One month ago, at my talk at Williams College, a young man asked me, "Do you think that by doing all these fellowships and traveling around the world, you are avoiding your adult responsibilities? I think that's what my parents would ask me." I took a second to consider this question. "No," I said plainly, "I think that everybody, of every age, would like time to take a break and explore the world."
This question made me think immediately of my mother's concern for the next generation, that they are expected to know exactly what they want to do by the time they are eighteen. Even at 22, when I graduated from college, I didn't know what I wanted to do. And currently, I'm questioning whether and in what capacity I want to continue the profession that I've chosen.
I read a statistic recently that college graduates today will hold an average of 27 jobs over the course of their career. Barely anyone holds a single job for their entire lives anymore and I think that indicates that we all feel entitled to try out new things every couple of years. Wouldn't it be great if we had some time between these job changes to build in self-reflection, exploration and renewal?
I think fellowships are a perfect way to have a sabbatical from your work. And the best part is that by taking time off for a fellowship, you're not dropping off the face of the earth. In fact, when you come back to your work (or start your new position somewhere else), people are IMPRESSED that you were away doing a fellowship and it becomes a career-booster!
I am very lucky to have a husband who has accompanied me on all my adventures. Scholarships and fellowships committees realize that people are not solo-flyers and they provide additional stipends (for children and spouses) so that you're not faced with impractical decisions. I think our lives are more rich and fulfilled for having taking these opportunities to travel and work on interesting projects. I plan to take many more trips and career sabbaticals through fellowships that will give me a break and also give my family the opportunity to experience a unique and enriching life.