Leaving academia has brought me a great deal of relief but also a hefty dose of disappointment. I’m feeling it this week as my friends and former colleagues attend the Population Association of America 2014 Annual Meeting in Boston. I attended my first PAA in 2005 soon after I started graduate school. I wasn’t sure what topic I wanted to study, and I didn’t know a whole lot about research. Attending session after session was overwhelming but also inspiring. I was going to be a demographer!
PAA got better every year (until last year when I knew I was leaving). I made lots of friends in the field and got to see them at this meeting. I presented posters, gave talks, organized my school’s annual PAA dinner. I was part of the community.
I noted absences. Every year a few people I remembered attending prior meetings wouldn’t be there. It made me wonder how many years on average people attend PAA. It made me wonder what happened to the people who disappeared.
I didn’t want to disappear. I didn’t want to disappoint my friends and mentors by not being there. I hoped for a nice long career in demography, one where I would be important enough to give addresses and receive career awards. I didn’t want to disappoint myself.
There’s a lot of disentangling of feelings to be done when one leaves academia. For me, that’s meant recognizing that my disappointment in not having my first career path work out doesn’t necessarily indicate that I wanted it to work out. It’s meant acknowledging that it’s hard to let go of dreams even when they lose their luster. And most importantly, I have to remind myself that I’m worthy of having new dreams even though I let one dream die. Even if I’ve disappeared.