Monday, May 28, 2012

'Workin' 9 to 5...'

With respect to Ms Dolly Parton, working 9 to 5 (or whatever your fulltime equivalent is) can be a bit ho-hom from time to time. There are some days when I miss the freedom of the academic life, where you could have a little sleep in work from home if you couldn't be bothered dragging your sorry arse into the office. No such luxuries in the "real world". You just have to drag your sorry arse into the office whether you like it or not.

Now perhaps you were/are the kind of academic who works from home in any case. Not me. I always went in to the office, if for no other reason than to create a bit of a distinction between my home and my work life. (I've mentioned before that I always had good work-life balance - keeping work at work really helped in this). But I still liked having the option to work from home, or to work hours that suited me better.

For the most part, my job is pretty flexible. They at least talk the talk about work life balance. (Whether anyone takes them up on it or not is a seperate issue).  But that doesn't mean you can just turn up late because you'd rather take your hangover "weighty thoughts"  to the coffee shop...

However having said that while some days require a lot of effort just to get there- there are a million ways to look like you're doing something while you're really running on empty without having that awful gnawing feeling of being unproductive crushing you even further. In short, there are a lot of crappy things you can do while you're not feeling up to the bigger things and at no point will you be made to feel like a god awful loser because you can't string a sentence together. I guess what I am saying is: even the worst day in the office can't make you feel as incompentent as an unproductive day of (not) writing that next paper/book/conference presentation.

Then before you know it - the day is over and you can go back to your PJs and crap TV and hope tomorrow is a better day. You don't need to feel guilty about all the work you didn't do, and you don't need to be melodramatic about how crap you are as an academic compared to the person down the hallway. You don't need to count the number of papers you don't have, or the number of grants you have failed to get. You can idly flick channels and watch your favourite reality TV show without guiltily reflecting on what you should be reading instead.  

Thank goodness for the "real world".

I still hate ironing though.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Yep. I can confirm that the post-academic blues are true

You've heard of the baby blues right? Well the post-academic transition involves a similar form of emotional upheavel (although not nearly as hard, and hopefully involving less vomit and more sleep). Like other post academic bloggers have written, it's normal to feel sad about the change you're going through.

Don't get me wrong, I am not talking about clinical illness here - more just the occasional down moments you have when you think "WTF is going on here? I thought I had my sh*t together and now I realise that I was totally wrong...". If you are having these down days on a regular basis, then get thee to a health professional ASAP. They have pills and therapists for that sort of thing. Don't suffer in silence thinking what you're feeling is normal. It isn't. But like I say, occasionally feeling down is. (How often is occasional is up to you to decide, but I believe the aforementioned health professionals say that persistant sadness for more than two weeks is a clinical condition, not a "mood")

So once you get a job and you can start paying off your student loans and the rent and splurge on some new shoes and haircuts and expensive adult beverages instead of that cheap crap you've been allowing yourself only once a week, then it would seem like life should be hunky dory. But then you find yourself inexplicably upset that your career is over, you are a failure, you have nothing to show for all those years in school and you will never find anything intellectually stimulating ever again.

Yes, as other post-aca bloggers have noted - it takes time to process the complex emotions attendent on such a big change. It's normal to feel a range of emotions when you go through a major life transition like the loss of your professional identity, the security of a career path that you know all too well, and the years of effort that have gone into inching your way along that path. You will have good moments and bad as you work out what comes next. You may find yourself lurching from a feeling of being delirously exicited about being a grown-up with a real cash flow instead of a potential one, to suddenly feeling like you're a total failure because you couldn't get that dream aca job all in the one afternoon.

But when those moments hit I try to take a deep breath and remember all the personal reasons why I decided to make that change. All the internal reasons, not externally imposed ideas from former colleagues and the like. After all, they are not me, they are not living my life, they don't have my values, and they don't have my personal constraints. Sometimes these moments of crisis hit when I least expect it, so it can be hard to marshall my resources and remind myself that I am doing the right thing. Ultimately though, the mood does pass. I take heart too that as JC says, I can expect these moments get further and further apart as time goes by (see

Sunday, May 13, 2012

'Listen to your heart...'

My Roxette inspired post title today is both cheesy and dated (and yes, perhaps revealing too much of my limited musical education), but I think it reflects an important idea that too few of us tend to heed: that only you can know what's right for you.

I started thinking about this when I realised just how many physical symptoms of angst started to manifest when I realised I had to sit down and finish off some outstanding academic work. I won't say what it is, but it is something that really must be done by a certain deadline (not an internally imposed one that I have created). It won't take me long, and indeed, after finally getting around to starting it, I am flying through what I need to do. So really, why I am I finding it so physically painful to get through?

Here is a rough summation of how my afternoon has gone:

First, I turned the laptop on. Queue stomach grumbling about needing food. Ok, so break for lunch.

Second, I sit down to begin. Uh oh, need a drink of water. Away from the computer again.

Third, five minutes in and I already have a pain in my neck. Lots of shifting around trying to comfortable.

Fourth, twenty minutes in I start getting cold. Spend five minutes wrapping myself in multiple layers.

And so on and so on. Either hot or cold, shoulder and/or neck in pain and either need more food or water...

I have been forcing myself through my list of things to do with grim determination because the sooner I get it done, the sooner I am free to do more fun things. But all of this procrastinating about my physical comfort has made me realise that what it really is about is that I just don't want to do this stuff anymore.

I am pretty sure that it's not something that's task specific, because working on a computer is something that I do for my paid job too. I think it's something more to do with the mental burden of having to continue with this particular academic task. Clearly, the emotional strain of having to continue with something that I have already moved on from is manifesting in physical ways.

While my years of disciplined writing mean that I will continue, no matter what, and finish this damn task, the few months of freedom from such discipline have forced me to realise that listening to what my body/soul/psyche/mind/instinct is really telling me is hard to do when immersed in externally and arbitrarily created goals that are imposed on me by a system not of my own making. One of the joys of being free from academic life is being able to focus more clearly on what it is that I want to do. Current incomplete tasks notwithstanding.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

What's in a career, anyway?

So last week I wrote about how I think my new job is not the right fit for me. The question is though: what would be a right fit for me?

When I originally started looking for work, things were pretty dire. I needed a job. It wasn't quite desperate, but I need to get some income rolling in (which I think is pretty normal really). I thought I had some time to look for something that was going to be ok, rather than rushing out and getting any kind of job just to make ends meet. I had a deadline in mind and I was anxiously wondering whether something would come through or if I should start visiting all the bars and cafes in my 'hood with my CV in hand.

Eventually something did come through and I was thrilled to think that I had finally done it. I had finally managed to get out of academia and still have a job at least loosely related to my professional experience rather than having to work for minimum wage. I thought I had navigated the career transition successfully.

As it turns out, changing careers is more tricky than it looks. Some people argue that with any career transition there is an inevitable drop in status, and that you have to start at the bottom all over again. Other people argue that this is not so, and that the secret to a successful career change is marketing your transferrable skills properly. Another factor too, is making sure you do your research and know what you're getting in to (something academically trained people shouldn't have too much problem with). Lots of people who have successfully changed careers say that planning is the key, and not jumping ship too soon (however, they all had jobs to begin with, just ones that they didn't like). And let's not forget all the literature that says changing careers is now becoming the norm, with very few people staying in the one occupation for life anymore. Apparently the average is something like 6 careers in a lifetime, although where this figure comes from is anyone's guess.

In leaving academia, with defined career paths, long-term goals, institutional rhythms, clear objectives and a very famililar structured environment, I now find I am struggling with how to find the same, shall we say, 'clarity of purpose' that I had as an academic. In short, I always knew exactly what I had to do to build my career. I knew what my professional goals were (not KPIs, they're different) and I knew exactly how to go about acheiving them. This is what I am missing in my current role.

While I am grateful that I have a job (let's face it, there are millions of people world-wide who don't), I know now that this is not a career. I also know that having a career is important to me. I have done my time punching a clock to make ends meet, working in retail, hospitality and other similar occupations where you're simply a body that can't be replaced by machines. I have always been good at work-life balance and have plenty of extra-curricular activities to keep me entertained, so I don't have any major personal goals that would benefit from focusing on non-work time. I also know that I don't need to panic about being able to find any work, since unemployment rates are not dire here and I was able to find work in a relatively short period of time. I don't want to do any more study as I am still paying off my years working towards my academic career, so retraining is out (for now, at any rate - I do still keep fantasazing about law school, but that's another story).

I guess this all means I am stuck with making the most of the position I am in, at least for a little while at any rate. Which is fine really. I will survive. But perhaps the take home message for anyone else making the transition from academic to post-academic is this: what is it that you need out of a job? I have observed that there are different styles of career changers - those that need to make ends meet and fast, those that want more free-time, those that don't want to relocate every year or so just for a job, and those that hate all things academic. I am in the category of someone who loves academic work but can't survive on an academic wage. This means that I need a challenging and fulfulling career to replace the academic one that is unsustainable. This is going to be my struggle as a post-academic, at least in the short-term. What is yours?