After I graduated from college, I moved back in with my mom for awhile. She lives in a small town, quite unlike the city where we spent much of our adolescence. I lived there for two years, and mostly hated it. It didn’t have a bookstore or a real coffee shop and my sister and I used to drive 45 minutes for Indian food. I worked 2 jobs and liked them both well enough. But I felt I was destined for something else. Eventually the siren call of academia lured me away from small town to the university for fame and fortune. AHAHAHAHAHA. Ahem. Anyway.
Now I look back at both of those jobs, and think about how I could have spun a solid, worthwhile job out of either of them. I’m a little astonished at how blind I was to those early opportunities. I remember inwardly scoffing when, at a meeting with one of my bosses, ze suggested the value of my job as a future career. But neither job related to my “major” or to “intellectual pursuits.” And I persisted in thinking that I was “too smart” for that kind of career. The combined falsity and pretentiousness of that belief still blows me away.
So I left for the Ivory Tower.
I went out of some pompous deep-seated belief that I was too smart to do anything other than academia. I think I stayed because I didn’t know what else to do. That and continuing to believe that I should be a professor, a goal based on some vague idea that I liked to teach conflated with a complete lack of knowledge about the realities of work in academia.
I have moments of regretting not staying in either of those jobs. It would certainly have been more cost-effective to start my career at the age of 23 or 24. I might have earned raises and promotions and developed a real career. But I really do believe that had I stayed there, I certainly would have been haunted by the belief that I had missed my calling. I think that I would have been plagued by some seductive vision of myself as a teacher at some idyllic liberal arts school, imparting wisdom upon my bright-eyed and attentive students. I think that dream would have made me vaguely dissatisfied my entire life, and would have prevented any full-fledged commitment or joy in any career I could have developed.
If it took going to grad school to cure me of that alluring lie, so be it. It cured me of my pretention too. Had I stayed, I would have remained a pompous, dissatisfied melancholic convinced I was working in a job beneath my talents. Grad school taught me that the life I had imagined had become virtually non-existent, and that I wasn’t nearly as special as I thought. Eventually my profound dissatisfaction with academia would open up all sorts of new doors to me. But it took the complete destruction of my ego, coupled with a realization of academia’s broken promise, to make me look for those doors at all.