So the job hunt is in full swing. Except it isn't. Because I've found nothing of substance to apply for, and this is an addition to the (now frankly lengthy) list of my failures. Almost daily I'm being quizzed on how many jobs I've applied for, and which ones. Some from well-meaning sources who probably don't realise the amount of additional anxiety this causes. Others less well meaning, and frankly smug at my apparent lack of effort. It's not through lack of trying, but more being stuck at a crossroads and taking my time to figure out which path to take.
Because on top of this almost daily reminder of my own ineptitude at magic a job out of thin air I am having to come to terms with my failure as an academic.
I've written many times on this blog about the struggle with whether to continue in academia. The truth of the matter, and probably what I've spent a year hiding from, is much more simple: I failed as an academic.
The reasons for failing, as with most things, are many and complex. Had I gone to a better University, had better supervisors I'd probably have stood more of a chance. My choice of University was poor, but so was I and it was the only one I could afford (they offered me enough work to support myself for 3 years...ish). Sadly it's who you know or where you went not what you know. And so despite attending two top Russell Group Universities previously, it's my post- 1992 University where I earned my PhD that gives me a black mark and little hope of finding an academic role. Perhaps I could have waited a few more years, gone somewhere else (I feel compelled to point out I was accepted to two prestigious universities at the time but couldn't afford to go) but then who knows? It is what it is and there's nothing to be done.
But also I'm to blame I know that, I take responsibility for that. Perhaps I'm not naturally gifted enough to 'make it' perhaps I just didn't try hard enough? I think I did my best. I worked as hard as I could to get the PhD done, I muddled my way through conferences and got better and better. I submitted articles for publication, got rejected, got a bit better and eventually have a couple I think will make it to publication. I'm reminded that I know I'm a good writer, just perhaps not a good academic.
I failed at the networking. I don't seem to have the gift to get in with the right people. Or to even know who the right people or the right actions are. I never had a mentor, not someone to open doors but someone to show me which doors to try. Instead I've been bumbling around making poor choices and trying to beat down the wrong doors.
And I feel the eyes of fellow post-docs on me. I feel their pitying judgement at the fact that I gave up even before I graduated by taking a non-academic post in a University (again I was poor I had no choice, and it was more money than I've ever earned before). I feel their judgement at all the work I've put in to non-academic pursuits here. All the articles I've written for non-academic sources, no work but academic work is worth doing they say. All the work I've done trying to get a foot in the door with other areas, because having a backup plan is already giving up, a sign of failure. All the holidays (well 2) and weekends off I've taken, because real academics and especially those trying to be one shouldn't take a day off. And maybe then it's a good thing to get out, to escape that attitude.
And it is true that I say I don't think I want that life. That I don't want to spend another 5, 10 years waiting for a job. Or bouncing from one part-time fixed term job to another. Or worse to just keep applying for years and failing. To hang on with hourly paid lecturing and temp work in the vain hope that a full time job will emerge.
And I like having a say over what my life is again. I like writing for and about things I want to. I like having evenings and weekends to do things. I like a work life balance. What I don't like is the judgement of academic 'friends' that it's giving up without a fight, or that it's confirmation I just never had it.
But that doesn't mean it isn't hard. Imagine training for anything for 4 years and then not being able to do it. Imagine thinking that this was what you were going to do, putting everything you had into it (and I did, I really did) and it not being enough. I love teaching, and teaching in a University was the best job I've had. It's also not 'cool' to say that as an academic, it's supposed to be the thing you 'endure' to do the 'real' work. But I did love it and I miss it. I also to a degree enjoy research and writing. I do lack the natural talent for academic writing that I, without ego, say I have in other styles of writing. But still it's a job where research, writing and teaching come together. And I enjoy that. But I'm not good enough at the way that world wants me to do it, I don't fit somehow. Simply I'm not good enough.
And it's hard to admit. And it's harder still to know that others are whispering about you. When they say 'well never mind you didn't really want to do it' that doesn't mean I wouldn't have liked the chance to find out. To feel that others are saying 'well we knew she never really had it' breaks down an already broken confidence.
And to spend so long singularly chasing one thing, the question of 'what now?' is terrifying. With every job I look at (and determine I'd be rejected from) I ask myself 'I did all that work for this?' and it's not out of snobbery. I don't think I'm better than any job. But like a highly trained chef who ends up taking a barista job at a coffee shop, you end up asking 'All that for this?'
Failure is a hard thing to accept, and an even harder thing to pick yourself up from. So for me and all the others with a PhD trying to do something else, go a bit easy on the job interrogation. We might not know where we're going yet.