Thursday, April 14, 2011

Letting go of the dream

As I sit, staring at the phone, wondering if I will receive The Call from a prep school I visited recenlty, I've had to wrestle (again!) with the prospect of giving up on my dreams. It is not my dream to teach in a prep school, and it never has been. But at the same time, it is not (and has never been) my dream to teach at a third-tier public uni, with a low salary and no money for research.

Now I know that very few people in the world have their dream jobs. As a group, lawyers are an unhappy crowd, and Lord knows my mother never said to herself, "I want to spend twenty-five years administering unincorporated areas of Tuscon!" And my wife has no earthly idea what she wants to do. The problem is that I am lucky enough to know what I want (to teach at a small college), but unlucky enough not to be able to do it.

I think that the hardest part about taking an offer is that as soon as I do, that dream - one which I have held on to for a quarter of my life - is gone.

I also worry that my reluctance to let go of the dream could warp my ability to see prep school jobs for what they are. Am I foolish enough to turn down a good position ("It's not the right fit.") in order to avoid letting go of the dream? That, it seems to me, would be the height of folly.

So let me ask you - how do you balance your lofty dreams and the crushing reality of the academic market?


Dr. Davis said...

I have always intended to teach at a SLAC. I had a position at one before I finished my PhD. I spent four years there. Then I left, to follow my spouse and take care of my children.

For the next 10 years, the only thing I did academically related to my goals was actually finish my PhD. Then I started adjuncting, just because I missed it.

With my children mostly grown and my husband settled in one job (or so it seemed), I felt it was time to go on the market. The times had changed. I had interviews at a SLAC but they turned me down. I never got an interview at one of the CCs I adjuncted for. Had two but no finish at another. I went to work as an adjunct for the SLAC and taught 4/4/1 (their ft load) for an adjunct salary. (It was a good adjunct salary, but it was not ft salary.)

I spent two years "catching up" in scholastic work before I was offered a CC job. They turned me down the previous year because I had no publications on my CV. (Several forthcoming, but didn't know you could put those on CVs. Thought that was padding.)

Honestly, I took the job because it was the only one offered. But it has been an incredibly good job. My boss is fantastic. My colleagues are collegial. The staff (as is usual for a reasonably well-run department) are amazing.

Long term it might start to wear on me, but there are significant advantages to this position that I did not know. 4-day workweek, schedule at my preference, summer if I want, cool/crazy classes that I am surprised SACS (accreditation) lets me teach!

I hope that if you take the position, you find it as rewarding as I have found the one I "settled" for.

If not, you will have a ft job while you are looking for a new position. There are significant advantages to that.

Benjamin said...

Thanks Dr. D!

To be clear, I don't see going to a prep school as "settling" in that I don't see it as a step down. It is a fundamentally different career because the one I have is not working for me, or rather I did not make it as far in this career as I'd hoped. By my definition, staying here is "settling".

But I had a vision of what my life would be like, and now I'm having to rethink it, and that's a difficult process. (Hence my navel-gazing here.)

Wrapped up in this is a general sense that I have "failed" at higher ed. I am fully aware that by most definitions I have made it - a TT job with a good teaching load, book, articles, grants, etc. But (again) that's not what I wanted. I had ambitions and at 42-years, I'm having to come to terms with failing to achieve those ambitions.

Do I KNOW that much of this is irrational? Sure.

Do I sincerely believe that once I make the jump I'll be happy? Of course, or I wouldn't be here.

But it's a tough process, and one that a lot of people are going to face. I want to leave a trail of breadcrumbs for PhDs to follow, so that when they have the "Oh, God, can I really do this?" moment they can see that someone else has had the same doubts and come out on the other side.

Think of it as navel-gazing for the greater good.

Corinne said...

Right on, Ben! It is for the greater good! Thanks for admitting that you're as conflicted, and nuts, as the rest of us . . .

Dr. Davis said...

Ah, well, then, I hope your decision is the right one for you.

Since I only read this post (found it via twitter), I guess I wasn't cognizant of the full context. I hope that if you choose to change your career, that it will be enjoyable and exceed your expectations/hopes.

Caitlin said...

Giving up on the academic job market was hard enough, even though--by the end--it was not so much abandoning a dream as merely swallowing my pride.
A few things helped:
1) Limiting my contact with other academics. The condescension is inevitable and still very hard to take.
2) The obvious: immersing myself in the new. How's that historical fiction going??
3) Admitting that getting over my wounded pride would take a long time. Why else do I still read these blogs? Argh!