A few random observations from the past week or so ... I'll post Part 3 of my "concrete advice for navigating this search" later this week:
(1) I have been traveling a lot over the past few weeks, going in and out of town for various weddings, new baby visits, and other family and friend events that I didn't want to miss. I have to say - it's been wonderful. I've reconnected with some old friends and family, and have enjoyed my time away from Grad U and my former colleagues. My family and friends hear about my career transition and start offering up suggestions for jobs or companies I could work for ... rather than offering up their thoughts about what I "should" do or why I should rethink my decision to leave. I have supportive friends in Grad U city - definitely - but the level of support I get among people who knew me before I came to grad school has been wonderful.
It's so nice to be around people who know me as the person I am, and don't place all of their stock in what I do or don't do for a living.
Also? Being able to travel, and to relax with family and friends without work obligations and guilt hanging over my head??? Amazing. My free time is truly mine, and I'm more relaxed and happy as a result. I'm also a better friend and family member, since I can actually spend time with the people I love rather than being there physically but being mentally lost in a fog of the work I "should be" doing.
It is making me realize, more and more, how utterly ridiculous the work expectations of academia are. No job is so important that you are not allowed to take occasional mental/physical breaks ... especially not a job where your duties are writing obscure, abstract research monographs and teaching uninterested students. There's obviously nothing wrong with those duties ... but to pretend that research and teaching are such unendingly important obligations that it's unreasonable to expect a few days off per week or the occasional vacation with no work is ridiculous.
I'm back at work today, feeling energized and blowing through my list of tasks. Time off can be rejuvenating. Academic types should give it a shot every now and then.
(2) I've started to notice that my grad school friends (with just a couple exceptions) seem to be cutting off contact with me. I'm not saying anyone is deliberately shunning me or anything, but the last few invitations to socialize have been ignored and most of my recent emails have gone unanswered. No one is being mean to me, but I've definitely noticed a radio silence from most of my former grad student friends. I've read about this happening to others, but sort of didn't expect it to happen to me, since I've never been all that dedicated to my program (so I'm surprised that others are really that stunned that I'm leaving). Still, it seems to be happening to me.
I'm not that upset about it - if people no longer want to be my friend, I'd rather they not be. But it's still interesting to note the radio silence that has ensued since I've made the decision to leave and have been vocal about it. I feel happier and think I am a more cheerful and pleasant person who is more engaged in the world around me and in my friendships than ever. And yet my old grad school friends seem to have declared me a non-entity because I'm switching careers.
That speaks volumes. If it was up to me, I'd prefer a cheerful friend who would be engaged in our conversations and in my life, not distracted by work and stress all the time. I wouldn't care if they were a grad student or a lawyer or a cashier at McDonalds - as long as they were a good friend, I'd want them around me.
For others, though, it seems that the only friends worth devoting time and energy to are the ones who stayed in academia.
(3) Recent search terms bringing people to this blog (in the last week-14 days):
-"unhappy with graduate school"
-"academia is depressing as hell these days"
-"i want to leave graduate school"
-"depressed academia time out"
-grad school loneliness
-i know i'm leaving grad school
-"leaving academia suicide" (whoever ran this search ... please tell me this is hyperbole. You are not alone, and you will be okay).
You are not alone. There are a lot of us out here, and it's okay to feel this way. Leave a comment or email me at leavingacademia (at) gmail if you need some support.