By Elana Jefferson-Tatum, Ph.D.
About two years ago, I told the chair of my department that my family and I were moving to North Carolina, and I haven’t looked back since. I left to refind my joy and my inner sense of freedom, and in the process I gained a life of my own making. I’ve gone from a stressed tenure-track professor to a joyful homeschooling mom, hypnobirthing coach, and full-spectrum doula. And, I know that you, too, can make this transition. So, here are my tips for re-finding your joy after the academy.
Accept that starting a new path will probably mean leaving behind people who were once central in your academic life
So, in my case, I found that some of my academic mentors did not understand or support the transition I was making. The loss of these relationships was hard. I still love and treasure them, but sometimes relationships have simply run their course. Everything happens in seasons, and sometimes relationships, too, only last for a certain season of your life. It’s challenging to let go, but it’s necessary for your own growth and for new relationships to bloom in your life.
Make a plan
Give yourself anywhere from six months to a year to make the transition. And, start with the practical components. Do you want to move? Where will you live? What cultural, social, financial, and other support systems do you have or feel you can craft in your chosen location? How much money do you need? How can you structure your life to make living in your new location doable? Do you have children? What resources of support do you need for your family?
What had you always dreamed of doing and being in your life? If anything was possible, what would you do? What dreams have you let go of in order to be in the academy? What new dreams have you noticed coming to mind?
Do something different to get out of your comfort zone
Just dreaming can keep us in our heads so it’s important to start making your passions concrete. This can be taking a class you are interested in just for fun, writing poetry or a story, reading books in a new subject area of interest, learning a new skill, or anything else that pulls at your deepest passions. The point of this activity is just to get you to tap into your desires and deepest wants. You may not decide to, for instance, become a dancer but maybe taking a dance class ignites your creativity and passion for something else you can see yourself spending your new life pursuing.
Find and craft support beyond the academy
This can include working with a life coach, a counselor, or just talking with a good friend. Yet, please note while some of your friends in the academy will be supportive of your new path, if you are planning to leave and they aren’t, they cannot really guide you or support you in this new process of re-becoming. So, are there other communities outside of the academy you can connect to? Perhaps through a community organization, a social group, an interest group, etc? In my case, I developed new friendships through family-centered community spaces but I was also lucky to slowly find other Black women who were equally interested in either leaving the academy or paving alternative academic pathways. So, we started a sister circle and we still meet once a month. I also leaned heavily on family members, like my mother and my mother-in-law, for guidance who I knew were fully supportive.
This new journey beyond academia isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. Your joy does not have to be optional. As a Black woman, I truly believe that joy is revolunatry. We, as persons, should all have the right and ability to live with joy. In a time when life is so precarious (whether from the senseless murder of Black, Brown and Indigenous peoples, from the pandemic, or so many other life-denying systems), joy is not just political; it is absolutely vital. We can no longer afford to just survive. We must thrive with joy.