My mother is an explorer.
Not of the hiking boots and rain-soaked maps–sort. Her adventures sought truth beyond what was directly stated.
A few years ago, I was writing my thesis, and she was completing her dissertation in parallel. We both wrote about Colombia, though I wrote about drug cartels and how they invested in political campaigns, whereas she focused on twentieth-century and contemporary Colombian artists and how they documented the violence of the drug wars.
We found that writing about Mexico, where I was born and she had lived for a quarter of her life, was too raw, too close to memories we weren’t ready to talk about, so we shifted our focus to Colombia.
She asked, “How do you sit down and focus? Help me remember what it’s like to be a student.”
I offered some notes on my study habits.
I asked, “Can I borrow your books from the artists?” Sometimes, they offered a perspective closer to the truth. She’d challenge me to go beyond the text.
We explored truth together.
I finished my thesis and graduated from Yale. A year later, she submitted her PhD dissertation to Harvard. Mine was to satisfy my burning questions about black markets in Latin America, an important step towards embracing myself wholeheartedly as an explorer of truth (a researcher). Hers was a project of love and defiance that shows it is never too late to chase your dreams.
Now, a few years after college, my mentors remind me that I should start my PhD now, if I want to sample all that life has to offer. They tell me the investment of my time and energy into a PhD has to happen now, if I want to have a family and a career. I left academia to try my hand at research inside industry, first for a think tank and then TED, and to try pursuing other people’s questions.
Sometimes, I am consumed by anxiety. And just when I wonder if my window of opportunity to return to my questions is closing, I remember my mother’s journey, and how she fearlessly pursued her degree while working and caring for her children. It would take fourteen years from start to finish for her to complete her PhD. It was interrupted with adventure: she left her program when she moved to Mexico City, had children, worked as an art critic, and taught art history, before she eventually returned to her PhD.
Timelines for the questions we pursue, she taught me, can be adapted, and sometimes a researcher requires different types of personal growth to reach her fullest potential.
My Mom is an explorer. My path (and my timeline) is my own to determine. With her as an example, I embrace my adventures.
Diana Enriquez is by day TED’s Content Researcher, and by night an informal economist. She loves experiment design, trying to answer difficult questions, unusual businesses, and the informal economy. She grew up in Mexico City and Boston and now lives in Brooklyn.
This was originally published as an essay in a collection of essays here.