Myth: If you want to be around smart, interesting people who like to talk about complex ideas and know a lot about world events, art, culture, literature, politics, etc., you should stay in academia. People outside academia don't care about things like that.
Reality #1: There are smart people everywhere.
Reality #2: There are stupid and uninteresting people in academia.
Heh ... I'll leave reason #2 alone. Let's just say that I've met a number of stupid and uninteresting people in academia, as well as people who don't seem to have any awareness of the world outside the ivory tower. It's true that there are a lot of academic types who are smart, engaging, and interested in the world at large and current events.It's also true that there are people who go into academia because it's possible to immerse yourself in your field totally, to the exclusion of the outside world.
I'll leave it at that. Suffice it to say, though, that if you're reading this blog and you know who I am, I'm not talking about you. :)
Anyway, the myth that the only smart or informed people exist within academia is a big one, and one that I find particularly snobbish and aggravating.
I don't know about you, but I know I've had in-depth, mature, well-thought-out conversations about a lot of things with a lot of people. As a new college graduate, I once had a lengthy and in-depth conversation about the pros and cons of the war in Afghanistan with a frat guy majoring in business, who is now a moderately successful boxer.
I've talked gender roles with a friend who works in IT at a help desk with an associate's degree. This same friend recommended that I read a particular book about politics, which I loved. I've talked about the North Korean regime with a bartender. I've discussed religion and gender roles with a good friend who works in public health. I participate in an online community where the members come from an amazing variety of backgrounds, and where I learn something new every single day from the wonderful, intelligent community there ... who range from college students to construction workers to television reporters to, yes, professors.
Smart, well-read, engaged, informed people are everywhere. If you're scared to leave academia because you're afraid you'll never have a deep conversation with anyone again, I challenge you to expand your horizons and to start talking, really talking, to the people around you every day.