Monday, July 2, 2012

Feeling Weird This Morning...

In the interest of sharing all of my ups and downs with you, dear readers ... here's a Negative Nelly post for you. Because it's a Negative Nelly kind of day.

I've been feeling weird for the past 24 hours, ever since I read WTF's last post where she writes about how she still googles her former academic colleagues and feels kind of wistful about the academic life, missing it and wondering if she'll ever go back. Some of the other postacademic bloggers have expressed similar emotions in the past ... which, for the record, I totally understand. They're (mostly) Type 2 leavers, so it's normal that they would feel wistful and nostalgic about their old lives. It makes sense, and I don't judge or think it's at all weird that they're feeling that way.

But every time I see a post like that, it makes me feel sort of weird ... and it takes me a day or so to shake the weird feelings.

First, I feel sad for them that they're not able to pursue the work that they love anymore. I can't even imagine how hard leaving would be if I actually missed academic work but just couldn't find a job. That must just tear you up inside. And it makes me furious at academia. The industry should want to keep the bright, motivated people who love the work ... not farm them out in a constantly rotating stream of adjuncts with no job security and a shamefully low salary.

At the same time, though, those wistful posts kind of make me feel like a loser or a flake. Because I don't miss the work at all. Haven't looked back once since I left last February. I haven't looked at anyone's CV since I left, and haven't been curious to. I haven't read a single journal article or felt compelled to write anything other than this blog. (I have read a few books from my discipline, so I guess I'm not a total loser...) And when I hear about other people slaving away at journal articles or syllabi until late in the night, I always think "suckers!!!!" I just really realize now how much I disliked academia and I know that I dodged the world's biggest bullet by deciding to leave.

So on one hand, yayyyy! I know I made the right decision if I don't ever feel even remotely compelled to go back or to dip my toes back into the academic life!!

But, damn. I also feel kind of stupid. How could I have not realized sooner that I wanted to leave? Why did I hang on for a few extra years, stressing myself out and taking on another student loan?

And more importantly ... what does it say about me as a person that I could just walk away and never look back from a career path I was supposed to love and want to pursue more than anything?? What kind of a flaky person am I, just up and quitting my career without a backwards glance???

Now, at my core I realize that I'm just a Type 1 leaver, and it's therefore totally normal to not miss the work. And I realize that leaving academia is, in the end, just another career change. And if I don't think people who leave other careers and never look back are losers or flakes, then I am most certainly not one either. Sometimes you just have to run away and not look back.

But I still feel kind of stupid today. Like I'm doing postacademia wrong or something. Like I'm really not a good model for other people who want to leave. Because clearly there is something wrong with me for not missing the life or the work at all, whereas everyone else will pine away for their academic lives if they leave based on my advice.

I'm also feeling weird today because when I came into work this morning I couldn't shake the feeling that this job isn't one I'm passionate about or want to do for the rest of my career. I think I'd feel better if I had left academia for another field that I loved and was pursuing a career in. But I didn't. I took a well-paying job with a decent title that I don't hate and don't dread coming to every day. It's a perfectly fine job, but it's nothing I'm excited about. And I hope to not be doing this in five years. I hope to be doing something else.

But I have no idea what that would be, and I really don't feel compelled to search for that next career yet.

Which swings me back around to feeling like a flaky loser again. I left academia - a prestigious career - without a backward glance or a feeling of regret ... only to take some stupid job I am "meh" about? Wasn't I supposed to be chasing some career? Am I, at my core, some stupid loser with no career goals who is destined to just work "meh" jobs from here on out for the rest of my life? That scares me.

Now, on one hand ... if working a "meh" job makes me happy, then why should I care? If I can pay the bills and am happy, who cares if I'm pursuing a meaningful career or not?

On the other hand, though ... I hate the idea that I might have no career goals after spending the entirety of my twenties singlemindedly chasing a career. For eight years I wanted to be this one particular thing more than anything in the world ... enough to move two states away from my family and friends, work 24/7 and give up a middle class income to pursue? But now, after all of that ... I'm just settling for whatever job will have me? That's depressing. I'm supposed to be more ambitious and smarter than that.

So I'm having really mixed and not-altogether-positive feelings this morning. And in the interest of full disclosure, I guess I feel compelled to share them on this blog.

In the end, I guess I'm glad that I'm not wistful about leaving. It makes the whole thing easier, and I know I made the right choice to leave.

I guess that I just sometimes wish that I was a little bit wistful, or that I had a career goal right now that I was working toward. It'd be nice to know that all of the time I spent in grad school meant something ... or that I was heading toward an awesome career in the future. Without those things, I'm sort of feeling like I'm really not a postacademic this morning ... I'm just someone who quit a job when everything wasn't perfect, and who shouldn't have gone to grad school in the first place.

I guess it's time to dive back into What Color is Your Parachute, huh?? Time to start thinking about future career goals, and to at least get my mind reoriented toward what comes next.

Or maybe I just need to take a nice long beach vacation ..... :)


  1. Go for the beach vacation!!!!

    More seriously, even though I'm a type 2 leaver, i have not been longing much for the life lately. I've not been Googling academic people I used to know to see what they're up to, and I haven't been reading articles or doing any other independent scholar stuff lately, either. in fact, whilst on vacation (see blog), my uncle, who is a retired prof, suggested I revisit my diss, spiff it up a little, and send it off to Fancy Publisher with whom i have a standing invitation to submit to. My reaction surprised me slightly. I haven't thought about this much lately, but a year ago this advice might have prompted some enthusiasm. Instead, my response to my uncle was a lot more "meh, I'm bored with this, and I'm really just looking forward to starting my new job and looking ahead rather than behind."

    You're most totally NOT a loser for feeling weird about any of this and most certainly not alone in it. It would be nice to have clearer goals and surely nice to feel that grad school wasn't a total waste. I think my grand revelation of this beach vacation, though, has been that, in fact, I have two career goals going forward, in no particular order: to make more money and to not be bored. Not being bored has always been one of my goals. Grad school kept me from boredom for a little while -- in fact, I was so not bored by grad school that I neglected to think about the importance of that other goal at all! Now that I have thought about it, I'm having more fun trying to figure out the challenge of accomplishing both.

    There's no real good to be gained from feeling overly wistful. Grad school, if nothing else, is what got you to the point in your life where you could start figuring some of this out, right? I think that's a net positive and will probably lead you to a more interesting place in your life down the line, for having sorted it through, than not having gone to grad school would have.

  2. Don't question your ability to embrace it and be happy.

    1. YES! I try to remember that we're also looking at our lives at gradschool through what I'd call thick chunky rose tinted glasses. Yes, being wistful got you out ...and you'll and we'll have probably more exciting lives because we left academia. ..we 'woke' up and saw the roses. None of us are losers. Don't think that. If being happy is more risky, not bored, much happier and in control of my life...I'll take it.

      I don't google my ex-academic colleagues since I get wistful that I've missed something but then I realise I nolonger have to put up with the academic politics and the oneupmanship or what a friend of mine calls the 'chest thumping' of these types of academics.

  3. Thanks, guys. I needed both of these comments.

    @recentPhD - I've been thinking lately that all I really want is (1) enough money to live (and hopefully retire!) on, (2) a job that I don't hate, and (3) enough free time to enjoy my life.

    Every now and then, though, that little voice creeps into the back of my mind that makes me feel like that's enough. Like I should want more. Which is, yes, ridiculous. Probably residual Grad Student Brain, where everything must be Meaningful and every moment not working is a moment wasted. Blecchhh.

    Lauren, you're exactly right. I'm happy. There's no need to beat myself up for being happy now.

    And recentPhD ... you're probably also right that I wouldn't even be as happy as I am now if I hadn't gone through my grad program. Seeing clearly what I *don't* want and how overwhelming that life was really has let me enjoy the simple things. Never again will I take having free time or an adequate paycheck for granted.

    Thanks, guys. I don't know what came over me today. But I'm glad I could come over here and get it out of my system. Blogging really is kind of awesome. :)

  4. Sounds like you've spent an awful lot of time thinking (through grad school and beyond) - no harm in spending the next while just being and doing, and seeing what emerges. If you're in a good place now then there's really no hurry about any of this. Also don't worry about being flaky - pastries are also flaky and they are delicious.

    1. dr piglet, that is the most delicious analogy I have seen EVER!

      Just want to echo the other commentors- sorry you are feeling down today. But you don't have to have all the answers right now, or tomorrow, or next week. I think the feelings you are expressing are residual cult of academia type feelings! They will seem insignificant when you are sitting on a nice beach somewhere :)

  5. The 2-Year Life of the MindJuly 2, 2012 at 8:52 PM

    I think doing a job you "love" is a terrible idea. I say "terrible" because it's called WORK because it IS work. Ultimately, the job for me is a means to an end, not the end itself. I want a 9-5 job that I enjoy and feel like it helps make some type of a difference in the world. I want to work with reasonably intelligent people who are reasonably kind. And I want to make a good salary with benefits so I can feel safe and well fed.

    But do I want to "love" this job? Hell no! I want to enjoy it but what I "love" is my family. What I "love" are my hobbies and my writing. What I "love" is other people and the human spirit. I don't want to love a job. I want it to support me well enough so I can build a life I love.

    I think you have uncovered yet another fault in Academia. The idea that you will get paid well with excellent job security to just "do what you love" is and always will be total bunk. There is always a price to pay for what you do for someone else who is renting your services. I believe the time investment factor and, in my position, the emotional investment in the students, creates a false need that only we think we can fill in the name of "love". Loving your work is backwards. What you should love are people and life itself. As it turns out, we've always been cogs in the machine.

    I think you should reconsider your position that its somehow "Bad" that you don't "love" your new job or aren't "ambitious" enough. That so-called boring "job" you have has allowed you to write this blog. As I prepare my escape from academia, I find it a TREMENDOUS comfort to read about someone who did it. Lucky for me, your job affords you the time, resources, and creative/emotional energy to write these posts, which are making ALL the difference for me. So thanks for taking that "job" that you don't "love". You do good things, my friend.

  6. Oh no! I feel bad now that I have made someone else feel bad :( That's most definitely not what I am about. In fact, I rather like making other people feel good about themselves (supposedly one of the good things about teaching etc but rarely found in adjunct work/higher ed in my experience).

    Interesting to hear (well, read) how the postacademic feelings get played out in a differnt way, though. I think I am with you JC in that I am actually quite content with this whole not being an academic anymore thing (when I am not pining and googling former colleagues) that it frightens me. That is, I start wondering what happened to the career gal that I used to be. Now I am happy that I work close to home, am free to do what I need to and can do whatever I like on the weekends. Does that mean I am no longer the career go-getter I used to pride myself on being? Well, not exactly. Because when I am not googling former colleauges, I am thinking about all the exciting new directions my career could take now that I am doing something different. But instead of the pressure to work to a certain ideal, I now have more freedom and flexibility and time to develop. Or not. That is, the security of full-time employment means I not desperate or frantic anymore. I can stay as long as they want me, or I can start plotting my next move. But unless I am made redundant unexpectedly, the choice about when I start plotting is up to me.

    Anyway, blah blah... I could write another full post. But what I wanted to say was "Don't feel bad - you are doing just fine the way you are." I think it's hard for people used to chronically over thinking everything to stop and concentrate on what's going on right in front of them.

    1. Oh, don't worry about making me feel bad! Honestly, it wasn't just your post. Just like anyone, I have ups and downs. I think yesterday was a down day ... that just happened to crystallize around what you wrote. We're all good, don't worry!

      "I think it's hard for people used to chronically over thinking everything to stop and concentrate on what's going on right in front of them."

      I could not agree with this more. In fact, I'm always telling my partner when I'm fretting about this thing or that thing, "Honey, I'm sorry ... I was an academic for eight years. Overthinking everything is just what I am used to doing!!!" :)

      Anyway, it's no problem. You know how it goes ... you have a blah day, and it feels better to get it out of your system and let off some steam...

  7. I think some of what you're experiencing are the kind of residual post-academic feelings of guilt over feeling happy or even just content. And I think this guilty feeling tendency is something that is part of the culture of academia. With the culture of nothing is ever good enough, academic aspirations can't be high enough because there's always more that you should be doing etc, means that if someone does find themselves in a relaxed,content space, they're perceived as a slacker! So, I think getting to this place in your life where you are happy with things the way they are, is a pretty healthy state that depends only on you/ your assessment of personal success and work/life balance. My dear you should celebrate it! I've been trying to tell my sister this who has been pining away about whether she should take on a night course for MA, so that she can move up in her career - this is after she tells me she really likes her job at it is and enjoys her free time. Anyway, I think I've talked her out of it. Message for your day - embrace your achievements and all the good things you have and be grateful that you've left behind some very heavy (academic) baggage.

  8. Now that I'm looking for work outside of academia I find myself 'between purposes.' I sure as hell don't want to do a PhD anymore, but that's left a huge vacuum in terms of my career goals - as in, I don't have any... yet. It's a distressing place to be, considering what we do for work has largely come to determine our value and define who we are.

    I left the business world five years ago for grad school, thinking it was a way out. Now I feel like I've regressed back to where I began, looking for jobs in the finance sector again just to pay the bills. Cue existential crisis!

  9. The 2-Year Life of the MindJuly 3, 2012 at 6:37 PM

    You know JC, there's another benefit to this blog besides your well-written experiences. When we get to reply freely, it's very cathartic (at least for me) because we can not only comment on your posts, but we can also add in our own experiences. I do hope you realize the great good you're doing with this blog. Your information is inspiring and helpful and this blog is the way a blog should be.

    1. Aww, thanks! You're making me blush! :)

      No, seriously ... when I started this I thought about requiring people to log in to leave comments, and then I thought ... nah. If people have things to say but need to say them anonymously, they should have this space. I'm glad it's appreciated!