I’ve been thinking about writing on this topic for some time. It was a hard thing to do, leaving academia, and I know others face the same difficult decision. I fear my efforts may come across as self-indulgent, I don’t want to burden you with my pain. I’m not willing to share the whole story.
But I can tell you some things: how I arrived at my decision, the process of leaving, what I’ve done to try to find myself in the aftermath. Because I’m still floundering to achieve some sense of identity…to arrive at some understanding of who I am since I’m not an academic anymore. I’m a writer. I’m David’s wife. I’m a person who really likes dinner.
I’m a person who no longer cries every day. And this is a recent development. Up until last May, I was a person who cried every morning when I swiped my parking pass at work, a person who closed the door to my office so I could cry at my desk, and a person who came home and cried against my husband’s chest.
David and I talk about that sometimes – how nice it is that I don’t cry all the time anymore. It’s nice, and I didn’t know whether it would be possible. I wasn’t depressed, but I was unhappy.
When I left my job last May, I had only one goal: to stop crying every day. And I’ve achieved that.
As an about to retire staff, I completely sympathize with this. Most of us who are staff were also actively pursuing academic careers at one time or another. (not that some of us aren’t still doing so in their staff positions). After years you start to define yourself on academia’s terms. For many staff, we feel like handmaidens to academics and secretly feel like failures in our original chosen fields. After a while we realize that this air of failure clings to us…..wanna be academics, paper pushers, whatever.
One of the good and bad things about contemplating retirement is that I get to redefine who I am. I find that this is much harder than it might be. It’s “safe” to be a wanna be and a supporter of other peoples’ successes; it’s intimidating to think that it might be time to prove myself all over again, as I wonder will I manage to impress people as easily as I remember doing as a student. But this kind of risk is also exhilarating (especially as the time approaches and I realize that the skids have been greased, life is changing rapidly and there is no turning back). While working full time and bringing up kids I have been a dabbler in the things I’ve always believed that I wanted to do. Now it’s time to see what I can accomplish, and whether or not I end up wanting to accomplish some of these things that have always been safely out of reach.
I feel happy for our students who have made it as academics, but find your journey away from academia to be more personally inspiring…..Do keep posting about the process!!
Thanks, Liz. I relate to your feelings of being a handmaiden. Lacking sufficient personal commitment as an academic, I often felt compelled to use my talents for others who were more ambitious. My thinking being that if I don’t know what I want, then I should help those that do. That work was important, and I’m glad I took part in it but I’m thankful that I’m able to invest most of my time now in my own creative pursuits. I’m grateful that I think I’m worth the investment. Best of luck to you as you venture into new creative frontiers! I’m excited to see what you accomplish.
Even more than that, you have embraced laughter and you are giving laughter and discovering that in giving laughter, it is returned 10 fold. Well done!
So true! I always had laughter to balance the tears, but now laughter has moved to the forefront. And I love it.