|Now is the time: make a decision already!|
"Why are you still torturing yourself about whether or not to stay in academe? Just make a decision, now; please let us move on with our lives. I'm sick of waiting, the kids and/or pets are tired of moving every summer, and your mom's concerned phone calls are getting really old . . ."
During this week of Turkey eating and family gatherings, why don't we pause briefly to consider the following: For every indecisive Ph.D. or A.B.D. currently contemplating whether or not to leave the ivory tower or quit grad school sans Ph.D., there must be a partner, spouse, parent, friend, child, sibling, or some other loved one who is sick of waiting, wondering, and living in a state of (impoverished) limbo.
Continuing to operate in the midst of seemingly perpetual ambivalence, torn between multiple paths, isn't easy, but for the people closest to us it must really suck. Their lives are on hold, too. Our toment is their torment. Either that, or they're just tired of listening to the same story over and over again or concerned about how much time and $ we've already sunk into our career paths. They wish we'd just make up our minds already and stop the madness. (Don't we all?)
And, no, I am not talking about current or former dissertation advisors here. They might lord over us 24-7 and pretend like our decisions impact their lives and reputations in some profound way, even years after we've graduated, but I'm not interested in their feelings right now. Let's focus instead on the people (and or furry friends) who usually get ignored, esp. in academe: the loved ones.
But what if they've got set ideas about what we should be doing with ourselves, based primarily on what we've done, or said we'd do, in the past? What if their vision of our professional future doesn't jive with our own? And, finally, what if the decision we're inclined to make will almost certainly impact their finances, view of us, personal comfort level, or geographic location in a negative way? What then? It's clearly not so simple as just deciding between A, B, or C career path if the people in your life have an investment in one or more of these options.
Having loved ones, even pets, makes things tricky. It's not just your career and personal happiness on the line; it's their's as well. It took me a long time to realize how much of my decision to get a Ph.D., finish the Ph.D., and stay firmly within academe after graduation was based on my perception of what I thought my partner, parents, and best friends would want me to do. I wanted to finish, there's no doubt about that, but why I didn't immediately start looking for non-academic work after graduating remains a mystery to me, even now. Perhaps because my partner urged me to think long and hard about what exactly I'd be throwing away if I abondoned the ivory tower without at least trying to land a tenure-track job. This tactic works really well on someone with an anxious personality, by the way.
Whenever I discussed leaving, or dare I say, quiting, the ivory tower for good, my loved ones seemed supportive but doubtful, like they wanted to but couldn't believe me. Or like they felt slightly sorry for me. They'd heard it all before, the back and forth, the "if this" or "if that", but I'd yet to make a firm decision one way or the other. (And look at me now! I'm still on the fence!! Don't you feel extra sorry for my loved ones?)
The sobering truth is this: People who know what they want and simply go after it, just like that, are so much easier to be around. You can make plans with those people; you can rely on them. They may not be as fun in an existential "what if" role-playing career game, but in real life there are certain benefits to being partner to, spawn of, parent to, or friends with someone who made a right turn, career wise, and never looked back.
So, this week, as we find ourselves around dinner tables, eating and drinking with well-meaning but often irritatingly opionated friends and family, when our loved ones just don't seem to get it, can we really blame them?