Tuesday, January 30, 2007



Productive session I think. I think we need to work more on figuring out a plan, goals, direction. I get the sense that you have an idea that our aim is "action," that perhaps this is one key element that is missing my current behavior. I think we need to work through that a bit, so we both understand what each other is expecting on that count.

In part it comes down to the question of "patience" again. I never expected this job search to wind up dragging on like this. I don't understand it. I'm not sure whether to keep at it, or to pursue something alternate (or to try doing both together). Okay, those are perhaps "circumstances" rather than the "person." I need to figure out my aims and goals, my own direction. I need to be clear with myself, with you, and with my wife, on what the plan is, what deadlines and measures might be useful. Just to be clear, from what I hear, it is not uncommon for a PhD seeking an academic career to wallow in uncertainty for years. Some work as adjuncts (teaching part-time) for as many as seven years before landing a permanent job. Others, who knows how many, simply fade away from the academic path. Of course, there are many others who move smoothly from graduate school to faculty post, without a hitch.

It's been frustrating for me, that I haven't yet even landed any adjuncting, which would at least be on the path, would give me some validation, would encourage me that a faculty job is forthcoming. That said, there is a good possibility that I may be invited to adjunct at Lemon University, for next fall, where I gave a guest lecture a couple months ago. That's the time frame of these things, job applications are submitted often months before an interview, a year before a start date. The same for many conference presentations. The results of effort are a long time in coming.

In pursuing research, it could be years before a usable application could emerge. There's where patience comes in. However, "why bother" is also foremost. In part, I believe that I don't have a job and a paycheck, because I haven't needed to. This has freed me to pursue a longer term horizon, a 3-5 year goal, rather than an immediate one. Yet there is fear in the uncertainty of that path. If I knew doing X, Y, and Z would ensure me a job in 2 years, I could simply do them. But I simply don't know, and so, I'm afraid that at the end of it all, I will still be where I am today.

Could I get a job if I needed it? Sure, I think so. But there is a little fear that says maybe not. I've applied for other jobs beside a faculty post, some university staff positions, even a sales job for a textbook publisher. The failure to even be interviewed for those positions has hurt as well. Maybe I'm not good enough for them. Of course, intellectually, I don't believe that. In both cases, I applied for the position because I was convinced I could do a great job. Perhaps I haven't been motivated to do what it would take to land one of those jobs. Maybe they look at me, and think, "he doesn't want this job, look at his resume, he'd rather be doing something else." But where do I really want to be, and doing what? That's a question I can't fully answer yet.

Added to this is some uncertainty on the Rocket Scientist's part. She supports me, yet I often feel the sense that she lacks confidence in my ability to succeed. Why should she believe another few months, or another year will change things? Two years I've been applying. I've had a few interviews, but no offers. She picks up the phone, a week later has an interview, two weeks later an offer for twice what I might earn as a junior professor. Even off the faculty track, she seems unconvinced that my dreams of commercial applications are anything more than Articulate's pie-in-the-sky dreaming. It's subtle, but I sense it. It's honest though, she's not candy-coating her thoughts for me. Can I blame her, my ideas are a dime a dozen. But they sit on my imaginary shelves, lined up in sealed cans, like a butterfly collection, pining for air. It's as if she's saying (despite herself), show me more than your dreams, show me the money. But it's not a simple thing. Money's not that important to her either.

But she's discovered how easy it is for her to earn a good wage. She reflected last night: "Do I begin to value money more, the more I earn it?" We've realized that she, and we together, need to work through some of our priorities, our goals for the future, our dreams, our hopes. I think of Thomas Paine: "...that which we obtain too cheaply, we esteem too lightly." It's a conflict for us right now, for she obtains career success and income quite easily, so it's esteemed poorly. On the other hand, the two evade me. "What's wrong with him, that he can't make it?" She's never said that. I don't know if she's thought it. Certainly I have. "What's wrong with me, that I can't make it? What good are all my passions and dreams if I can't measure them?" And how do we measure our value in society, but by our ability to earn income?

No, I am not my money. I am not my career. But then, how do I measure success? I have obtained great success in being married to a wonderful woman, in having two marvelous boys, in cooking fabulous meals, in gardening. But I want success in my career. I want to be able to hold my head up and say "the PhD was simply a byway," my life didn't end there. Damn it, I deserve it. Paul, you wanted me to catch myself being shallow and a snob. Well, here it is. Damn it, I deserve it. I deserve to have someone pay me for being me. It's simply not fair that the only one "paying me" is my wife, who feels diminished it would seem, from that payment.

But, if we really have most of what we want in life, perhaps it's okay to be happy, to let ourselves revel in that happiness. Okay, there's the contradiction. Can I be happy, while I'm still striving? Can I find contentment while I still feel something is lacking in my life, and also find the strength to aggressively pursue it?

So there you have it, Paul. I'm not going to make this easy for you. But I'll do my best not to allow myself to be the hindrance to my own success.



Your honesty and willingness to do the work are making it very easy for me. Let me digest it tonight and we'll either trade some e-mails tomorrow or talk on the phone in the next day or two.




Lilian said...

Deep questions. You know, I have a feeling that you have the answers (not that there are answers, mind me) and I'm wondering how helpful this coaching thing will be.

I mean, I've been thinking of coaching for dissertation writing (although I can't afford it and will have to do without it) and this kind of coaching will yield results -- a finished dissertation, hopefully. I'm enjoying your ride, though and I'm curious to see where it leads you!

What Now? said...

Such an interesting journey you're on. I think that one clear result, one clear goal, in all of this is that you and Rocket Scientist will be much clearer about your values, both individually and as a couple, which is in and of itself a positive outcome.

One comment: You write, "Others, who knows how many, simply fade away from the academic path." I'd say that "fading" isn't the only way that people wind up in non-academic careers!

ArticulateDad said...

WhatNow?, sure enough, but how many do not make that choice voluntarily? How many are forced to it? I'm not judging. Can't say for certain whether each of those (each of us?) "belongs" in academia. Perhaps many of those making such a forced choice wind up better off therefore.

Ivory said...

A couple of thoughts:

Can I be happy, while I'm still striving? Can I find contentment while I still feel something is lacking in my life, and also find the strength to aggressively pursue it?

You will always be striving for something - even if you get an academic job there will always be the tenure police or some grant or goal that is on the horizon. So for heaven's sake, be happy now. Your whole life is this moment.

There is a kind of zen place that I think is a good one to strive for - one in which you do every task with as much excellence as you can manage but at the same time, you are not too attached to having things work out in a particular way. My husband left academia for a non-academic position and now has a job he loves. In a way, it was a forced choice but he is so happy now! I think it was good he was forced along that path. Maybe you will find something academic - maybe not - there is no failure in having things turn our differently than you would have preferred. The failure is in refusing to realize that what you got is good - maybe even better, even though it wasn't your original aim.

It is very hard crawling out of the academic culture into the real world but it's worth the effort. You might be able to pursue a viable path that you previously wouldn't have allowed yourself to consider. Having a happy life is not contingent on having a particular career.

ArticulateDad said...

Thank you, Ivory, for articulating that sentiment eloquently. Of course, you're right.