I wrote this piece a while back and never posted it. Since I'm in the middle of a pretty big case of writers' block right now, I thought I'd throw it out here for everyone to read. I think it's a little scattered (which is why I hadn't posted it yet), but in the absence of having anything else to post right now ... here you go! :)
I wanted to follow up on a few posts about postacademic life that have popped up in our little corner of the blogosphere in recent days.
As you know, I've been writing a lot lately about how my postacademic life is pretty great ... that I have plenty of free time, and I don't work in a giant corporate office with mind-numbing responsibilities and awful coworkers. And that's all true! I like my life now, and my job is alright, and I'm generally a lot happier than I was when I was in academia.
But the posts that others have written this week - particularly at Lauren's and Currer's places - have caused me to feel compelled to throw up a little caution flag on my blog. Not to walk back my positivity about my postacademic life, mind you - I really AM happy as a postacademic! But after reading these posts at Lauren and Currer's places, I feel like I need to take a minute to make it clear that every single second isn't all sunshine and rainbows for me either.
I'm still dealing with a little bit of (post)academic guilt, and a little bit of doubt about the decisions I've made since leaving. Even for someone like me who's landed in a pretty good place, becoming a postacademic is not easy. You can get to a good place mentally and occupationally after you leave, but it won't happen overnight and you will have a few ups and downs along the way.
And even after you do make that clean, complete break from academia and are feeling good about your life? You can still have occasional setbacks. The dream job that you took might turn out to kind of suck (like Currer's). You might miss some aspects of academic work (like some of the Type 2 leavers). Or, like me, you could wind up generally happy ... but still experience moments of worry and self-doubt every now and then.
But it doesn't mean you're doing it "wrong" - it just means you're going through a big life change and things might get a little messy. So let's talk for a minute about how that looks ... for me, anyway.
I've written about these up-and-down feelings a little bit before, but not in quite a few months. But given that Currer's post described me as a really successful postacademic (eek!) and sort of insinuated that everything is all good with me, I *did* want to mention that I do still have doubts/worries from time to time. Currer and I aren't on opposite ends of some postacademic spectrum. She seems to be having a harder time right now, but I have my moments as well.
So ... what are the things that still bother me? Well, a lot of it relates to my job. As you all know, I left academia and took a position at the consulting firm I'd been working at for the last few years on the side while I was a grad student. Upon leaving academia, my boss offered me a raise and promotion, which I took. And it's been pretty alright. My boss gets on my nerves sometimes and sometimes I wish I was doing something else ... but ultimately, it's just a job. And for right now, it's a perfectly fine job to pay the bills.
But sometimes I worry that I will regret having taken this job rather than looking harder for something "better" (from an academic perspective). Something that requires more education, or that's a closer fit to what I was doing in academia. Something that my friends and family can be impressed with. In other words, sometimes I worry that my job is somehow "beneath me" ... because, well, I was going to be a professor. "Managing a consulting office" doesn't have the same fancy ring to it. I'm glad I have a job and I'm proud to be earning an adult salary, but I don't get excited when I talk about what I do ... and sometimes I wish I did.
So while I never feel regret over the fact that I left grad school and don't work in academia anymore (honestly), I do sometimes feel a vague sense that there is something more that I should be doing - a job that's more meaningful, or a job in a cooler city, or a job that my former advisors and academic friends would be more impressed by than "manager at a consulting firm."
So while Currer wrote that she sometimes gets a little down when she reads
posts from those of us who like our postacademic jobs? I admit - I sometimes get a little down when I read posts by the post-ac bloggers who have actual
in my opinion and in my less upbeat moments, the other postacademics have done it "more right" than I have. They left,
and sent out resumes, and interviewed for jobs, and took jobs vaguely
related to academia that led to concrete career paths they were
And me? I just took the job that I'd been
working part-time in grad school (in the same industry I've been in since I was 18), and made
it a full-time job. Whoop-de-do. The job that was just helping me pay the bills while I was in grad school, and that I'd always said I'd never consider staying in long-term? Well, here I am, working it as a (for now) career.
So while I don't hate my job, I sometimes find it sort of, I don't know ... embarrassing. Disappointing. Wasn't
I supposed to be doing something more profound with my life? When I
left academia for Things That Were Better For Me in February of 2011, weren't those Things
supposed to be more exciting than "the same part-time job I've had for
the past five years?"
Now, I try not to let this stuff get me down or bother me too frequently, and it really doesn't. I realized a year or so ago that as long as I'm happy in my overall life (which I am), it doesn't seem to really matter what I'm doing for a paycheck. And that has been the case, most of the time.
But every now and then - and particularly when I hear about someone who's landed their dream job or is pursuing an exciting career change or something like that - I feel like a bit of a failure. Like I have no business keeping a postacademic blog that others look to for inspiration, when all I did upon leaving academia was to parachute into the part-time job I'd had for years. What kind of example am I setting for other people here? I'm not a postacademic success, I'm a postacademic coward, who was too scared to look outside of my immediate environment for a new job!
But then, after a few minutes goes by ... I realize that's not the case. Being happy is its own success, in my opinion. And getting out of academia into this "just for now" job has made me happy for now. So I'm doing just fine. And as time goes on, I'll reevaluate and make changes.
But if you read my blog and think that everything is peachy-keen 100% of the time for me, please understand ... the second guessing and the comparing yourself (unfavorably) to others does still happen to me, at least from time to time. It doesn't mean that I regret leaving ... but it's important to recognize that ups and downs will probably happen if you leave, so don't be surprised.
And to be honest? I blame the psychological mindfuck that academia gives us a little bit. If academia looked more like the "real world," we'd probably have a saner view of our work lives.
Work would just be "work," not "the most important thing in our lives." A job would just be "a job" that we could take or leave - not "the only job worth having, while the rest of the world toils away in the pathetic boredom of a nonacademic job." All of the people we worked alongside on a daily basis would be chasing a thousand different careers in a hundred different industries ... not competing against one another for a single set of jobs (and thus constantly comparing ourselves to each other and seeing where we come up short).
In other words, I feel like we'd all worry a little less about "whether the job we have is good enough and what it says about us" if we hadn't been put through the ringer of academia first. It creates unrealistic expectations about what an adult life and career should look like, and of how we compare ourselves to others. It makes it hard to see that we all have different life goals and different ambitions - even among academics! - and that one person's career success doesn't mean that we've failed because we're not moving as quickly as they are or in the same direction they're going.
(Also, I think that we'd care a lot less about how other people see our lives and jobs and careers if we hadn't been conditioned through years in academia to be constantly critiquing and competing with each other, over everything.)
So, Currer ... don't be too hard on yourself. As Lauren says, quitting isn't pretty.
And to my readers ... take heart. If you leave academia, it will likely be both incredibly awesome and incredibly hard. But even with that hard stuff, as Currer, Lauren and I have all said ... we still wouldn't go back. Because moving forward into postacademia is hard, but moving back to academia would be a nightmare.
At least out here, we have choices about where to go next, and some control over the process.