The System Has Failed You. Don’t Fail Yourself.
November 11, 2013
Title courtesy of Billy Bragg.
The biggest challenge for me with moving outside academia is trying to maintain a wall between academia as a failed system (which it is) and my own personal feelings that I have failed (which I haven’t–and yet I have). By the most important measure of academia, I’m a failure, in that I’ve not secured a tenure-track job despite my fancy pedigree and good program. But, by another, I’m not: I’ve published, presented at conferences, and even won awards.
And that’s the problem, really. It’s the reason why I’ve stayed in the failed system for so long, when I should have maybe given it a year or two at most after my degree. Every time I tried to quit, I had too many people trying to remind me of my supposed accomplishments, too many job interviews where I came in second, too many times when I was about to give up and then got sucked back in with another request for extra materials or chance to put another line on my CV. But the longer I’ve stayed in, the real sense that I was putting in work that should, but would not, get me a job began to dawn on me.
No, there’s not enough room for all the people who do good work. I’m not an exception to the rule that “there’s always room for people who do good work,” nor do I do bad work. I am not alone, not by far. I, and tons of people like me, are the new rule: we are the people who do good work, but who do not get tenure-track jobs. We are the majority.
So, I can’t fail myself anymore; I can’t continue to chase the dream of a tenure-track job, which will not happen for me now that I’m five years past degree. And I don’t want to keep adjuncting, since being an adjunct without hope of a tenure-track job is pretty much an exercise in masochism.
But where do I go? It’s not just the system of academia that’s broken–it’s the entire economy. The other field I majored in as an undergrad, journalism, has been similarly destroyed over the past decade. I sometimes do this thing in my head where I go down that path, instead of academia, at age 23. Back then, I had lots of internships (even an ASME internship at Rolling Stone!!), plenty of clips from my college newspaper, and even some from real publications. You know where I end up, if I take that path? Out of a job in my late 30s, that’s where. Or maybe with a job in marketing. But still, not where I imagined.
So, where do we go, all we smart, talented people? I don’t know, but there has to be something.