Tuesday, December 31, 2013

When You've Run the Good Race

I finally finished my tenure packet last night and submitted it.  Now it is a matter of waiting until April to hear a final decision.  This winter morning, as we draw near the start of 2014, I look back and reflect, not on 2013, but the past 5-1/2 years.  This blog, my therapeutic attempt at journaling, has chronicled over 3 years of that journey.  Hard to believe ...

A great 2013 Christmas!
What is tenure?  Many people operate under the misconception that tenure is some sort of "guarantee" of permanent employment.  This is not true.  Take 30 seconds to scan this article which does a good job of laying out what tenure is and is not.  In a nutshell, tenure is an arrangement whereby faculty members, after a required successful completion of a period of probation, can be dismissed only for adequate cause and only after a hearing before a faculty committee.  For example, speaking your mind about a controversial topic would not be grounds for dismissal.  On the other hand, if there is a budget crisis, a tenured professor can be laid off just like anyone else, as is what happened recently at this university in Pennsylvania.          

On a professional level, I will pull no punches on objectively describing the reality of what happened to me once my tenure-track clock started.  In this day and age, the old adage of "publish or perish" is now amended to read "publish and get grants or perish".  In fact, it's pretty common now in many universities to have a contractual clause stating the number of grants you have to procure from external funding agencies.  Honestly, I spent a lot of time focusing on grants.  I had a so-called "joint appointment" where I worked for two different colleges.  Therefore, I had to be very careful about how my time was budgeted, how I could best serve the unique needs of each college, while attempting to publish research papers across multiple disciplines.  As for teaching, there were new graduate course preparations and students to advise.  Since I really value teaching, I tried very hard to give it equal footing with respect to research and service.  This was all complicated by my contract changing two times.  It was not easy … a heavy workload of 50-to-60 hours a week, over most weekends and holidays, will ultimately exact a toll.

I took considerable care to retain and grow my personal life, and was able to experience some wonderful things and meet some wonderful people along the way.  Running races and training was a source of unbridled joy as well as escapism.  It led me from the Atlantic to the Pacific and many points in between and even to South Africa.  This after a knee reconstruction and long rehabilitation.  I was able to travel to southern Mexico to climb a big volcano, California to trap golden eagles, and several countries in Africa to trek after gorillas and golden monkeys and climb Kilimanjaro.  Several months ago, I saw the sun rise over Machu Picchu in Peru.  The list goes on, and with sincere gratitude I say to anyone reading this, I am a lucky man.
Machu Picchu at dawn from the Sun Gate. 
While I am truly happy with my life, for me happiness is a moving average with a slowly increasing trend.  There have been personal challenges as well that I won't hide and these were exacerbated by working so hard towards tenure.  There have been days over the past 5-1/2 years where I felt lost as a man and lonely as a person.  Early last year, injury took away my running and back then it hurt like Hell.  I leaned heavily on several close friends during those challenging times and I will forever be indebted to them for that support.  Ultimately though, I began to learn to rely more on the one person who is always available to provide the emotional support and compassion I need … and that person is myself.  

Things have changed, I have changed, since I arrived at West Virginia University in 2008, for I have seen too much and experienced so much.  What once occupied my every waking moment, my job, no longer has an unhealthy spell on my soul.  I have given this a lot of thought the last year and without sounding glib or defiant, I have come to wholeheartedly embrace the precept that no job, no hobby, no place, no thing, no body can ever define the essence of who and what I am.  Children matter, love matters, friendships matter, seeing a sunrise matters.  Living mindfully, enjoying each day, living by my values … that's what also matters …

An important lesson for any important goal in life is to be able to examine yourself and to have that inner dialogue, in that quiet moment, where you can unequivocally say "I have done my best."  And if you can say that and believe it to be true, then you, my friend, have run the good race …

I will close for now returning back to those who have provided the fuel for my emotional and spiritual growth and matter the most to me … the students, past and present.  As with myself, I wish for you to move forward and have faith that the Universe is going to put you exactly where it wants you to be.  It can be a hard sell, really, to have that blind trust that all will work out as it should.  But if you follow your heart and your dreams, don't believe all the horror stories your mind whips up, live by your values, ally yourself with people who are accelerators in your life and ignore those who are brakes, and most importantly, believe in yourself, then you too will have run the good race.

This Alaskan salmon had no chance against Andy Tri.  Or should I say, Dr. Andy Tri!


  1. "...happiness is a moving average with a slowly increasing trend" Classic! :)
    It has been great to share some of that time. Fingers crossed for the tenure thing, although I really doubt it will come down to luck.

    1. Spoken like a true statistician?! Thanks, Gancho. Glad to have shared that time, too.

  2. Wish you have your tenure in hand.
    And happy new year.

    1. 刘伟国, 我的朋友, 谢谢。新年快乐!

  3. Written by a seasoned Ultrarunner, taking each challenge as it comes and adjusting as needed! Wishing you all the best in 2014, Phil. May our paths cross someday...

    1. Thank you, Sophie. I wish you and your family a terrific 2014 and I will see you in the mountains sometime!