As I mentioned yesterday, today is the one-year anniversary of the day that I officially decided that I was going to leave academia.
I knew the anniversary had to be coming up soon, so a few months ago I went back through my email archives to find the email that I remembered sending to a good friend of mine when School A called to tell me they'd hired someone else. I clearly remembered sending that friend an email just after I got the call, lamenting my pathetic future in academia ... and then realized a few hours later (with help from my partner) that I didn't have to stay in academia. So oddly enough, I can trace this decision back to one particular day and had a time-stamped record of when the decision was made. And that day was February 22, 2011.
So here I am, one year later. And I'm happier, less stressed, and tremendously glad that I made the decision to leave. I'm not entirely sure what the future holds for me - I know where I want to live, but am still struggling with exactly what I want to do and what kind of jobs I should be trying for now. But I'm applying for jobs and researching careers, and figuring things out. I'll get there.
Anyway, when I discovered the exact anniversary date a few months ago, I started jotting down a list of ways in which my life is better now that it was in grad school. I initially had the list broken down down into rough categories, but once I started putting these posts together I realized it made no sense to try to categorize them. There's no need to try to figure out exactly what categories each improvement to my life fits into. The simple truth is that my life is much better now. There's no reason to think it over in more detail.
So here you go. Reasons 1-5 in which my life is better post-academia, in no particular order. Reasons 6 and beyond will be posted in upcoming days. For now, enjoy!
1. I've been able to read for fun again. No longer am I chained to academic books or stuff I have to read for my dissertation or for a class I'm teaching.
Every grad student knows that reading "just for fun" drops off precipitously when you enter a graduate program. At first, you're stuck reading books for coursework (and probably enjoying them, since it's your chance to really dork it out with the big thinkers and ideas in your discipline). Eventually you'll finish your coursework, but you still can't read "just for fun" anymore. Now, you're reading for your comprehensive exams or for your dissertation. And even if you are up to date on your reading and work, you'll still have that nagging little voice in your mind that if you have time to read anything, you really should be reading books for work. And the end result will be that you will go months without reading anything that's not work-related.
Well, that's not me anymore. In the past year I've read probably 25+ books, just for fun. Some were fiction, and some were biographies, and some were (gasp!) books from my discipline that I've always wanted to read but couldn't, since they didn't relate directly back to my dissertation. But guess what? Now that I'm not working on a dissertation anymore, I'm free to return to what I loved about my discipline - the breadth of topics it covers. And when I get tired of that, I can grab a terrible mystery novel from the library, and the sky doesn't fall in.
I came to academia partially because I loved to read. But it wasn't until I left that I really got the chance to really enjoy reading again.
2. I have the freedom to live where I want. I'm no longer shackled to the academic job market, where my future geographic location will be more or less decided for me by the randomness of the job market. I've described before how even the decision to limit your academic job search (for example, saying you'll only apply to "jobs in major cities") can get altered significantly due to the limits of the market. You'll start out with strict rules about where you'll apply, but chances are that after a string of rejections and a non-ringing phone, you'll suddenly start thinking that that job located two hours outside of a midsize college town doesn't look that bad after all.
I'm done with that now. Instead of chasing 100 jobs around the country, I'm now picking a specific geographic area and trying to find work there. Several hundred new jobs in that area come out every single week, so there won't be any point at which I think "oh man. I haven't gotten any of these jobs, so I better start looking in rural Idaho instead."
And for now, until something better comes up? I'm free to stay here, where I'm reasonably happy and content for now. I don't have to beg my boss to let me live and work here for another year. I can just ... be here until it's time to move on. I'll never have to move around the country year-to-year if I don't want to.
And along those lines...
3. I will never be forced to be a full-time adjunct or VAP. Of course, I am *not* picking on people who take these positions. The academic job market often leaves them with little choice, and for people who genuinely want to stay in academia it can be a way to stay in the system while trying to find a better job. I'd never criticize someone for taking these jobs.
But by leaving, I know that if I ever take one of these positions, it will be because I want to (like the dustbiter is considering right now), but not because I have to (like so many people who find themselves unemployed in April or May after an unsuccessful job market season). That is incredibly liberating.
I know now that if I ever meander back toward an academic job of any sort, it won't be because I'm forced to. It will be because I want to.
4. My partner tells me that I'm calmer, nicer, and a better all-around partner now. He swears that he loved me even when I was still an academic (and yes, I believe him... :). But he says that it's easier to be around me now because I'm not stressed out and worried and guilty all the time. And I believe him, because frankly? It's a lot easier to *be* me now. I'm a lot less stressed and overwhelmed. Even inside my own head, it feels calmer.
Also, more tangibly ... being able to spend time with him after work or on the weekend rather than having to spend hours in front of the computer has been good for our relationship as well. Being able to relax together on the couch is a better usage of "couple time" than me dissertating with my headphones in while he watches a movie. I think that spending time together as a couple is critical for maintaining a good relationship, and finding time to spend together has been much easier since I left academia.
And most fundamentally...
5. The fear of leaving is gone. I left, and I'm okay. I work outside of academia in a job I don't hate, and I don't miss the academic work. A few people have second-guessed me, but no one has majorly shamed me for leaving. My life has not fallen apart, and in fact is better in a lot of ways. The "OMG what if..." part of leaving is over. I don't have to be scared about "what happens if I leave" anymore. I left a year ago, and the sky didn't fall in. I'm okay. In fact, I'm better off.
That's just the first five reasons I wanted to throw out here. There are quite a few more tangible ways in which my life is better now than it was in the past - from the substance of my work to my calmer schedule to my less angry and volatile personality. I've got a long list (that's hopefully not too repetitive), and I'll lay them out here over the next few days/weeks.
But for now, think about these five reasons and how it is possible to leave and be happier. I know I am!