Moving the Margins

I think my favorite part of this past week’s readings was McClusky’s Theory of Margin (Merriam & Bierema, 153–156). I just kept thinking THIS THIS THIS!!! as I read, tempted to highlight every danged word on those pages—this is the most literal description of the mental calculus I perform every time I consider another major life change, especially with regard to learning and careers.

When I was offered my current job at Harvard Business School, one of my main motivators for taking it (even though it wasn’t what I was looking for) was the exceptional educational opportunity. If ever I were to get a master’s degree, I thought to myself, this would be the way to do it. As I started researching all the paths I could take, all the choices I had, I came down on two possible paths: instructional design or occupational therapy. The former would build on my interests and skills from my publishing career (but with far more opportunities for growth and decent pay), while the latter would build on my interests and skills from my massage career (but with greater power to help others and significantly better pay). I opted to start with OT because it was the more daunting and time-consuming path, and I figured that it would become clear to me pretty quickly whether it was the right choice for me.

Well, I was 100% right about that—it became clear quite quickly that several years of prerequisites in subjects I’m not naturally good at PLUS three more years of full-time graduate school would be a whole heck of a lot for me to handle. Sure, I could have gotten through it, but at what cost? How much would my mental health have suffered? the quality of my work at my actual current job? my partnership? my enthusiasm for the long-term goal? my social life? And so on. I wish I had known that this theory had existed, as it would have been the perfect place to which to direct my dissenters. So many people framed it as if I didn’t want it badly enough—as if, somehow, sheer enthusiasm could compensate for all the MANY sacrifices I would have had to make to get to that end goal. It was so hard to explain all those subtleties—to explain that, sometimes, your goals are really pipe dreams that just don’t line up with the reality you currently occupy. There shouldn’t be any judgment assigned to that—it’s merely truth. My truth.

I find myself redrawing those margins all the time—the scales of power and load are constantly shifting in a way that they simply didn’t when I was younger and more reckless with my time and energy. At times I feel somewhat wistful for the times when circumstances felt less dire, consequences more surmountable—but I also know that age and experience have made me more apt to accurately assess how the math balances out (or doesn’t, as the case may be). I’m grateful that, even if I don’t feel like an “adult” to the degree that I’d like, this is one flavor of math I’m getting better at. Finally(!).


One thought on “Moving the Margins

  1. It sounds like a rough time going down the OT route. I never really knew how challenging this field would he to get into. It’s hard for many people to find their true calling. Even for me, I always dreamed of being a video game programmer but soon had to fall out of that in the middle of my undergrad. I hope you path is filled with more light moving forward. It’s never easy to figure out the end goal.


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