by Karen Cardozo
If you’ve been following my posts, you know that I am a major proponent of a both/and approach. This proclivity emerges in my bio as an interdisciplinary or, more precisely, an undisciplined scholar: through years of academic contingency, I just decided to focus on whatever the hell I felt like. And perhaps not coincidentally, I ended up in an unusual TT position where being multifaceted is my mandate! Beyond that, I’m a professor and a career consultant, and those things as well as a musician. In my life as a spouse and mother, I engage some gender-normative activities (cooking, laundry, nagging) but also ditch domestic duties at the drop of a hat if something more compelling comes along (my family is used to it by now, and have learned to fend for themselves – no need to call social services just yet).
As career coach Barbara Sher says of the polymath types she calls “scanners,” I refuse to choose. Some weeks my work/life “balance” looks wholly untenable, other weeks—like this one—it is a joyous, thrill of a ride, to wit: a) I submitted an academic conference proposal and found out on the same day that an article I sweated over all summer was accepted for publication; meanwhile, 70 undergrad final paper proposals await my review (yes, I did this to myself – but I find student-centered inquiries fun to facilitate; b) I am enjoying my TPII clients and writing this blog, c) I have not one but two gigs with my band, and I continue feeding the family/walking the dog at assorted intervals throughout d) all of the above. For me it’s not about balance—a fleeting outcome, but balancing—an ongoing practice.
One way to summarize what I have just described is…crazy. Who in their right mind mixes all these endeavors?! I prefer the adjective genuine. I have lately realized that the only truly full-time job I have on this planet is: being myself. In conducting these activities as the artist formerly and currently known as ME, I am slowly but surely constructing a genuine life upon the ashes of the prison of academic socialization that I have blasted with my authenticity (notice how that word contains the T, N and T you will need to blow things up?!). Against conventional wisdom, I have quit several “good” jobs that did not appeal, while pursuing others that no PhD is “supposed” to want. But as I said in an earlier post, any decision made with integrity from a job search conducted authentically tends to yield… a genuine job! And by that I mean not just a “real” job, but a job in which you can really be yourself.
For example, my department chair recently came to evaluate my teaching and had to sit through the opening mindful breathing/meditation exercise that I do with all my classes to keep me, and them, on the sanity track. I did not know if he would approve of such methods (as it turned out, he wrote a glowing review), but I did know that I wasn’t going to change my teaching philosophy to impress anyone or to preempt critique. I am the authority on, and the author of, my own life’s work: I trust my Source.
How, pray tell, do these idiosyncrasies apply to YOU? Well, one thing I’ve learned from my TPII clients is that many have a similar both/and thing going on: more PhDs than you might expect are a multifaceted lot who could envision both an academic career and an alternative one. The problem is timing. You may not feel ready to walk away from academe, but you also don’t yet know if you’ll land the academic job (or get tenure, etc.). Like college kids who leave the nest only to return home unexpectedly, sector transitions (twists, turns, and returns) are increasingly common in what life coach Martha Beck calls the “wild new world.” Relieve yourself of the burden of thinking you have to decide once and for all.
Whether you have ABD or post-tenure blues, instead of engaging in unnecessarily stressful and premature deliberation about whether to stay in or leave academe, put on your both/and hat to evaluate a range of options based on genuine FIT. That is, while exploring intriguing Alt/Post alternatives, you might also apply selectively for academic jobs that align with your authentic values: whether around preferred geographic locations, institutional mission or research/teaching/service emphasis. Different hiring cycles and timelines will probably determine how and when you do this: for example, you might dedicate Fall to scanning and applying for academic listings and then – while that jury’s out—dive into more networking around alternative jobs that appeal. Across sectors, if you applied only for “genuine jobs,” you could never go wrong. Whichever job you got and accepted would be the “right” job for you.
In short, you need to ask: WWGMD? What would “genuine me” do? Gem, as we might nickname this true self (indeed, your oldest and best friend), would let go of linear track thinking, explore multiple options of interest, and simply choose whichever emerges as the best choice for now. You are not making a once-and-for-all, irrevocable, decision. If my own path reveals anything, it’s that. I thought I’d left academe, but ended up on the tenure-track. I’m on the tenure-track, but also doing “Alt” work. Who knows if I’ll stay? Time (and Gem) will tell.
Meanwhile, what about the job you’re IN? Reclaim the primary task of being yourself: rinse and repeat. Start with baby steps. For example, stop saying things you don’t mean (“I particularly admire your painstaking and empirically sound studies confirming Banal’s hypothesis that sleep deprivation results from a lack of restorative sleep.”) Academe is notorious for being the antithesis of authenticity: we ain’t joking about “discipline and punish” up in here! However, being authentic, or “living in your integrity,” as Beck would say, is a litmus test for “finding your tribe.” Faking it to make it results in you eventually having to utter this kind of sentence (from a real client of mine): “my career is on the upswing, and I’m miserable.”
As this article on the “7 habits of highly genuine people” suggests, there’s a paradox here: we think that working to appeal to or impress others should endear us to them, but for a variety of reasons it does not. Academe is thus rife with a vicious re/production cycle in which people try hard to impress while also being unimpressed by how hard everyone tries to impress. In this morass of conformity, those who are genuinely on the job stand out. The only person you should be trying to impress –i.e. “make a mark or design upon”—is Y.O.U. For such a tough critic, only an authentic design will do. You will remain unimpressed by anything other, or less, than that.
We worry so much about people finding us out, and then not wanting us as a result. What we tend to forget is that rejection sets us free: it is a revelatory gift from people we don’t need in our lives, be they flesh and blood, academic colleagues, or “friends” we have picked up along the way. Like calls to like; deep calls to deep. As one of my song lyrics goes, “anyone can listen / few can hear.” You don’t need everyone to listen. You only need the right people to hear you. Issue your own authentic call to the universe, and see who returns it.