Sunday, August 18, 2013

More on Academic Lifeboaters

My recent post on academic lifeboaters has received a lot of traffic, thanks to Pan Kisses Kafka's kind referral and the Twitterverse.  Sadly, it might be yet another example of how my best writing comes out of pain and rage, since the post was prompted by reading the vapid cant of meritocrats and lifeboaters in the comments sections of post-academic bloggers.  Now I am out of academia and much happier, my writing is suffering since there are fewer things to trigger outbursts of my sharper prose.  I guess that's a small price to pay for mental health and spiritual contentment.

I had a very rude reminder of my former anguish a couple of nights ago, when I had a dream that I was still on the academic job market.  It was so utterly convincing that I woke up in an absolute panic, it took me about twenty minutes to settle down and fall back to sleep.  (Normally I go right back to sleep after a bad dream.)  I was on the market for a total of six grueling, painful years when I lived in a constant state of uncertainty about my future.  It took me three shots to get a tenure-track job, and I tried (and failed) three more times to escape the horror show at my tenure-track job before finding happiness as a teacher.

Ever since my earliest youth I have had a mortal fear of rejection and judgement, much of which could be chalked up to my fervently Catholic upbringing.  Still to this day if I screw something up I will sit and think about obsessively for days on end.  The academic job market is one long train of judgement and rejection, with plenty of opportunities for screw-ups and mistakes to beat myself up over.  Dante could not have devised a more effective personal hell for me to live in.  Every year about this time when I was on the job market a knot would develop in my stomach that would get progressively tighter and tighter until spring.  So many weekends and nights were spent assembling applications that cost money and time that I didn't have, and many of them never received a reply in return.  At the point in my career when I had the most qualifications (book contract, three articles in top journals, several courses developed) I started getting the fewest responses.  All of the years of work and sacrifice and playing by the rules of the profession seemed to amount to nothing, and the rejection was just making me insane.  To go back to that would be the worst nightmare of them all.

It's when I think about the job market that my anger towards the lifeboaters gets most intense.  Anyone who's been through the gauntlet of fire ought to know how unfair and random it is, and how much luck plays into it.  To sit back and belch "meritocracy!" when the fairness of the system is challenged requires an immense amount of self-delusion, narcissism, or both.

But I need to let the anger and rage subside.  I now work at a place where I am greatly appreciated and well-rewarded.  The experience has taught me the truth of the post-academic mantras I repeat to myself when the feelings of rejection and anger flare up: I am not a failure, the academic profession is failure.  I was not rejected, I made the right decision to reject it.  The profession doesn't get to judge me, I have judged it, and found it to be wanting.

The lifeboaters can have their miserable shipwreck, I've got better things to do.

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