The Genuine Job Search (Out-Ac post by Karen Cardozo)

by Karen Cardozo

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.

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The Genuine Job Search (Out-Ac post by Karen Cardozo) — 5 Comments

  1. This reminds me of a some home decorating advice I heard recently: Don’t worry about making things match; just choose things you love. If the same person has chosen all the things in the room, they will match! Same with creating your life story–If the same “Gem” makes each choice, everything will fit together somehow!

    • It was only a matter of time before Alt-Ac met Home Ec! Thanks Margy. That’s great advice. I can’t help but note that to “match” (to be equal or similar in some respect) is not necessary in order for things to fit together. The pieces of our lives may not match at all, but fit together perfectly 🙂

  2. I find this post out of sync with the tones and topics relevant to the current academic market climate and to this site. It’s frustrating to see this advice dispensed here. Dr. Cardozo, I’m truly glad that you’ve found a satisfying career, but the advice that others should “refuse to choose” feels unhelpful, particularly since the post lacks any of the specifics that the Prof Is In is so well known for.

    • The specific advice here is: be yourself in all things. This will look a particular way for you, and a different way for me. That is how you will end up in a situation YOU can live with – inside or outside the academy. I spent many frustrated years waiting for things to pan out the way they were “supposed” to. When I decided I would no longer put myself on hold for the Ac market, I just started making decisions I could genuinely live with – including leaving the faculty for satisfying Alt-Ac work. No-one is more surprised than me that I landed a tenure-track job after that. This is not a path you can predict or prescribe, but the odd configuration of responsibilities in my current faculty job involves disparate areas I had pursued in the past out of real interest, EVEN WHEN I had no job mandate to do so. In other words, being genuine along the way put me in a situation where I was ultimately given a mandate to follow those interests. In this context, “refuse to choose” refers generally to the idea of doing both an Ac and and Alt search based on FIT (rather than postponing the Alt until you see what the Ac market does). And it refers specifically to my being a multifaceted personality type who will never be happy in just one career, but who thrives on variety and learning on the job (many of my clients are the same way). That’s how I do me. You do YOU, Onthemarket, and things will turn out fine. Really. The specifics are entirely up to you.

  3. Pingback: New Year, New Plan – Postac Post by Karen Cardozo | The Professor Is In

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