Long-Distance Relationships and the Tenure-Track Search: Part 2

This 2 part series is an anonymous contribution by a member of the AMHC community. Read Part 1 here.

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I started to think about the future, and it occurred to me that this might not be the last time we would have to do the long-distance thing. The academic job market is a nightmare. It is not uncommon for a person with a PhD to go through 1 – 4 job cycles before finding a permanent position. Along the way, adjuncting in one location and bouncing around the country with one visiting position after another is par for the course. Imagining this as my near future sent me spiraling down further.

And so, I began to entertain the thought of pulling out of academia altogether, going home, and being with my family. Surely I could find something in a major metropolitan area that would allow me, with a PhD, to put my skills to good use…

As much as it was comforting, this idea frightened me. Was I giving up too early? Was I falling victim to the pressures that so many of us (especially women and scholars with children) feel to withdraw prematurely from ambitious career tracks? Was I failing to “lean in”? Was I failing my feminist sisters? Would leaving the university for domestic bliss be the decision that haunted me for the rest of my days? Who would I be outside the academic world?

Ruminating on this dilemma took its toll on my mental health and professional performance. I began second guessing myself in everything I did —teaching, writing, mentoring— in ways I never had previously. I couldn’t put together job materials because I felt like such a fraud. I’d lost my grounding, and my sense of self.  I felt tethered to absolutely nothing in my personal life, and simultaneously perceived myself as undeserving of a career as a self-proclaimed feminist failure.

And yet I loved my job, and, despite the challenges I was facing personally, I had learned a lot about myself during my time as a Visiting Assistant Professor and through this whole long-distance relationship adventure.

I learned that my favorite parts of my job are mentorship, artistic creation, and teaching.

Against a yellow background, two hands covered in various paint colours are facing the camera, palms up.

I’ve learned that my work alone just can’t sustain me. At one point, it could. But that has changed, and it doesn’t make me a failure or unworthy of a meaningful career.  I’ve learned that research probably isn’t the best option for me right now.

In short, I’ve learned what my priorities are right now in life (which is huge!):

  • My job has to be somewhere where we can both be happy and live in the same house.
  • My job has to be in a place that our families can afford to live because they want to move closer to us when we “land.”
  • Happiness has to be possible — achievable — from the first day of the contract. For me, that means I need opportunities to work closely with young people, engage in some kind of creative practice (inside or outside of regular school hours), as well as research and writing about issues that are important to me.

Is this a pipe dream? Maybe. Does this list mean that I won’t ever have a tenure-track job? Perhaps.

But that’s okay.

What matters is that I get to spend the weekend with my parents or my in-laws without feeling anxious that I’m not working on my book. What matters is that I am prioritizing my personal life, my needs and my wants above what I think I should be doing. And this doesn’t make me an academic or feminist failure (this is my new mantra).

I won’t let societal expectations associated with a PhD keep me from pursuing what makes me happy: family, friends, hobbies, side hustles, creative work, and secret dreams. If I had never earned the degree, I’d probably be more inclined to make life and career decisions that would lead me toward a content and fulfilled personal life.  A doctorate shouldn’t change that.  Sometimes doubt creeps in, musing: “You’ve invested all of this time and all of these resources into an academic career!” Well I, for one, refuse to fall victim to the sunk cost fallacy.

I don’t know what’s next for my career, but I do know that moving toward personal fulfillment (in whatever form it takes) doesn’t make us failures—it makes us powerful.

So, on Friday, April 27, 2018, I climbed back into a U-Haul with some of my possessions, all of my books, my dog, and my partner, and I went home.

A small yellow toy model of a van with luggage strapped to the top is facing away from the camera as if it’s driving away.

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