I thought I might share, this sleepy Saturday, a vignette I just posted on Mahlou Musings. Here it is:
When someone kicks you, kicking back is not always the answer. Sometimes it seems that a nice swift kick, especially in a vulnerable spot, would garner a wonderful feeling. However, holding one's leg back from doing what it wants to do sometimes ends with even better results than any amount of revenge would have brought. In short, don't get mad, and don't get even: get what you want.
In my own life, I have written three doctoral dissertations in order to finally finish one doctoral degree. For one fabricated reason after another, my department chair did not accept the first two. (Rumor told me that he blamed me for his not being hired at the institute where I worked and had told one of the other graduate students that I would finish my degree only over his dead body -- a rumor that appeared to be true at face value although he would not state something like this publicly and I never cared enough to expend the effort to confirm the details. Since I was a slow learner, apparently, it took two dissertations for me to realize that perhaps the rumor was true and at the very least something was wrong.) I could have sued the university, had I had the inclination, money, and energy, and I might have won. I could have taken on the chair in other ways, but I did not. I chose to move on from a painful situation, still the leg that wanted to kick back, make my career through competent work and publication, and wait for serendipity to help with the dissertation and degree issue.
Many people along the way offered to help, and that made me feel validated. The department chair of another department at the same university wrote me a note of encouragement, suggesting that I complete the degree elsewhere and let her know when I could put the initials behind my name; that comment kept me going for years, and I was able eventually to let her know that she could, indeed, use those initials.
Colleagues treated me as if I had "punched" the dissertation ticket, and I have not been held back in my career. In fact, I would not trade my career for any other. For that reason, too, I have not felt the need for revenge. As for the dissertations I wrote, they proved useful in other ways -- another reason for not taking revenge.
The first dissertation topic was quite esoteric. I received a couple of fellowships to conduct the research for it in Siberia during the height of the Cold War, a time when Americans did not go to Siberia, least of all for research. I not only went there, but also I took my oldest daughter, Lizzie, with me. Through the years, the Siberian connection has been of professional and personal value. I have many friends there, have provided much consultation there, and was able to bring a child artist from there to the United States for medical treatment. If I had not worked on that dissertation, none of those connections would have been made. Besides, I made a conference presentation and published an article on the dissertation.
The second dissertation topic was less exciting, but it helped me land a dream job in my specialty, a job that most people get only at the end of their careers but which I got at the beginning of mine. Although my advisor never read the dissertation, it has been published piecemeal as several articles, presented at numerous conferences, and cited in the works of others. That is better than revenge.
The best outcome was that the trajectory of the kick landed me in an extraordinary position much later. I have now completed a third dissertation, this in in Russia, at a university that is better respected than my original university. Had either of the other two dissertations been read and processed, I would not have been eligible to do the later degree. Perhaps thanks to my earlier negative experience, I appreciated all the more the comment that was made by the department chair in Russia at the end of my dissertation pre-defense: "We don't know why you need us, but we feel fortunate that you came to us."
Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes I published, copyright 2003.