Monday, October 18, 2010

Feeling the Job-Hunter's Funk

I've got a bad case of Monday morning fatigue today. I'm completely burned out with looking for jobs, applying for jobs, thinking about my professional future, remembering all those unsuccessful applications I've sent out in the past, and facing the sobering negative balance of my career choices thus far. Certainly this black cloud hovering above me, this feeling of utter weariness, is not a good sign for the first day of the "work" week: I should be fired up, pumped to put my nose to the grind stone, ready to start the week off on the right foot, or some other idiom appropriate to the job-hunter's unfortunate situation.

Nonetheless, I'm dragging; it's slow going in my mental household today. I'd greatly prefer to put my head down on the desk or slip back under the covers until tomorrow. When you're as far behind the professional/financial eight ball as I am, what motivation is there to keep plugging away day after day during a lingering recession? What good will all this unpaid labor really do me in the end? I've got all these academic articles in progress, for example, but hardly any relevant jobs to apply for. Am I losing the motivation necessary to press on in the face of obstacles? Oh, woe is me, right?

Goya, The Dream of Reason Brings Forth Monsters 

On days like this I tend to smack myself, consume copious amounts of caffeine, or take a short break until my brain clears itself of what I like to call the job-hunter's funk, or simply, the funk. When you're a Ph.D. perpetually on the prowl for academic and non-academic employment opportunities, simultaneously trying to maintain an active research agenda on the one hand and experiment with new career paths on the other, feeling the funk is inevitable. There are days when you will feel like a big old lumpy useless undesirable BLOB, or like a tragic character in a Dicken's novel. Being stretched too thin, both personally and professionally, has its consequences; hence the overall funkiness of my day today-and not in a good way.

But I know I'm not the only one. One glance at the virtual world reveals plenty of depressed, exhausted, or apathetic A.B.D.s and Ph.Ds. looking for their next score, be it a job or a fellowship or a grant.

"I had just hoped for a less-exhausting job search season this year," writes someone by the name "minira" in a CHE forum thread. "But even narrowing the parameters of my search from last year's 'hit everything that moves' strategy, there are about a dozen jobs and postdocs I could and maybe should apply to. I'm just having trouble getting excited about any of them, and the thought of picking up and moving AGAIN next year makes me desperately unhappy." Minira is, of course, only one of many disgruntled voices out there. "The thought of going through the application cycle and moving again is exhausting," concludes another like-minded respondent.

Let's face it: we're all bone tired of submitting applications, waiting and waiting, and then, if we're fortunate, moving our crap from place to place in order to remain marginally employed. "Academic life is increasingly made up of a series of applications," bemoans Joseph Grim Feinberg, graduate student in anthropology at the University of Chicago. "Months and years of my life have been taken away, and nothing short of systemic transformation will redeem them."

Feinberg might be talking solely about applying for grants but his first-person piece immediately brought to mind the hundreds of grants, tenure-track jobs, visiting faculty positions, postdoctoral fellowships, and nonacademic jobs I've applied for over the past several years. How many hours--days even--of my life have been wasted on the mind-numbing activity that is preparing job/grant applications? (Not to mention the time spent preparing for and traveling vast distances to preliminary and on-campus interviews.)

If there is one thing I've mastered, it's the ability to coast into mental auto pilot and apply for stuff. All sorts of stuff. I'm great at proposing things, stating my professional qualifications, and asking others for jobs and/or money. But constantly writing applications it's not the most productive way to spend one's time. It's not the most creative or useful activity. It won't help me out of the funk.

So what will? I dunno. Those articles I need to finish don't look too enticing. Neither do those applications I should send out. Ugh. Perhaps more coffee is the only solution . . .


WorstProfEver said...

I think 'The Funk' is why I became so obsessed with humor as it was the only thing that helped. A reminder that, in the words of Bill Hicks, "it's all a ride." Better than Dickens for my funks.

There's also Bad Santa if you want your comedy as black as the night of your soul, Legally Blonde and Easy A on the other end. Eddie Izzard and Russell Brand somewhere in the middle.

Anyway, laughter really does help, so don't let anyone tell you it's a waste of time to go out and do something non-job-related. Which, in my experience, they always do.

Here's something funny: I'm about to send off an application to Trader Joe's, an entry-level position that pays sightly less than 1.5 MORE what I was making as a prof. HAHAHAHAHA.

Eliza Woolf said...

Good point. Humor is a good remedy when you're sick of it all. Laughing at life is really the only way not to be miserably depressed while looking for work, considering a career change, and looking at credit card/student loan bills.

But I don't know if you're TJ job application, and the shocking state of salaries for humanities profs, makes me want to laugh or cry! Maybe a little bit of both.

Anonymous said...

The Trader Joe's thing made me want to cry. Here's another heartbreaker: I was working at a university press for 50K a year plus benefits when I QUIT to do my fancy Ph.D. Now I'm pushing 40, in student loan debt, and adjuncting for $20-$30 K a year if I'm lucky. Time for Bad Santa indeed.
Thank you for your site.

Eliza Woolf said...

Oh no! I feel your pain, anonymous. Thanks for your comment. It must have been a hard decision for you to go back to school when you already had a good job at a univ. press. What are your plans now (besides paying back loans)? Are you considering academic publishing again or teaching?

If it makes you feel any better, one of my very good friends was so close to becoming a certified high school teacher before she decided to get a PhD. Now, years later, she has regretfully decided to leave the PhD program and finish up her HS teaching certification process. In the meanwhile, she's accumulated tons of debt.
We all followed our dreams, we just didn't know where they were leading us.