I'd also like to ask the other postacademics who are adjusting to nonacademic jobs to chime in if they have a minute, either in comments or at their own blogs. We all have different jobs and live in different cities, so my opinions and experiences certainly aren't going to be representative of everyone's. I'd love to hear a few more people talk about how they feel about their flexibility of schedule since leaving academia.
Anyway, onto the question...
I'm starting to get the idea that despite my "flexible" schedule [in academia], these 8-5ers have more of a life than I do and an easier time living it (with the schedule). Is this accurate?I think your hunch is accurate.
I mean, don't get me wrong. Having to be in the office for a regular 40 hour schedule every week can be frustrating. My family and friends are about a half day's drive away from where I live now, and I do occasionally miss the grad school days, where even with my part-time job I only had to be in the office 3 days per week and was free to take long weekends to visit them without having to count vacation days.
But all is not lost. I do have vacation time and flextime, which gives me enough time to take about one long weekend a month and a few extra days at Christmastime. That might not seem like a lot ... but even in my grad school days, I wasn't going on weekend vacations more than once a month. (And as an aside - weekends away are a lot more satisfying when you don't have a pile of academic work to do!)
So if you're a grad student who takes long weekends every single weekend and who takes extended, weeklong vacations multiple times per year? You may find a regular 8-5 work schedule pretty difficult to manage while still keeping up that travel schedule.
But if you usually only take a few trips a year, most of which are just a few days at a time? Then I don't think you'll feel egregiously oppressed by only having a few weeks off per year. Really and truly. Most nonacademic jobs aren't that inflexible - particularly the types of jobs you'll be getting with your MA or Ph.D.
This reader goes on to say:
Because I think the "perceived" inflexibility [of the outside world] is one of the scare tactics and I feel like my current "flexibility" is actually a pair of handcuffs with the word written on them.This is the rub, isn't it? Grad students and academics talk about how "flexible" their schedules are - and on the surface, that's true. There are few scheduled work hours and usually only sporadic meetings and scheduled events to attend.
But the tradeoff for this, in my opinion, is the mental handcuffs that academia places on you. You might be free of work demands in reality, but you rarely feel like you are. You're mentally shackled to ideas about what you should be doing, or could be doing, or what all of your colleagues and competitors are doing right this second while you are slacking off. I don't know a single grad student or academic who doesn't struggle with this kind of guilt and worry and fear and self-blame over what work they're doing. I'm sure there must be a few of them out there, but I've never met one.
And this is really the main thing I've noticed with regard to my outside/free time and "flexibility" since I've left academia. I may have a less flexible schedule on paper than I did before ... but my schedule feels a million times less hectic now that I have my 9-5.
In fact, in recent weeks I've been feeling a little restless, and have been thinking about trying to find a new hobby or volunteer activity. I certainly never felt like I had a lot of spare time for hobbies when I was in grad school - in fact, I stopped volunteering as a youth sports coach after just one summer because I didn't think I could afford to keep dedicating two evenings per week to it. Because if I had free time for hobbies, then clearly I wasn't working hard enough.
I have absolutely no idea why the myth that the outside world is an inflexible nightmare persists, because in my mind the mental inflexibility in academia is a million times more oppressive than just having to punch a time clock every week. And yet, the myth of inflexibility continues to be spread by academics for some reason that I just do NOT understand.
Now, I'm certainly not enough of a conspiracy theorist to believe that every professor in the world is in cahoots to make sure as few grad students/adjuncts as possible leave by spreading Big Scary Myths about the outside world.
And yet, somehow it keeps happening. Grad students keep getting told that every worker in the outside world is burnt out from a neverending, inflexible workload ... all while they, themselves, worry about whether they're working enough and sit at their computers through the night and on weekends with nary a break for a quick meal. They're told that their schedule as an academic is the most flexible and open-ended schedule in the world, all while they can't seem to find the time to see a movie or go out of town for a weekend or to do any of the things that their nonacademic friends seem to always be doing, despite their "horrible, inflexible schedules."
But ultimately, it's all just a myth. Academic work hours are flexible, but the social pressure to never stop working is overwhelming. And the outside world is less flexible on paper, but there is generally an understanding among your fellow workers that you have a life outside of work and that you will be tending to that - rather than even more work - when you aren't in the office.
Both schedules have their ups and downs, but I can tell you with all honesty and seriousness that I am happier and more relaxed and fulfilled with the nonacademic work schedule. So yes, reader ... I think that you are correct that academic flexibility is an illusion. I'd take my current 9-5 schedule any day.