Margaret Locke: Failing My Way Into Happiness

This post originally appeared on Sydney Scrogham’s blog. I thank her for graciously letting me reblog it on my own site.

It was January 10th, 2000. I was in Hamburg, Germany, in month five of a yearlong DAAD grant for dissertation research.

I was also desperately lonely.

WWII Memorial Statue in Hamburg I walked by every day. I had to photograph it, because it represented how I felt much of the time I was there.
WWII Memorial Statue in Hamburg I walked by every day. I had to photograph it, because it represented how I felt much of the time I was there.

I missed my husband. We were newlyweds, married not even six months before. He’d visited in December. We’d spent the Christmas holiday together in the states. And then, suddenly, I was back in my subleased apartment on Beethovenstraße, facing seven more months of work – and separation.

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t.

I’d lost interest in my doctoral work a while before. I’d applied for a Fulbright/DAAD grant anyway, mostly because it seemed the thing to do, the next step toward acquiring that PhD. I never thought I’d get the grant – they’re highly competitive. But, somehow, I did, and I found myself planning for a year away, a year I didn’t want to take.

How could I say no? This was a prestigious award, after all, an acknowledgment of talent and promise I never fully believed I possessed. I’d said for years I was going to be a professor of medieval history, and one couldn’t do that without a doctorate. I had to go. Right?

It never occurred to me it was OK to give up something in which I’d invested so much time – and money. Definitely money.

That was failure. That was defeat. That was unacceptable.

What would people think of me? What would people say? I couldn’t disappoint my new husband like that. He’d married me thinking he was marrying a fellow academic. Would he still love me? Would my mom, my family?

My identity had long been invested in my intelligence. People had told me my whole life I was smart. I excelled in academics. How could I stop in the middle of what I’d been pursuing for years, a career path that “proved” to me and to everyone else I was exactly what they thought I was?

Brett and me in Hamburg, December 1999 – we did have fun the three weeks we were together!
Brett and me in Hamburg, December 1999 – we did have fun the three weeks we were together!

Don’t get me wrong – I loved medieval history. I still do. But on January 10th, 2000, three years to the day after my husband and I started dating, my heart won out over my head.

I called my husband and then my mom, and told then I was coming home. I sobbed into the phone all my worries and fears about them thinking I was a failure, a quitter. My mom said this was a decision I, and I alone, could make. My husband said he supported me either way.

I called the airport to book a last-minute flight – and I took it, leaving all of my belongings behind.

I had no idea what I was doing. I thought maybe I’d be home for a few weeks, soak up some time with hubby, get my head on straight, and go back.

Nope. Oh, I did go back, six weeks later, on a whirlwind weekend trip to clean the apartment, gather my stuff, and to explain and apologize to the professor who’d been advising me.

Then I headed home again. I officially quit my doctoral program. I gave up a coveted grant and three years of graduate studies. And I was never happier.

Sometimes, when I tell people this story, they ask, “Don’t you want to go back?” They shake their heads (figuratively, if not literally), saying, “But you were so close! Why didn’t you just finish?”

Because. My heart wasn’t in it. My dreams weren’t in it.

Quitting grad school was the best decision I ever made – because I made it for me, based on what I wanted, on what I needed to feel happy.

Row houses in Lüneberg – for a nice German feel, and also to say, it was gorgeous. Not every day was a bad day. ;)
Row houses in Lüneberg – for a nice German feel, and also to say, it was gorgeous. Not every day was a bad day. 😉

Should everybody make such a rash life change? Not necessarily. I was blessed to have a supportive husband and be in a position where switching up life goals wasn’t unbearably financially risky. I was, and am, lucky. I know that.

Quitting grad school was the most freeing decision I ever made – because I did it, and the world didn’t fall apart. I didn’t fall apart. I was a quitter, and yet people still loved me, respected me, wanted what was best for me.

That was eye-opening – that quitting wasn’t necessarily failing. And that even if it were, people were there to catch me when I fell.

We’re still happily married. I’m still blessed, because my husband, my sweet, darling, ever-supportive husband, is 100% behind my decision to write, even though it means I’m likely to be costing us money, rather than making us money – at least for a while.

I’m so fortunate, y’all, and I know it. Not only do I have the support of family and friends around me, but I also have the knowledge, the certainty, that if I fail, it’s not the end of the world.

And when it came to pursuing this forgotten dream of writing romance, that certainty is what gave me the courage to try.

A Man of Character Cover Margaret LockeWhat would you do if you discovered the men you were dating were fictional characters you’d created long ago? 

Thirty-five-year-old Catherine Schreiber has shelved love for good. Keeping her ailing bookstore afloat takes all her time, and she’s perfectly fine with that. So when several men ask her out in short order, she’s not sure what to do…especially since something about them seems eerily familiar. 

A startling revelation – that these men are fictional characters she’d created and forgotten years ago – forces Cat to reevaluate her world and the people in it. Because these characters are alive. Here. Now. And most definitely in the flesh.
Her best friend, Eliza, a romance novel junkie craving her own Happily Ever After, is thrilled by the possibilities. The power to create Mr. Perfect – who could pass that up? But can a relationship be real if it’s fiction? Caught between fantasy and reality, Cat must decide which – or whom – she wants more. 

Blending humor with unusual twists, including a magical manuscript, a computer scientist in shining armor, and even a Regency ball, A Man of Character tells a story not only of love, but also of the lengths we’ll go for friendship, self-discovery, and second chances.


margaret lockeA lover of romance novels since the age of ten (shh, don’t tell mom!), Margaret Locke declared as a teen that she’d write romances when she grew up. Once an adult, however, she figured she ought to be doing grown-up things (such as earning that master’s degree in medieval history), not penning steamy love stories. Yeah, whatever. Turning forty cured her of that silly notion. Margaret is now happily ensconced back in the clutches of her first love, this time as an author as well as a reader.

Margaret lives in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley in Virginia with her fantastic husband, two fabulous kids, and two fat cats. You can usually find her in front of some sort of screen (electronic or window; she’s come to terms with the fact that she’s not an outdoors person).

Margaret loves to interact with fellow readers and authors! You may find her here:

Twitter: @Margaret_Locke

One Reply to “Margaret Locke: Failing My Way Into Happiness”

  1. Pingback: Writer Wednesday: Margaret Locke, Part Two | Margaret Locke

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