I recently hit Send on one of the most terrifying e-mails I have ever sent in my life: one in which I tell my chair at the University of Wisconson-Madison that I will be resigning my position there. Wisconsin, in case you are somehow unaware, is a wonderful place to be a professor, and Wisconsin Sociology is in particular a special place if you are a sociologist.
I followed this e-mail by sending a couple other terrifying e-mails to chairs of sociology departments of perfectly splendid universities telling them that I was declining their generous offers of employment. Obviously every moment of one's life one is doing something and not doing many other possible things and thereby living one path into the future instead of many alternative paths toward an indefinite number of alternative futures. Still, it is scary to send e-mails regarding a major fork in one's biographical road--there, that future, the one some very smart and lovely people have made some very compelling arguments for how it would be absolutely wonderful, that future is not going to happen after all, and it is not going to happen because you have chosen it not to happen.*
True enough, one is extremely fortunate to be able to choose the greater of multiple goods rather than the lesser of multiple evils. Believe me, I regard myself as a truly ludicrously lucky human being. Even so, the particular act of saying no to futures one believes would likely be fabulous still seems to me a good deal more daunting than saying no to futures one is not enthusiastic about. In any case, clicking Send on these e-mails was certainly some of the most trepidly-taken mouse clicks of my life.
I said no to these alternatives because I said yes to another one about which I am extremely excited. This fall, I will begin serving as a Professor in the Department of Sociology at Northwestern University. So after sending the declinations, I was able to follow by clicking Send on a very enthusiastic acceptance.
Northwestern is a great university with great people in a great place to live, and the area also features some cherished social ties. I am not going to say anything here about particular reasons for selecting Northwestern over other possibilities. Except: I want to emphasize that I leave Madison with no complaints, and with much gratitude for the generosity and faith I have been consistently shown by people there. Trust me: Madison is special.
I'm not sure exactly when I'm moving. I have come to be firmly of the belief that if you decide your future is somewhere, you don't want to dally in getting yourself to that where. I'm not always great at following my firm abstract beliefs, though. My lease here in Cambridge is up August 1.
For people keeping track of my Big Ten Tally, the count will be five: Iowa, Indiana, Michigan**, Wisconsin, Northwestern.
Deliberating about all this over the past few months has been the most cognitively exhausting episode of my life. Part of my celebrating having it done with was to change my signature file quote to the official motto of the state of Wisconsin: Forward!
* I know common thinking in situations like this is that if you make a choice and it doesn't work out, you can always later pursue being able to reconsider taking up a future more along a path you'd foregone. Which may be broadly true but is not strictly true in that you don't get the time back and, as they say, you only get one life.
** Yes, Michigan counts. I collected a paycheck from there, had an e-mail address that strangely still forwards me spam, taught students for credit, and have ultimately spent 24 weeks of my life (in different capacities over four summers) there as part of the ICPSR Stats Camp.