I’m working on my memoir essay thingy this morning. Thought I’d post a teaser.
The essay is loosely about my being unemployed for 14 months. I mean, technically, I was consulting and contracting and such. And, you know, I blogged. But I didn’t have a full-time gig. And I needed one.
Here’s an excerpt from the identity crisis part about my own long-term, post-academic unemployment.
While I was working my resumes and building my network and trying to make money as quickly as possible, I was also reckoning, for the first time, over two years after my decision to leave academia, with that choice.
Wait now. Was it a choice?
Yes, it was.
I was exhausted by the academic job market. Its impersonality. Its long cycle. Its infinite demands.
As a contingent humanities instructor, I felt like I was literally a dime a dozen. Hundreds of PhDs would line up to take over my gig, teaching writing and critical thinking to that state’s top STEM students. I was making what felt like dimes during my 30s, a time when many middle-class Americans don’t need their parents to pay for groceries.
When I had the best MLA interview possible and didn’t get a flyback, I decided that I was done. I saw peers in my post-doc program get jobs in places I would not want to raise children. And any profession that demands us to privilege career over the rest of life is no profession I can cotton to.
Two forks diverged in a yellow wood. I looked down one as far as I could: a job converting my research interests into first-year GE courses, in a town where I’d be the only Jew. The other path, some unknown but engaging career in a bright, shining city, close to family, with mountains, sunshine, and museums.
I chose the path with more joy and sunshine. I chose.
But, um, no, I did not choose. It was no choice at all.
I did my very best work during the most energetic time in my life, and the sham meritocracy did not reward me.
I was ejected from a career I grew passionate about because massive funding and labor trends made it impossible to compete with 600 other comparably talented applicants for the least pleasant jobs.
70% of us would never find secure employment in this career that swallowed our Hannah Horvath years.
I looked at my CV, at the time required to balance work and family, and at the number of years since filing my dissertation. I concluded that any belief that I could get a tenure track job in the next year or two would be based on fantasy.
I did not choose. I was kicked out. I calculated my odds and saved my skin.
Still, choose, not choose: the differences are, well, academic. No matter how it happened, I was out of academe. I had to find something else to be.
Besides academia, my other trial careers lasted two years or less. I couldn’t go back to my 12-year-old journalism. I didn’t want to go back to market research.
If not an academic, what was I?
I was a Big Nothing.