother who died young. She’s probably too busy socializing to keep up with my blog but just in case. 1) Prioritize experiences over things While my globetrotting might have been a different level to what could be accomplished back in her day, she was quite the traveler herself, traveling all the contiguous states, Mexico and Canada. She worked as my grandparents raised a family of three.  She was proud of being frugal on a day to day basis but travel was a priority. My grandparents took the family camping, on cross-country road trips and eventually got an RV to meet up with a group of friends each summer. Growing up, I knew her as a bit of a shopaholic, but she was always clipping coupons and taking advantage of sales at Kohls to make sure everyone was dressed nice.  I’ll always remember how excited she was when I got invited to give a talk in Taiwan.  The next day, my bed was filled with glitzy dresses that seemed better suited for a bachelorette party in Vegas than speaking to stuffy Asian scientists.  But who knows, she was more fashion forward than I’ll ever be… One of the first days she was hospitalized, I was able to call in on Skype and listen into an hour or so of her reflecting on life. This was the first time I learned that she wasn’t the first woman my grandfather proposed to. He was self-conscious about proposing with the same ring, but she remarked, “I don’t care about a fancy ring. I’d rather a down payment on the house!” 2) Never stop learning My grandma had a million hobbies, even while raising a family. She was an incredibly talented seamstress and while I as a bit embarrassed to wear dresses with puffy sleeves to school on picture day, I had the best handmade Halloween costumes in town. She made dolls out of clay and sewed their outfits by hand. She and my grandpa worked together to make hand painted woodcarvings. She was a prolific and very talented painter with pastels, and while she’d humbly dismiss your compliments with, “I just copy real artists,” we’re lucky to be left with dozens of her work. I don’t have many regrets with my grandma but she did always encouraged me to write a book about my life, and she had an idea for the title and artwork. The one thing I wish I asked her to do was paint her vision for the cover. In addition to her hobbies, as soon as she learned I was moving to Auckland, she checked out a book on New Zealand from the library and probably knows more about the country’s history and wildlife than I do, even though she loved to share what she was reading. She kept up to date with celebrity gossip and magazines. One of the last days, she whispered something to my...

9 Months as An Ex-Pat in Auckland: The Tumbleweed Has Stuck

9 Months as An Ex-Pat in Auckland: The Tumbleweed Has Stuck

“Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” –Allen Saunders I know I’ve been terrible about updating my blog lately and since I just paid to renew my domain name, I thought an update was overdue, especially considering the ironic turn my life has taken since my last post about ex-pat life in Auckland, 4 months ago. When I wrote that, I was about to give up on Auckland. I felt useless at work, I saw my life passing me by and I was so determined to make a change, I was applying to jobs back in the Northeast, something I never thought I’d do. That was the beginning of many things I never saw coming. Just to put this in context… January 2016 Just before moving to New Zealand, my grandma predicted, “you’re going to meet a nice Kiwi bloke and stay forever”. I responded with maniacal laughter. “First, New Zealand is way too boring and far away from everything. I’ll stay the year I promised to work, then return to civilization. Secondly, Kiwis are too pale and too chill for me. Auckland’s main redeeming quality is that there’s lots of ex-pats”.   She dismissed my indignant protests with a “grandma-knows-best” little smile and I grunted at the ridiculousness of her premonition then immediately forgot about it. Fast forward to a few days after I wrote that post (May 2016) Out of sheer boredom and utter desperation, I rejoined Tinder and started talking to a guy who just passed in his two weeks notice for an engineering job that he felt no longer challenged him. We enjoyed some “good banter” (as they say in these parts) online for a few days, and agreed to meet up. A few minutes before we were supposed to meet, he texted, “I just got out of a relationship and I don’t know what my next step will be after this job ends, so I’m not looking for anything serious”. I replied, “well, that’s fine with me. I may quit my job and return to the States so I’m not looking for anything that’ll keep me in Auckland”. I also knew that traveling made me incredibly detached, and I was always the one trying to keep things from getting too serious. “Not a problem at all”, I told myself. Well, our first “meeting” (to which I wore crazy leggings and slippers, as the ultimate anti-date apparel) was nice but relatively ordinary. We went for a walk and we chatted. I liked talking to him and it seemed like he had a good head on his shoulders, but he didn’t make any moves and didn’t even text me that night. “Well, it’s probably for the best”, I reassured myself, “I’m leaving this place soon enough anyway”. Well, long story short, he might not have messaged me that night but he did text me the next day and somehow, it quickly turned into messaging each other for hours each day and hanging out more than we probably should have. A couple weeks after I met him, I knew I was in trouble when it was time to go to Myanmar and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to leave. This was a country that had been on my list for ages and anticipation for 3 weeks of wearing elephant pants and being a dirty backpacker again is what was getting me through long workdays. Myanmar turned out even better than I wanted it to be but somehow traveling this time wasn’t the same. Up until this point, I was driven to travel by a desire to find where I belonged. But during this trip, I had a nagging feeling that I belonged near the pale, blue-eyed Kiwi with ridiculous dance moves. Needless to say, I shortened my trip by a week and joined him and his parents for a few days of fishing and boating on their South Island “bach” (holiday house).    Spending time with him and his parents, who were just as silly and easy going as he was, felt so right that I didn’t even mind giving up warm Southeast Asian weather for being bundled up in thermals and having to de-numb my limbs by the fire! Fast-forward another 5 months to the present day (Nov 2016)… This Kiwi bloke didn’t completely cure me of my travel addiction (I still snuck off for quick trips to Colombia, the States and Niue (a small island in the South Pacific) but those trips too weren’t the same. It was fun to see, eat and do new things but I still couldn’t wait to board the plane back home, knowing he’d be there...

The Beauty of Uncertainty & Chaos

The Beauty of Uncertainty & Chaos

What first attracted me to physics was how nice and predictable it was.  You could use the kinematics equations to predict exactly where a ball would roll off the table, and as long as you chose a dense enough ball for air resistance to be negligible, Ta-da!  The ball fell in the cup.  Once you understood the language of mathematics, could turn words into numbers, you could predict how nature would behave.  For an ambitious student who loved to plan, whose life vision was a constant refinement of a decision made at the age of 5 (teacher->physics teacher->physics professor), I found tremendous comfort in the predictability and order of the universe. The last day of my freshmen physics class, this simple worldview was blown out of the water by a day long teaser discussion on special relativity.  Sure, my teacher debunked the twin paradox (where you could send a twin on a super sonic spaceship and he’d return to earth younger than his land-loving counterpart) as an incomplete analysis of the situation, and thus not a paradox.  But still, the day left me full of questions and a little bit angry, “How could quantities as fundamental as space and time be measured differently for different observers?  How can the perceived storage of energy depend on your reference frame?  How can basically everything be relative except for the speed of light?!?!” Well that led me down the worm hole, so to speak, and reading about special relativity inevitably morphed into learning about quantum mechanics which turned out to be even more frustrating.  Supposedly, you couldn’t even determine the most basic properties of a subatomic particle and the process of making the measurement affected the outcome.  If you tried to make a confident measurement of position of a particle, you’d lose information about its speed and moment.  Even more frustrating, our measurement abilities couldn’t be attributed faulty apparatus, it was an intrinsic property of these tiny particles.  Instead of absolute outcomes, the best you could do was speak in probabilities, probabilities that are affected by initial conditions, nearby particles and the actions of the observer.  For someone who loved knowing things, predicting things, planning things, quantum mechanics was deeply upsetting.  A “shut up and calculate” approach got me through my college courses but anytime I slowed down to think about things, the idea that the universe wasn’t innately knowledgeable disturbed me. It disturbed me until I realized that it corresponded with reality much more accurately than a predictable Newtonian universe.  Despite all my planning and micro-managing my life aspirations, the vision rarely corresponds to reality.  The universe isn’t always a logical progression of cause and effect.  Life is random, and a lot of the time, the best you can do is predict that one outcome is more likely than another, based on certain initial conditions.  You can adjust your behavior to maximize the chances of achieving something, but life can always interfere.  Certainly, trying to predict the behaviors of other people is nearly impossible, and if they know you’re observing them, that will almost certainly impact their actions. The real revelation wasn’t realizing that a quantum mechanical view of the universe made intuitive sense but it was recognizing the beauty in unpredictability.  This took much longer, probably not until I started traveling longer-term, when I dealt with uncertainty and chaos on a daily basis, when a lot of my expectations for my life were turned upside down and replaced by new dreams. “Perfectionism is merely an endless treadmill of self-destruction that’ll only build momentum until you’re running at unsustainable speeds.  Rather than remaining a slave to the illusions you perceive as safe, step off the treadmill and live as the piece of art you are: messy, colorful, fluid, adaptable to change, mistakes, shifts, surprises, pain and of course immeasurable moments of beauty. It is there, outside the enclosed walls of perfect self-imprisonment that you shall touch the meaning of freedom” -Victoria Erickson Life was so much more fun when I embraced opportunities as they arose, took advantage of serendipitous encounters and spent time enjoying life instead of waiting to control it. “Our anxiety doesn’t come from thinking about the future but from wanting to control it” -Kahlil Gibran Rarely were the highlights of my trips hitting the tourist attractions that were on the itinerary I designed for myself.  Instead, it was accepting a daughter’s invitation to learn to make dumplings from the Chinese lady who barely spoke English on the Singapore subway.  It was hopping on the back of “Rasta Roberto”‘s motorcycle in El Salvador and enjoying metaphysical musings as he shared his piece of paradise.  It was spending two weeks sailing with a guy who I...

Find Happiness in a New City: 3 Secrets

Find Happiness in a New City: 3 Secrets

After a month and a half of “real life” in Auckland, New Zealand, I’m finally starting to feel settled and find my groove but it wasn’t not easy.  I’ve met others who have been for years and still doesn’t feel completely adjusted.  Whether you’ve moved to a new country or just relocated to a distant new city, you’re never going to have as much history as in your hometown.  And it’s always hard to be away from friends and family, especially if they still reunite regularly. When I first got here, I struggled, which might have been obvious when I wrote this post.  A couple weeks ago, I started to appreciate New Zealand more and, thanks to a change in attitude, I’ve continued to embrace this place.  Although I’m by no means an expert, here’s three secrets that have helped me find happiness in a new city, with specific suggestions for ex-pats in Auckland, New Zealand.  Well, maybe they aren’t secrets, but sometimes simple suggestions can be effective! 1) View Each Day As An Adventure When you are living in a new city, it’s the best of both worlds… the adventure of traveling and the financial stability of working… unfortunately, a lot of people get wrapped up into new jobs, new responsibilities and new habits that they forget to take advantage of the fun parts of being in a new habitat.  Or they think they have time to explore so they postpone doing it.  I recently read an article from CNN  18 things we love on vacation but hate back home that playfully exemplifies how different people react differently on vacation than at home. “When we travel, we become children again — every experience is box-fresh with a new-car smell. Public transportation? A magic train ride to awesome. Grocery stores? An Aladdin’s cave of unfamiliar vegetables and hilarious brand names.   Back home, we have our security filters on high alert. That friendly stranger must be a lecher, lunatic or bore. A carnival parade is a sequined traffic disruption and street performers are bell-ringing pariahs. But on vacation, we let ourselves be open. We’ll taste that testicle souffle, we’ll sample that snake-venom liqueur. And when our stomachs rebel later that night, we’ll still be glad we tried.” When things go wrong traveling, you’re more likely to view it as part of the adventure, and laugh off bad experiences as a good story to tell back home.  When you run into similar situations in “real life”, it can ruin your whole day (for example, the spontaneous parade that delay your trip to the beach or the random person talking to you on the metro, ruining your nap).  Things aren’t always going to go smoothly when you’re in a place with different cultural norms, values and tradition.  You can often respond by laughing or crying.  Although crying can be tempting when you’re stressed and struggling to adjust, adopt the traveler’s reaction, giggle then share your “crazy story” with your friends back home. This weekend, 9 of my physics co-workers and I decided to hike one of Auckland’s most beautiful tracks, the 10.3 km Te Henga walkway.  The forecast looked beautiful, the sky looked beautiful when we left Auckland but as soon as we got far enough into the trek not to turn back, it started raining hard.  Before we knew it, all of us were drenched and spent the next couple hours slip, sliding through the mud.  Some of the people who lived in Auckland to anticipate finicky weather were prepared, and the Italian even bust out an umbrella, but I got soaked to the skin.  But, we all had a good laugh, and it brought back memories of mud sliding through Sapa, Vietnam. My French friend took this lesson a step further.  He was tired of getting blasted by the wind and soaked by the rain during his bicycle commute to work so he decided to use the wind to his advantage.  Now wind surfing is his new favorite hobby and it makes him appreciate less-than-ideal weather. In addition to adapting a traveler’s attitude toward mishaps, go exploring!  Immerse yourself in the new culture, recreation like the locals do, try the regional cuisine.  The Internet is great for creating “little bucket lists” to consult when you’ve got a free weekend and nothing to do.  Instead of being depressed about your lack of immediate best friends, maybe you’ll meet one if you do something from 16 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do In Auckland, The Ultimate New Zealand Bucket List or 50 Things You Should Have Done if You Live in Auckland. 2) Adapt to Your New Surroundings If you’re going to settle in to a new city, you’re going to have...