I'm going to be heading out of town for a few days this weekend - a dear old friend of mine is getting married in my hometown, so my partner and I are heading back for the wedding and to see some old friends and family.
I'm very excited, for a number of reasons ... first, I love weddings. Second, I love my hometown and seeing my family and friends. And third? For only about the third time since I moved away nearly a decade ago, I won't be bringing any academic work home with me when I head out of town.
For as long as I can remember, every trip home involved me packing - along with my clothes and holiday gifts and my dog - a few books or a couple of notebooks, along with my laptop. I always had to bring work home, you see. Just in case I had a few spare minutes in which I could get an article read or a few papers graded or paragraphs written.
Sometimes I'd get some work done while I was out of town, and sometimes I wouldn't. But regardless of how much or little spare time I had in my weekend schedule, I couldn't just leave the work at home. As I've said before, with the flexible work schedule in academia comes the expectation that you will always be working ... or that you'll at least have your work with you at all times, just in case you have some time to work. (Of course, having your work constantly by your side will serve only to increase your feelings of guilt if you aren't working ... but that's a topic for another post).
Anyway, that era of my life is over. Now, when I go on vacation? I go on vacation. On very rare occasions, I'll get a work email or phone call from my current job that I need to respond to. But it takes five minutes, and whoever needs me is always extremely apologetic about bothering me while I'm out of town. Unlike academia, many other industries respect that work time and free time are two separate - and worthy - entities.
Anyway, I won't be around with new posts until probably the middle of next week, but I wanted to leave the blog on a positive note - by describing one thing that you can look forward to if you decide to leave academia. The reclaiming of your free time.
This week, I worked 40 hours. Since I wanted to take off early today to head home, I worked extra hours each of the previous four days so that I'd get my full week's worth of hours. But I was still out of the office each day by 6, with the rest of the evening completely free.
And what did I do with those evenings? One night, I took my dog to the dog park, and then came home and watched a movie with my partner. Another night, I went to bed early and read a (fiction) book until I fell asleep. Last night, I met a friend for dinner and a beer after going to the gym. Wednesday, I spent an hour making homemade Mexican rice and enchiladas (which were excellent!). And this weekend, I'll be going on a trip.
I did all of those things while still putting in a full 40 hour workweek, and even spent a few hours Tuesday night putting together a resume and applying for a job. (Last week while on a similar schedule, I even found a few hours to put in a little work on an unfinished academic research project that I want to finish!)
There is life outside academia. And this life is incredibly fulfilling, because it allows me to maintain my own life and interests in addition to working. I am a happier and more well-rounded person away from academia. I may never see my byline in the top journal in my discipline, but I will dance at my close friends' weddings and spend time with my family ... watch my dog play at the park and pursue the hobbies that make me happy. And at the end of my life, I don't think I'll regret missing out on that top journal article.