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The end of the beginning

December 5, 2011, 7:30 am

It’s hard to believe, but we’re entering our last week of Fall classes here at Grand Valley. For those of you who only started reading the blog since it joined the Chronicle blog network in September, this was only my first semester at GVSU. I started here this fall, having left a tenured position at a small liberal arts college where I was on the faculty for ten years, uprooting my wife and three kids to move here to west Michigan in search of a better life for us all. It’s been an eventful time for us since coming here in July and therefore no surprise that fifteen weeks have gone by in what seems like a flash.

I can’t imagine getting off to a better start. My students have been smart, mature, and industrious and it’s been a pleasure to help them learn. My colleagues have been supportive in every way. I’ve really enjoyed the large university environment GVSU offers. My wife’s job situation is working out well, and the kids are loving their schools and especially the beaches and parks that are seemingly everywhere here. By all accounts, we have all landed on our feet in convincing fashion. (Now, if only our house in Indianapolis would finally sell.)

There’s a list going in my Evernote of “What I’ve learned since July” that I hope to expand out into a bunch of blog posts later. But for now I just wanted to share a couple of points about this first semester of “The Great Restart” that might be useful to others.

1. For anybody who might be in mid-career and wondering if there’s something better out there for you, realize that it’s possible the answer is “yes”. Even if you are in a safe and comfortable position — say, tenured and two years away from promotion to Professor, like I was — it doesn’t mean that you’re in the best position possible for yourself and your family. Take a look around. You might be surprised what happens.

2. I don’t take a lot of pride in myself because everything I’ve done can be easily attributed to a linear combination of Divine grace, being in the right place at the right moment, and being around lots of people who are smarter than I am. However: I will go to my grave glad that I did not pass up the opportunity to take a calculated risk at improving my professional life and the life of my family by taking this GVSU job. When I interviewed in March and received an offer, as much as I wanted to accept on the spot, the temptation to turn it down was strong. It would mean we’d have to sell our house in the epicenter of the worst housing market since the Depression. It would mean giving up tenure. It would mean having to live on one salary for a while. I actually had decided one night that the risks were too great and had resigned myself to turn the offer down, when my wife looked me in the eye and said: “You need to do this.” And she was right. All my reasons not to accept the offer were based on fear — fear of the risk turning bad. That’s no way to live your life.

So I’m thankful for the semester coming to a close and for what the future holds. And as for what I’ve learned this semester, stay tuned.

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/melyndakloc/

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