I have been a neglectful blog writer for the last few weeks. But for good reason. I was on vacation with my parents, siblings, and niblings. And I didn’t touch my dissertation the whole time. Best. Ever.
Not that the trip was free of complications. One thing that separating myself from academia has shown me is how well I have learned to internalize other people’s expectations of me. I certainly had this tendency before graduate school. And I noticed it getting worse over the course of graduate school. I just never really thought about the reasons for that until recently.
I can’t say for sure, but it does seem highly probable that academia would intensify these feelings. I mean, think about the job market. In our placement seminar, we poured over ourselves, trying to find the least offensive, smartest, and most collegial way to present ourselves. In mock interviews, another graduate student literally transformed his personality and body language in front of our eyes because our advisors had suggested that he seemed too comfortable and too assertive. They told us how committees would want us to be a little nervous, that it would show eagerness and submissiveness. They warned us that we didn’t want to intimidate hiring committees. I worked really hard to fit the molds that we thought committees wanted us to fill. I tried to make myself seem serious for committees who might not take my queer studies focus seriously. I didn’t think much about what being hired in a department that dismissed the seriousness of queer theory might be like. I was just trying to land a job.
I don’t think that this sort of training is special. There are tons of books about crafting resumes and performing in interviews for non-academic jobs. But the difference lies in the fact that the stakes are so much higher. After Academe has a fabulous post about myths of the job market, especially the part about how we are told that if we do everything right we will get a job. The key word being “everything.” But because people are people and all different and stuff, there is no telling what that “everything” actually is. So we analyze every detail of ourselves, working out every single possibility. For the love of god we had a twenty minute conversation about whether to remove your suit jacket for the conference interview after someone told a story about someone who did this and thus endeared themselves to the committee by appearing laid back and unconventional. I would not be surprised if that story were entirely true – how else does one determine the all-important “fit” when hundreds of highly qualified applicants apply for each job opening. But it doesn’t make it any less ridiculous.
So, wait. I was talking about my family. Part of me wants to give them a link to all the blogs I read, to Versatile Ph.D., to the job wiki, to this, because I don’t know how to begin to convey the intricacies of the academic career hunt, or career in general. I can tell that they don’t understand why I am not pursuing the thing that I’ve been working for for 8 years. I have to remind them (and myself) that I’ve been teaching and working the whole time, that I have already tried academia out in a way. This is just not what they expected and I don’t know how to help them understand it to the extent that I would like. I haven’t even broached the possibility that I might do something that is not clearly connected to the training I have, or that I might need another degree to do it (horror of horrors, but possible).
It was hard. But also easier than I expected. Since I decided not to pursue academia, I have found myself letting go of a lot of fears about what other people think of me. They are not gone, but they are not what controls me. They are there along with what I want, which, it turns out, is also important. Maybe that’s because I’ve left behind the kind of culture I just ranted about. Maybe it’s because I basically had a six-month-long panic attack after I made this decision and then literally snapped and realized that I had to pull it together if I was going to figure out what to do next. But it’s nice. I feel physically and emotionally lighter. And more able to just be with people. Which was one of the key parts of this decision. So I’m glad that it seems to be working.