Dr. Karen Cardozo offers a 3-part series on developing new ways to “track” unexpected opportunities as you pursue your post-ac transition. She draws from the work of Martha Beck, which I also love. I know this kind of wooey Oprah-talk will alienate some of our academic readers. Nevertheless, I have found everything she writes about here to be 100% true in my own life. It’s what led directly to the creation of The Professor Is In–an absolute conviction that this work had to be done, and I was the one who had to do it. I have also found that the cynicism and skepticism that pervades the academic ethos stunts our ability to imagine other ways of being and thinking. If you are contemplating a move out of academia, I urge you to look for your own inner convictions and intuitions about what you need to do.
As interest in our services grows, The Professor has urged the Alt/Post-Ac consulting team to get practical and offer concrete, tactical, advice on job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, etc. This we have done and will continue to do (check out the bevy of recent and very useful posts)!
However, who can say what’s truly most practical or productive when it comes to changing careers? Today I want to turn to a few other “Ps” that are crucial to any job hunting or life-changing process: the psychological and philosophical.
Psychology: It’s intangible and hard to explain, but I see it time and time again: when you’re filled with ambivalence, anxiety, or self-doubt, it is hard to sell yourself in an application process. True conviction operates at a sub-molecular level invisible to the naked eye, but when it’s there it changes everything: the tone of your cover letter, the clarity of your resume design, the firmness of your handshake, and the warmth of your eye contact – all of the things that say: “I’m on the right path and I’m really into this!”
Can people get job offers by faking it? Sure, it happens all the time. But such “success” is short-lived: the proof is in the pudding and the pudding usually comes out in the wash (if I may mix my metaphors). I’m more interested—as I think YOU should be—in the inverse: the organic way in which things work out when people take action out of genuine affinity towards something, unclouded (or at least not incapacitated) by fear and worry.
This kind of positive momentum requires a dedicated practice of both self-awareness and detachment. You need to believe, REALLY BELIEVE, that you are doing what’s best for yourself, and that everything will be okay. You have to know, REALLY KNOW in your bones, that the world isn’t going to end if you don’t get the job, if you leave academe, if you leave the relationship, if you never finish your dissertation, if you… (fill in your own terrifying blanks here).
If we are honest, we often discover that our deepest fears aren’t about literal survival, but more about the loss of deeply cherished identities and the stories that go along with them—the death of a particular sense of Self. That’s the hardest part about abandoning faculty life (or being abandoned by it): who are you without the institutional affiliation you’ve held most of your life, without your degree(s), and accompanying narratives? What we tend to forget (or never knew) is that there are other ways of being that we might enjoy, I mean REALLY ENJOY!
Philosophy: Most of you have had to write a Teaching Philosophy to showcase your best thinking and evidence of who you are in the classroom—a clear description of your pedagogical beliefs and how you operationalize them. But have you put the same effort into crafting a Life Philosophy? Have you considered with equal rigor the kind of person you want to be and how you want to live?
Academic training has a way of shutting off these larger existential questions: the means are supposed to justify the ends, and the value of those ends goes without saying. But common sense can be a dangerous thing. The implosion of the academic job market and the crisis in higher education that it signals is a perverse gift: you are now free to question both means and ends. And you should.
Whether you’re engaged in a job-hunt narrowly conceived or career exploration writ large, a successful outcome depends on cultivating a robust dialectic between the philosophical and the practical, reflection and action, trial and error. This is what moves us towards real knowledge and enables us to act in informed ways –not only at the concrete level of mounting a job application, but also at the metaphysical level that ensures what we seek is aligned with who we are or want to be. All the practical advice in the world can’t help you if your other P’s aren’t in order: you need to get your head and heart right (which tends to have a salutary effect on your body as well).
In recent months of Alt/Post-Ac consulting, I have been struck yet again by how often academics are unhappy, unhealthy, and wounded beings—some prior to academic training and some because of it. We’re easy with critique, but short on compassion (including for ourselves). Expert in some areas, but out of tune with self and others. Brilliant at solving theoretical conundrums, but unable to find solutions to problems in our own lives. This is learned helplessness.
The pursuit of academic expertise entails many erasures in which a privileged way of knowing colonizes your indigenous methods and inherent authority—the capacity to write your own life. What I love most about Alt/Post-Ac coaching is watching you good folks remember your immense potential, reawaken dormant dreams, and reclaim forgotten experiences. To a person, the clients I’ve worked with are multifaceted, multi-talented and most important – brave enough to explore something new. That courage, that curiosity, that risk, will help you find your right life.
It all begins with Freeing the Academic Elephant, breaking away from the “river reed thinking” —academe’s version of discipline and punish—that makes us feel smaller and less capable than we really are. When I wrote that post I had just read Finding Your North Star by Martha Beck, a recovered academic who has found her true calling as a life coach. Funny, irreverent and extremely well-informed, she balances emotional and other intelligences in impressive ways. Here, for example, she debunks myths of valuing self and others, an essential step for any Alt/Post-Ac seeker.
More recently, I’ve been blown away by her subsequent book, Finding Your Way in Wild New World, which provides additional context for my argument in Beyond Tenurecentrism that we need new ways of thinking about the Alt/Post-Ac situation. In this book, Beck makes a much larger claim about the current era of rapid social and technological change – of which the crumbling academic market is but one example. The problem with “train-track careers” and other old-school navigation metaphors, says Beck, is that they presume stable terrain but that landscape no longer exists.
This wild new world demands other ways of knowing, of which Beck highlights four: Wordlessness (non-verbal awareness), Oneness (connection with your environment), Imagination (the capacity to perceive what doesn’t yet exist) and Forming (the ability to manifest what you’ve imagined). These are the deeply intuitive technologies of those that anthropologist Wade Davis has called wayfinders and that Beck (drawing on Jungian archetypes) calls menders—people with a yearning to heal themselves and the planet. These folks are finding new ways of moving through the world. Are you one of them?