A Rant About Wheel Bearings, Wifi, & Post-Academic Chaos

Note: I wrote this yesterday morning. I’ve since recuperated, and the rest of my day wasn’t ALL bad. Sleep is important, people.

I found myself crying in an underground tunnel this morning. I also cried in a ditch and while skulking through the empty parking lot of a gravel company trying to find a shortcut to a diner. I am backed into another one of life’s little corners today, and bone-deep fatigue makes escape feel fruitless and impossible. I know I probably shouldn’t post while fatigued, but I literally have nothing else to do right now. Besides, the internet loves a good rant.

I’m not in crisis: it’s just some stupid wheel bearings on my car that need fixing, and just a dumb mistake of making the appointment to fix them in the wrong branch of the tire place in the wrong small town, on top of yet another lousy, sleepless night in a long line of lousy nights. It’s one of those little things that stands in for bigger things and makes life feel shot to hell.

Side note: Why, breakfast places. Why do you not have universal free wi-fi. Why can I get free wi-fi in a coffee place. A donut place. A muffin place. A McDonalds. But when I truly need some protein with my caffeine a place to sit awhile. Why do you not have fucking free wi-fi. This fact is making my morning even more of a fuckup, because if I don’t get the car fixed, and I don’t get any paid writing done, and I spend more time driving from farm town to farm town today? Then I’m really not sure what the point of rolling out of bed at 4:45 am with a very chipper toddler was.

I’ve talked before about how I like things to feel meant-to-be: I like it when things fall into place, line up in a way that seems like a cosmic endorsement of whatever plan I’ve cooked up. I like flow. I may not believe in the apocalypse, or Santa, but I do seek some sign of approval from the greater universe that I’m on the right track. When chaos reigns, I start to worry.

The chaos and confusion of managing graduate school with a family became unsustainable to me. The numbers weren’t adding up. When I quit, I resolved to create a life with less chaos. SERENITY NOW!

But I have to say I am disappointed that life after grad school hasn’t felt much less confused or chaotic. I’m still running all over creation, shuttling children hither and thither, strategizing about how I can line up cheap eating with free parking and wi-fi so I can write and apply to jobs while the girls are in daycare or preschool. I’m still leaving a crucial file folder at home, or in the car; or making a car repair appointment at the branch twenty minutes away from us rather than the one that’s right downtown.

These smaller things stand in for the larger sense of feeling pulled in the direction of twenty different career trajectories, all of which I have to devote myself fully in case one actually pans out. I have to whole-heartedly pitch freelancing proposals for time-intensive curriculum design gigs at the same time I am whole-heartedly hoping for a regular, salaried desk job, at the same time I’m waking up with ideas for how I might teach Shakespeare to 9th graders. Going from grad school, in which one holy grail is pursued above all others with monastic devotion, to a job search that requires similar fire for a dozen contradicting life paths is completely befuddling and strange.

It also gives me a dozen new ways to feel like a failure: I just sent a really half-assed letter of inquiry to a potentially great client; I forgot to return her phone call; I still haven’t had my fingerprints taken so I could even apply for public school jobs. I’m doing many things badly.

One of the things that frustrates me about post-academic advice in terms of career searches is that often, they act as if you will immediately shift out of “tenure track or die” mode into a solid idea of what your next move should be. There’s advice for going into freelancing, or administration, or management, or whatever, and it seems like there’s a straight line from point A(cademia) to point B. Obviously, all those Point B, post-academic people had a chaotic transition from A to B, but you don’t hear those stories. You hear, “Now I have a full-time gig as an academic publisher! Now I make money and lose weight in my incredible outdoor education business!” All that advice is written from this point of stability that’s absolutely foreign to me as I muddle through the messy middle.

I have to consider points A through Z as equally viable options. I have to be equally open to the possibility of a desk job in student services; adjuncting in community college; cobbling together gigs writing for eBay catalogs and reading guides; subbing in high school and daycares; or none or all of the above. Because grad school is so tied in with our identities – and because that identity is so tied into a vocation – pursuing all these different avenues has me feeling completely lost. I’m trying to write a really solid, confident website for my editing services, and I am suffering from powerful impostor syndrome. For no good reason: I’m enjoying editing, I’m good at it. But because I’m not sure it’s the right full-time job for me for life, I feel like I’m lying to people by saying, “I’m an editor.” Because what if, in six months, I’m not? Remember writing your over-confident personal statement for grad school, in which you declared with certainty the exact field you will study, your precise career goals, and assured everyone that you knew what you were doing? How great did THAT turn out?

I’m second-guessing myself at every turn. Fucking up grad school makes me question my own judgment. If I could be so obviously wrong about something for eight years, how can I turn around and make a good call about my future now? How do I know what I want or what I should do?

Maybe chaos and contradiction isn’t just a grad school problem; it’s an adult life problem. Or a Lauren problem. Either way, I’m done with my eggs and writing this on Word. I still have 20 minutes until the public library around the corner opens, where I can at least do some work until I find out if my wheel bearings need replacement. In all likelihood, I’ll have to walk back through ditches and parking lots to pick the car up before the repair has even been made, because I have to pick up Robin at 12:30, and that’s not enough time to complete a repair. So, I will have driven 40 minutes, waited three hours, and spent a bunch of money (and stubbed my toe in an underground tunnel) for the sake of a fucking diagnosis. And yes. I did just accidentally pour coffee down my shirt and into my bra. /rant

9 Responses to A Rant About Wheel Bearings, Wifi, & Post-Academic Chaos

  1. Ugh. I’m sorry it was such a rough morning/day. I’m glad that the rant-y feelings have abated.

    I completely understand that feeling of “chaos”…while I don’t have children, I do get the whole “preparing for a zillion different possible careers, I lost my ‘calling’ (if I ever had one), I’m a failure” type stuff.

    Just on the “failure”/fucking up grad school note, I’ve found this helpful (and please feel free to disregard this, because sometimes I’m just like “Keep your Sunshine-y Feelings to Yourself Bitches and Let Me RANT!”):

    When I feel like a failure (which is somewhat routine), I like to try and find evidence to the contrary. Like with your situation, you might think about all the awesome choices you’ve made–picking your husband, being a mom, all the million decisions you must make in a day about your children’s welfare/happiness, the cute top you bought…from the tiny to the major life decisions, you’ve proven yourself to be successful time and again. Way more than you “fail,” I bet. And, of course, you didn’t fail at grad school. As you said, you made a decision, a choice, that it wasn’t sustainable any longer. Could you have continued teaching and writing and finish a dissertation and graduate? Sure. But you choose not to because it didn’t seem like the right/best choice to do that stuff.

  2. P.S. And if the rant returns, might I recommend checking out the new Rush album? ;)

  3. Thanks, Currer — I will check out the new Rush, regardless of how cranky I might be! :) You’re right, perspective is everything on this. As much as I focused on the negative yesterday, a lot of good things are happening for me lately.

  4. One of the things I learned from grad school is that sometimes you have to walk down the road aways to see that it’s the not the direction you wanted to go. There is no shame in saying, “This is not serving me,” and it’s preferable to do that than to keep putting your energy into an enterprise that you can see is no longer working for you. I remember talking with a wise friend about romantic relationships, and she said, “All relationships have a natural lifespan. Some may only be for a night, or a week, and some will last until the people involved die.” I think that’s as true for jobs or other self-imposed identities in one’s life as it is for romances. Quitting grad school isn’t a failure; it just means that the relationship ran its course. The main lesson I took away from grad school is the realization that I don’t have to say, “I’m an editor/artist/fill-in-the-blank.” It’s okay to say you are available to edit other people’s writing, then decide in six months that you aren’t and take that shingle down from your door. Now if you rote like this an you couldnt’ compose a complete sentence to save yer life nor recognize a run-onsentence or assist somebody else with clarifying their thoughts, then you’d be an impostor. But you have the editing chops, so you can do editing work. You don’t have to “be” an editor. Ultimately, there is no self, no fixed or stable identity anyway; shedding that pressure is freeing.

    I identify so much with your feeling that you are doing a dozen things in a half-assed way, rather than a few things brilliantly. First, be kind to yourself. You are DOING A LOT OF THINGS. It’s hard to chop your energies and attention into a million pieces. I wish I had a solution for that, but I think it’s mostly the case that everyone does that to a greater or lesser extent unless they have a full-time maid, and a nanny, and a secretary. My personal favorite trick is to have a to-do list and feel good if I cross two or three little things a day off of it, and to look at what I did accomplish, not what is still to do.

  5. Three things:

    First, there’s no shame in feeling lost or in feeling rage-ful. We’ve all been there. And the transition out of academia is HARD. I also felt like a huge failure when I left, because I didn’t know what I wanted to do next with my career. Hell … I still don’t. I was just lucky enough to have a part-time job that could become a decent job that I could do while I figure out where I’m going to land on the A-Z continuum of options.

    Along those lines … perhaps it might help you to not try to force yourself to think of your next *career* … but just your next job? As you say – you’re in the position to be able to be a tiny bit flexible in terms of what you do next or even if it’s a full-time job with benefits. So maybe just try to think about finding a job that you can do “for the next year.” Whatever that might be … freelance editing, an admin job, whatever. Then your story is that you “were an academic, but now I’m doing _________ (some editing, whatever) until I figure out what comes next.” Try to think of your life in terms of stages and steps rather as one continuous path toward a career. It’s a massive reorientation of how academia teaches us to think, but I think it’s more useful out in the real world.

    Third, I would like to echo Katherine SO MUCH on the fact that you aren’t a failure for leaving grad school. My husband keeps telling me that I never could have figured out that academia wasn’t for me without going as far as I did into it. I had to get to the point where it was unbearable for me before I knew I had to leave. The same goes for you.

    To me, it sounds like you’re doing a great job. I can’t imagine making this transition with kids in tow. But in the long run, what a great role model you’re being for them … following what you want to do rather than what other people told you that you *should do*. Awesome.

  6. JC,
    I definitely think that part of deprogramming from grad school has to do with reformulating how you think about what counts or is meaningful in terms of accomplishment. It’s a slow and painful process at times. I am at least grateful that I’ve made enough money for us to stay solvent for one more month. Crossing fingers that July will work out the same way.


  7. I’m late to the party, but I’m sitting here in tears reading this. You’ve just described exactly how I’m feeling and have been feeling since leaving. When I left, I began a career/job hunt in earnest, but life descended into chaos after a couple of rounds of job applications. I didn’t (and still don’t) know how to tackle a job search. I’m being pulled in so many different directions, I’m not sure if any of them are right for me, and I just feel so inauthentic (is that even a word?) writing cover letters identifying myself as so many different roles. How can I convince an employer I’m am/can be an administrator when I’m not even sure I can convince myself?

    My identity (or my identity goal at least) was fixed for so long as an academic, I’m finding it so, so difficult to find a new one. And I’m dreading the day I’m asked about why I’m not an academic anymore. I didn’t make the decision to leave academia: essentially, I failed my PhD in the truest sense as my advisors told me (after 5 years) that my work wasn’t up to scratch and that they continue to advise me for a Masters but not a doctorate. Looking back, I probably had one foot in the direction of the door anyway, because I really and truly couldn’t face the idea of adjuncting or trying to get tenure. But I still feel like a failure for not waking up, reading the signs, and leaving of my own accord. I’m rambling now, but I just wanted to say hi to a fellow traveller on this rocky road.

  8. Hi Geri,
    I’m glad you dropped by. My husband “left” academia in the same circumstances; and really, my situation isn’t that different from yours, I just opted out before I got ejected I think. It really hurts, and it’s so confusing, but especially if it wasn’t your choice. I don’t know if it’s helpful but it does get easier, and seeing a counselor/psychiatrist made a huge difference for me. I and some other post-ac bloggers are working on a more comprehensive resource for academic leavers — howtoleaveacademia.com — I hope it can be helpful, too!

    Keep writing/come back anytime —


  9. Thanks Lauren! I started discovering post-academic blogs shortly after I’d left, but haven’t really been able to read them/take anything in until now. I guess I was going through both shock and denial, then focusing on getting OUT, and since then been so burned out and confused that I haven’t been able to take action. Thanks for pointing out the new website, and thanks for your writing: it’s so good to know I’m not the only one :)