a 2011/2012 rumination
This is both a look-back and look-forward kind of post.
I’ve been thinking about 2011 a lot lately, for obvious reasons, but I’ve been surprised by how negative my feelings about 2011 have been, certainly more negative than my experience of 2011.
2011 wasn’t that bad: I was away from my grad institution the entire year; I made steady progress on the diss, I did a lot of baking, I got a kitten, I had a pretty great first semester of teaching, and most importantly, I FINISHED AND DEFENDED MY DAMN DISS!!!
So why, when looking back, did I feel so negatively toward what has clearly been a great year relative to the past several?
I’ve been in something of a funk lately. It’s not post-dissertation/grad school letdown. I’m still ecstatic and enormously proud of myself. I have a PhD, and nobody can take that from me. And I earned that PhD under circumstances and with an advisor that would have caused where most to give up. The problem is that I don’t have a clue about where my career’s going. For the first time ever, actually, I don’t have a plan other than wait for others to decide whether I have a career in this profession.
And I don’t do uncertainty well.
Actually, that’s an understatement. I go out of my way to avoid uncertainty. I don’t date because I can’t handle the uncertainty. Yes, I know that sounds awful, but I bring it up because it shows what kind of uncertainty paralyzes me. I can handle a fair amount of day-to-day uncertainty. I’m not at all rigid or regimented in my daily life. For the most part, I’m confident that I’ll get things done. But what I can’t handle is when things are completely out of my control and when those things have significant consequences for the shape of the rest of my life. In other words, things of utmost importance. Hence, my complete and utter inability to even think about dating. In fact, just typing and thinking about dating has turned on the panic, so I need to stop.
Up to this point, I’ve never panicked about my career. From fifth grade on, I’ve always known what I wanted to do. True, my chosen career changed twice, but each time it changed only once I had something else in mind. And once I made a decision, I did everything I could to make that goal a reality. But now, things are different. There is no next step, other than hoping that the gods of arbitrary smile down on me. But I’m a pessimist, so in practice that means waiting for the inevitable failure.
Fundamentally, I’m not cut out for the academic job market. Mentally, I can’t handle years of temporary gigs, because temporary means not permanent and not advancing the career. And while I’m not sneering at postdocs, ultimately they postpone what matters: getting a tenure-track job and focusing on the goal of getting tenure.
This post is a bit rambly and confused, a bit like my state of mind currently. But there’s a reason I find it so hard to sort out what I feel about academia: I like what I do. I like doing research. Well really, I like writing history, which means I tolerate the gathering of sources. I like writing. I like teaching. I think I do most of those things pretty well. I have distinct points of view about my field, my research, and teaching. In other words, I’m down with the raison d’etre of academia. But everything else? The socially awkward people. The not-so-liberal liberals who pat themselves on the back. The outrageous job market. The expectation that we’re supposed to indenture ourselves to adjunct work on the hopes that a few years down the line we might get a job. Or not. All of that makes me ill.
In fact, writing this post is making me ill. I’m stopping.
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