I did the unthinkable last week, I turned down an academic job interview.
I'll just let that sit there.
I'd been applying for a variety of jobs as a 'one last time' exercise. And if I'm honest to 'prove' that I wouldn't get them. If that seems a weird mindset I'll explain, there's a weird mindset in academia (ha! that's an understatement in general) that in order to move on, to do something else you need to 'prove' you couldn't do it. Because for many academics there is only one 'it' the holy grail of an academic job. And I guess for my own peace of mind I could say I tried enough now, and I could walk away.
When I got the email about the job I felt a real sense of dread. And then I spent most of last Wednesday crying. That's not an understatement, I spent most of it ugly-cry sobbing. Because I should have wanted it, I should have been thinking 'finally, finally a tiny chance at the academic holy grail'. Let's be honest the chances of me actually getting it were slim at best, but I was scared I would get it. Because I just couldn't have done it.
Reasons for turning down an interview or even a job offer are firstly, very much your own, and very much within your rights-we spend a lot of time at work, and if you know it isn't the right fit and you can turn it down then do, from someone who has been there it's not worth it. But for a job like this I feel like it's even more important. We can all go to a job we hate and get by if we're able to leave it at the end of the day. It's not fun, it's not good for us but it's do-able.
Academic jobs, aren't just a job, it's a life. My opinion personally is that it shouldn't be, and we should work to create clearer work/life boundaries, but unfortunately that isn't how things are. For those who don't know, picture a school teacher's workload-we all know what that's like right? For academics, on top of all that (which any teacher will tell you is most evenings until late, and a fair chunk of weekend and holiday time too) there's research. Because to continue being employed you need to research, research well and be prolific. You need to publish papers, pull together a monograph and attend conferences (again over weekends and holidays) You'll need to go into the next job interview with a publication list and a plan for the next things. So quickly the evening and weekend you had disappears further. As with any junior level position the pressure is on in particular to prove yourself in order to progress.
So that's what it entails. Firstly, let's be clear, I'm not saying this is any more pressured or difficult that many other jobs. I'm just outlining it for those who might not know. What I am saying is this takes dedication, a level of commitment and more importantly to do that it takes a real passion for it. I don't have that. I don't know if it's just not in me or it's been beaten out of me, whether it's gone for good, whether I never had it, whether it will come back. But right now, I know I don't have any of that in me. I'm not so naive also to think that another job I take won't require any additional work. As someone who has always worked incredibly hard in whatever I have done, the implication that I am somehow lazy or naive about that really hurts.
But academia broke me. There's no other more eloquent way to put it. Getting to the end of my PhD has destroyed my confidence in a way not even years of High School bullying managed. And it's so hard to come out the other side of something you put so much of yourself into only to be told you've failed. I know I can't be an academic because I'm simply not good enough. And on some days that's perfectly fine and on others it utterly destroys me again. It's something that perhaps nobody outside of it can understand, but you put everything into a PhD and most of us put our life on hold to some extent while doing it. To get to the end is an achievement, but in an incestuous field where everyone has that achievement and more it's a case of 'so what?'. I'm not good enough to publish, didn't go to a good enough University to be considered good enough for any jobs. I just don't have what it takes. And that is a difficult thing to come to terms with. And when someone tells you that yes, you wasted that PhD, I can't even begin to articulate how that feels.
My PhD was one of passion, if it hadn't been, I wouldn't have got to the end. The plays I wrote about I still love passionately; I still have much to say about them. And a PhD was a way of getting someone to listen. Except they didn't. And post PhD you're expected to move on to other academic things. But honestly with a gun to my head I couldn't come up with any ideas, and I certainly don't have the talent to create them even if I did. And a field of academic bullies (yes I'm going that far, I've encountered several) and a field in which the best still isn't good enough, a field in which there is so much competition and negativity and one in which I simply just never fit, has done something to me I might never properly fix.
And most days, that's alright. I have many other ambitions. I want to write. And I want to write stories, be they plays, novels, articles. I want to use the voice that is natural to me, not the one I'm forced to take on for academic writing. I want to write about the things that interest me in the way that interests me. And mostly that's good, it's ok. But it's still hard to let go of everything you worked for.
And then there's the figuring it out. The 'what next' and the honest answer of 'I don't know'. I have a long list of things I'd like to do, but no roadmap on how to get there. I'm envious of those who have a clear career path-you train for a thing, you get a job in the thing, or those who stumbled into a job they're happy in one way or another. I'm stumbling, it's just a bit of a longer path.
But as I'm older I make less apologies about what I want. If I'm taking a job just for a 'pay the bills for now' type job, then no, I don't want it to be the kind of job that takes over my life. I also sacrificed most of my 20s for the PhD, I like having my life outside of work back. Once again I know that in reality all jobs take a little bit of your personal time, but there's a bit of time and there's all consuming.
I read something really interesting just a day later as well and that was 'We need to stop defining women's work/life balance in terms of children' the idea being that the only kind of work/life balance women should be entitled to/expecting is that which revolves around childcare. And this mentality is something I'm increasingly encountering. I have gotten a sense that my search for a job, career, ambition call it what you will, is somehow 'selfish' or 'immature' because I am a woman in my 30s who is single and without children. There is an implication somehow that if I was a 'proper grown up woman' (ie a married one with children) I would stop this mucking about with careers or ambition and just shut up and do a job. And that somehow my ambitions, dare I say it 'dreams' are just childish fantasies that I'd 'grow out of' if I were a real life grown up woman. Now of course not all women with children think that way, I know many fantastic ambitious women who have many dreams and ambitions connected to work and otherwise. But it's an undercurrent, and a deeply unpleasant one.
So I make no apologies for my ambitions laying elsewhere now. I make no apologies for not knowing where I'm going next, and I make no apologies for wanting a bit of my life back. And I make no apologies for what that life does (or doesn't) include. Will I regret my decision not to go to that interview? I don't know. I doubt it. Despite what might have been, I know that right now it wasn't right.
I feel broken right now. I feel like all those years have finally caught up with me and everything I was holding together kind of fell apart. And that's kind of ok, becuase perhaps to sort out what comes next it had to fall apart to put it back together.
A final note, I was really falling apart last week and it was only the fact that I was taking part in something fantastic that kept me going. My Blog on GISHWES and how that helped and started to change me is here.