A year ago today, I successfully passed my dissertation defense. Shortly thereafter, I left academia (making me “post-ac”). Since then, however, I’ve formed a personal and professional identity that draws from, but is not defined by my academic experience.
While it’s impossible to fully describe how much I’ve grown and improved in the last year, here are three lessons that I’ve learned in making my transition out of academia and into a happy, fulfilling life/career:
- Freelancing, not academia, is the way to escape the corporate world
One of the main reasons I went into academia was to avoid having to work a 9-5, corporate-type job. I knew I needed a lot of intellectual stimulation that such jobs couldn’t provide. However, I realized over time that academia is becoming increasingly corporate and functions like McDonald’s or Walmart – relying on the economic exploitation of a large workforce to generate profits for the higher ups (note that this exploitation is systemic, and not the fault of the many wonderful individuals working in academia). I’ve come to realize that freelancing is the true way to escape the corporate world – and it gives you the flexibility to work with corporations and/or academic institutions to best suit your needs/tastes.
- The stress of academia isn’t good for those with psychiatric disorders
As a person with a psychiatric disorder working in the highly stressful world of academia, it felt like a diabetic working in a candy factory. Sure, everyone working there is at risk of developing health issues, but for me, the stakes were much higher. This isn’t to say that work as a freelancer isn’t stressful (it usually is), but it’s usually of my creation and I can chose to opt-out of especially stressful situations. For me, acknowledging my limitations has been liberating. But for others in similar situations, it’s ok to say, “I can’t handle this” and walk away.
- Ditch bitterness – you’re carving your own path armed with an awesome skill-set
As much as I appreciate the post-ac movement for showing me that there were career path outside of academia, I eventually wanted to get away from the bitterness that often accompanies it. Don’t get me wrong, the bitterness is warranted and can be a catalyst for critiquing and improving academia. In my case, I got to the point where I didn’t want to define myself in terms of academia – I just wanted to be a (happy, healthy) musician, learner, and instructor. I also started to realize how much I’d benefited from the training and mentorship I received during my undergraduate and graduate education. I’m not doing the kind of work that I was groomed for, but I’m still making use of an awesome skill-set.
Any other post-post-ac’s out there? If so, what helped you move beyond a (post-) academic identity?