Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Maybelle Found New Misery

Hi. It's been a long time since I've been here. I know. It's hard to hear about misery from a profession you desperately want to be a part of but are apart from it.
Maybelle checks in, chews cud.

Since being let go due to budget constraints from my adjunct job at Misleading U in 2012, I scrambled. I reevaluated. I left the profession.

I started a job where I thought I'd be able to continue my research.

The truth is I don't care about the academic hamster ball any more. No matter what I do, no matter if I finally secure some journal publications and a book deal, I won't get back into the academy. I left my place in the pauper's line and there is no going back.

There's no room for me at the table, and I'm tired of begging.

It took a series of unexpected and serious health issues to make me realize the chase isn't worth the quarry.

Now, I'm in the wrong job. It crushes my soul one 8 to 5 day at a time. I regret every day I wake up and haven't died in my sleep, and then I have to go on to work.

It will be two years this spring since I've read any book or article related to my research project. If I tell people about the project, everyone is so excited and supportive about it, but the truth is, I work 40 hours a week and have a hellish 60-mile commute each day. When I get home, I want to watch TV, play video games, and not do a damn thing related to thinking.

No one prepares you for what happens when you fail. I spent more than a decade never going to work, but rather going to teach, which was my heart's passion.

I never thought I'd fail.

I never thought it would be me.


  1. {{{Maybelle}}}

    You did not fail. The zeitgeist is to blame--not you.

  2. I hope that Fab or Cal will weigh in on this as well. These sorts of notes, are fairly common. Many of the ones that I saw during my time as a moderator were meant for moderator's eyes only, not for publication. A lot of people just want to share. A lot of people are lost. I feel so bad for Maybelle. I've always liked her posts. This one breaks my heart.

  3. *hugs* I'm sorry you're miserable. I wish I could help.

  4. I am sorry you are suffering Maybelle. I wish I could help in some way.

  5. There are times when the misery is nearly too much to bear. I talked about this some in an article once, the sort of wear and tear these stories had on me at RYS. And, Terry is right, a lot of mail comes in of this sort, and a lot of it is prefaced with, "I don't want you to post this; I just needed to say it."

    One of the pieces that had the most impact on me was from Dale.

    I still think about it, and Len from Las Cruces, and the writer of Quit.

    And this note above from Maybelle.

    Jesus it can be hard. And I don't have any answers. My career has been of a mix of highs and lows. I used to have better jobs at better schools, and I found an equitable misery there as well, partially - for me at least - because college doesn't work like I think it should! But that's my own battle.

    What I wanted to say was, Maybelle, dammit, many folks have been where you were and are where you are. Life kicks our ass sometimes, and the deadening results lead many to overwhelming sadness and futility.

    And yet I've seen young part-timers, full timers, near-retirement-age silverbacks, and plenty of people outside the academy find balance at some point. Many persevere through the rough patches with video games and mind-numbing TV, but so many rebound. So many find a path to a different life where the old expectations no longer weigh.

    I hurt for you, Maybelle. Reach out anytime to this community, where I believe you'll find many supporters.


  6. The only advice I can offer, having recently left teaching myself, is to find some small thing you like to do and look forward to. It could be as simple as taking the dog for a walk. Yoga. Walk with a friend. Read a trashy novel. Take up a musical instrument. Take a cooking class. Something. Anything that you can look forward to.

    It doesn't solve anything but it might provide a little relief in the course of your day/week. I am so sorry you are going through this.

  7. I am very sorry you are going through this. I agree with academaniac: having something to look forward to every day is a real blessing.

  8. Maybelle, it's good to hear from you. I've been wondering how you were.

    You did not fail. The system is rigged.

    Here's hoping you can find some things to lighten the tedium, and that eventually one of those things is teaching the thing you love to people who want to learn it.

  9. Adding my voice to Cal's, Kate's, and the others', especially Academaniac's. I always likwd your posts, Maybelle, and am sorry for your dispair.

    You are not a failure. Are you making a living? You are not a failure. Do you get up, get dressed, and get safely to work each day? You are not a failure. Did you do what had to be done about your health problems? You are not a failure. Did you earn not just a college degree, but also at least a Masters? You are not a failure. Did you influence at least some students when you taught? Did you arrive on time, prepared to teach, and keep track of grades carefully and fairly for at least one entire semester?

    You are better educated than the vast majority of humans, ever. That in itself shows that you are talented, hard-working and persistent. Your teaching record shows that you are conscientious. You also write very well.

    You are not a failure. You have not, I presume, committed any felonies, abused anyone, or left ABC gum underneath a seat in a theater. You do not, I presume, talk or use a cell phone during performances. You remember to acknowledge at least some birthdays of thos near and dear. If you have a pet, I presume you feed it and keep up with its shots.

    You are not a failure just because the best you can do right now is survive responsibly. But guess what? Landing a tenure-track position at an R1, and earning tenure, does not guarantee that a person is or feels like a success. We hear about the Imposter Syndrome and predatory dirtbag proffies regularly in this blog. And even the righteous and confident rarely seem satisfied with their status. There's always a rung higher to compete for. I know someone very accomplished, who earned tenure early, whose work has been on the cover of leading journals repeatedly, who feels inadequate because his father won a Nobel Prize and he hasn't.

    It's not you, it's the system that made you think you must always measure up to a standard and then kept raising that standard.

    Walk in beauty. A lotus for you, a Buddha to be.

    1. This is true! I agree with everything Proffie Galore has said so eloquently here. You are not a failure, Maybelle. You know the problems with academia; you've been part of our community for long enough to know and you've experienced the problems. You aren't the problem nor a failure. I hope that you can find a way out of the funk that your current job puts you in since it seems to leave you exhausted so you can be less depressed and find a path that is more joyful. Know that you aren't alone in your search for a way to be happy.We are all pulling for you (whatever that counts for).

  10. Sorry about all the misspellings. Stupid phone app makes editing plus difficile.

  11. Hi Maybelle,

    I'm sorry that you are hurting. As others have said, you didn't fail, you just haven't found what makes you happy. That can change. Finding satisfaction with your job is a luxury that some people are lucky enough to find. Everybody else - most people - find happiness through clubs, church, firends and other groups. And there's no reason to think that you won't find a better job outside of academia. You are not your job and success isn't a job title. I wish you all the best as you find your own happiness.

  12. Hi Maybelle! You have had many wise words here. Please, don't lose hope. Life has many twists and turns. Keep your eyes open for opportunities that might seem exciting, and if one turns up, go for it. I am always remembering silly movies when I post on here, but I am thinking of this movie "City Slickers." He was really in a rut, and he went on a cowboy vacation. And it changed his whole perspective.
    I know I seem very silly even mentioning it, but I am actually serious. Keep on the lookout for some kind of adventure, some kind of new thing. In the meantime, keep reading, keep thinking about your project. Somehow, you might find a way to build on it in an unexpected way. And the advice about looking for small ways to enjoy life is such good advice. Treat yourself well. Buy expensive hand cream. Drink decadent hot chocolate. Whatever. Hugs to you, Maybelle!

    I will be thinking of you and praying for you, starting right now.


  13. About a dozen folks sent me emails over night expressing their similar good wishes to Maybelle. Most of these are folks who don't appear on the page much (if at all), but they wanted to add their support.

    One said, "Maybelle, I am where you are, except now I'm trying to get back in. I realized that even with the shitty way I was treated as an adjunct, I truly loved teaching the 2-3 good students. I always had to work two jobs, but I always carved out time for myself, just doing the silliness of paintball or knitting. Hang in there!"

  14. Dear Maybelle,

    I am so sorry this is happening to you. When you write "I regret every day I wake up and haven't died in my sleep," though, it becomes really worrisome. If your new job has benefits, perhaps you might spend some time on the couch?

    Sorry again,

  15. Maybelle-- To echo our friends above, YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE. You are not. You get up, you put one foot in front of the other. As the great Vince Lombardi remarked: "It's not whether you got knocked down; it's whether you get back up."

    If it helps you at all--I left academia after several years as an adjunct and worked a soul-killing job in investment banking, where my research indirectly led to people all over the Midwest losing their jobs. I came back to academia and eventually landed a TT job in my field. Yes, the game is rigged, but sometimes you get lucky --right place, right time.

    Use your free time to look for a better job. Set aside 45 minutes per week to search. Anything to feel like you're moving.

  16. I want to echo what others have said and also add that you are not a failure precisely because you have not allowed the adjuct system to exploit you anymore, leaching away more of your time, energy, and precious lifespan. You have a job. Even if it sucks, it is a job that obviously values your talents enough to pay you a living wage. Sad that such a thing has become a rarity, but there it is You are not a failure. You are my hero.

  17. Oh, dear, Maybelle. It's great to hear from you, but terribly sad to hear how unhappy you are. I'd like to second Frod's suggestion of seeking at least an evaluation from a mental health professional; the not-wanting-to-wake-up feeling struck me, too, as worrisome, and perhaps diagnostic (keeping in mind, of course, that I'm an English Ph.D. who knows several people with chronic depression, and who has probably suffered through at least one serious but undiagnosed -- thanks to a combination of inadequate health insurance, fear about never getting even inadequate insurance again, and foolishness -- bout herself, not a medical-type doctor). You might need some help to get back to a point where you have the energy to start looking for other options. To quote a wise (and quite funny) non-academic with personal experience with the issue, "depression lies," and one of the lies it tells hard-working, caring, and in many ways very successful, in all the ways that Proffie G so eloquently describes, people is that they're failures.

    None of which is to deny the very real structural problems that you, and others, have mentioned (and that are certainly enough, especially combined with unexpected, serious health problems, to trigger depression, perhaps even in someone who wouldn't otherwise be particularly susceptible). The whole higher ed system as currently constituted just plain sucks, and manages to reward many of the wrong people, while chewing up and spitting out (or gradually burning out) the ones who actually care about, and want to spend their time performing, the basic mission of higher ed. It also has a peculiar ability to make people feel like failures if they aren't able to perform activities that are considered core functions of the traditional academic job, worthy of 30-40% or more of an employee's working-hours attention, on some sort of volunteer/hobby basis, on top of a completely-different full-time job. I'm not sure I know of another profession that manages to perform that trick, but it's a doozy.

    Even without that psychological burden, working 45 hours a week in a soul-crushing job (with, I assume, the usual measly American allowance of vacation) plus commuting another, what, 5-10 hours?, is also a pretty big obstacle to having much of a life, let alone one that includes something as long-term rewarding but short-term difficult as research. It also sounds like a situation that's very hard to climb out of (in fact, the difficulty of finding time to think, let alone do research or job-hunt, while holding down a standard office job is one of the main reasons I'm reluctant to try out non-academic employment; it sounds like a decision that's hard to reverse, though obviously some above have managed to do so).

    So making big-enough changes to get you into a better situation isn't going to be easy, and it may take energy that you don't have at the moment. I'd second (or third or fourth) the suggestion of regularly doing something that makes you feel better, preferably something at least a bit physically active, since the feeling of moving physically forward (or perhaps producing something physical), tends to help with the feeling of being stuck.

    1. And a few other thoughts that went over the character limit:

      --Getting enough sleep is also important (though perhaps difficult, for a variety of reasons. Still, it really matters, and might do something for that hating-to-wake-up feeling, even if it takes up time that you feel you need to recover in other ways from the rest of the day).

      --Eating well (reasonably healthily, but also in ways you enjoy; now is probably not the time to diet) is also important.

      --I wonder about that commuting time as a possible opportunity. Depending on how you commute, could you listen to talking books or podcasts or something that might help you connect with job possibilities, and/or something you care about (assuming you're not doing that already)? Maybe just on some days/at some times of day, if you're generally too wiped for anything mindful during the commute?

      --Finally, if it's the teaching you really miss (and I have to admit that makes me feel a bit guilty, because I don't have that same passion for being in the classroom that you do, yet here I sit, with a semi-decent wage and benefits in return for a whole lot of teaching, which I do reasonably well, but still, dammit, if only one of us is going to be in the classroom, it should probably be you), have you considered independent (private) school teaching? I went to a private school myself, and have several young relatives at various prep schools, and they seem increasingly to be a refuge for Ph.D.s who love teaching. There's an alarming level of privilege floating around at such places, but there are also some very good, very fun-to-teach students, a reasonable number of them on scholarship. And if you lived on campus (which also has its pluses and minuses), you'd have a very short commute to the kind of work you love. Prep-school hiring season is in swing right about now, so it might be worth a look (try http://careers.nais.org/jobseekers/ , or contacting one of the agencies that handle hiring for schools -- the school, not the candidate, pays).