I won't lie - some days I STILL wonder WTF I am doing with my life.
While most days are fine and good and I am learning new things, other days I am racked by the self-doubt and torture of a mind more used to working towards very long term goals. Despite the wonderous event of having the universe confirm that I am actually highly employable, every so often I find myself wondering: Is this it? Do I just do my job and go home at the end of the day and not think about it? What will my future hold? What else can I do? How do I know that I haven't made a terrible mistake? Am I "wasting" my PhD or am I building new skills?
Perhaps I need to acknowledge that ambivalance has always been a significant part of my life. For the entire PhD and post-doctoral years I was always wondering if I was doing the right thing. Sure, there have been very happy times when I have felt sure about what I was doing, but then other times when I questioned whether continuing in that path was a good thing. I was going to say that this ambivalence started well into my PhD, but then I had a flashback to my first six months and feeling bored and lonely and yearning for adventures instead. Sometimes now, in my darkest moments, I think, if only I knew then what I know now, I would have followed my instinct. Instead, I marshalled myself with cold hard discipline and worked hard to finish the damn thing. But then, other times (most of the time) I think, I have had really amazing opportunities to live the life that I had always dreamed of. It's just unfortunate that it didn't work out according to plan.
Once the thesis was done and dusted, as my employment prospects lagged more and more, the ambivalence would grow until I had something else to do. At different times over the years I have had plans to break away from academic, but I was always sucked back in to the academic life for one more contract. This was always gainfully assisted by the fact that I was inevitably in the middle of retraining or I was only working casually. Whatever the contract, I happily chucked away all my alternative plans in order to feed the beast/return to the cult of academia. Twice I have deferred law school.
Yes, I know, everyone says that more school is not the answer to the postacademic transition. More debt, more studying, potentially just as insecure unemployment etc etc. So in my last period of ambivalence and unemployment, I said "no more school". No matter what. I focused on shanghaing my existing skill set into another role.
But now that I have navigated that tricky gap (ok, terrifyingly tortuous and uncertain time) between academic life and non-academic life, every so often, the ambitous, career-driven, soul-searcher in me that changed undergraduate programs twice, worked their arse off to get a scholarship for graduate school and would actually have a very successful academic career if only there were more jobs, interrupts my idyllic day-to-day existence to push me into thinking: where the f*ck is this going?
Some days it does make me a little disappointed to think that after all that time spent working towards my goals that I have now got an ordinary old job. While my new work colleagues are very impressed by how quickly I have come to grips with my job, I do also sometimes think, "well, I do have a PhD - WTF did you think I was going to do?" Of course, I don't say anything out loud. That would be rude. Not to mention make me sound like a total wanker.
So while I struggle with these occaisional days of feeling ambivalent, I keep trying to remind myself that one of the best things about being free from the academic trap is that my future is my own. It will be what I make it.