Thursday, August 25, 2016

"It's not personal it's business" and other lies

"It's not personal it's business." is a great quote from 'The Godfather' (so I'm told, I've never seen The Godfather). I've been thinking of a variation on that a lot lately, "It is personal to me, it's personal to a lot of people. And what's so wrong with being personal anyway?" Answer at the end as to where that's from. 

I've been thinking about that, and a lot of related things as I think about my job hunt, and a transition away from academia and the PhD. And the things I want to address two main themes, firstly that idea of the personal, about what you do and who you are. And secondly, how your job (or lack of) your career and personal life choices and the 'right' way to do that, cause all sorts of judgement. 

Nobody who ever survived a PhD will tell you it wasn't personal. It takes giving a lot of yourself to get to that end point. It's like no other form of 'studying' it's like no other course you do, it takes a bit of you with it, for a while at least. And for many you don't get there without the PhD being connected in some way to something you care about. Again you wouldn't read all those things, write all those words without somewhere at some point caring. It's personal, deeply so at times. 

It's also, as I've mentioned on other blogs, something as a career you throw your whole self into. It is an all-consuming profession, and lines are blurred between leisure and work particularly for us who study things like theatre, literature, music, media because our 'normal' interests fuse with our professional ones, in ways I don't imagine they do if you're say, an accountant. And you put a lot of energy into that work, into the paid work and the unpaid work (of which there's much more than the paid). And a lot of that work rests on you, your name, your work. It is incredibly personal. 

And while I maintain that work/job title doesn't define who you are, if you've done a PhD/been a part of academia it is very much a part of your identity. And when you take it away, that's a change to deal with. And when you make a decision or are forced into another path, it's not just like taking another job. Your identity feels like it has changed, it's not just business, it is personal. 

So that's in part why I plea for patience as I ride out this shift. I didn't just end a contract or lose a job. I’m not just looking for a job this summer. I'm changing, I'm having to leave something behind that I was for a long time. And it's not easy. It's not just a business transaction from one form of paid work to another. It's a shift in identity. And that's personal to me. 

Added to that is the pressure that I've somehow missed some vital milestones in life. Like marriage, children, home ownership. That these things have never meant much to me personally seem immaterial to other people. Someone asked me last week what was 'wrong' with me that I was still single. Nothing is wrong with me I've just been busy, and finding a partner has never been a driving force in my life. It's nice, sure, but it's not the only thing. 

The idea though, that I'm doing life 'wrong' simply based on the fact that I'm not hitting a list of artificial markers of adulthood. Or that I'm somehow not actually adult enough because I'm not hitting them is hurtful. The idea that I should put up, shut up and get a job any job so that I can find a husband, buy a house and have a baby and ONLY THEN am I permitted to complain because THEN I am a REAL grown up with real grown up problems. Well frankly it's both insensitive and its bullshit. 

I worry as much about money and security and my future as my friends with houses and husbands and babies. More so sometimes I think, because it's just me. On my own. No partner's salary next time a job ends. Nobody else contributing to the bills. No second family to ask for help from-hell no first family in my case. It's fucking scary out there as a single person trying to get by without a safety net. So don't tell me I'm not a grown up. 

And it's all personal, because it's my life. To outsiders looking in I'm just a person who can't get a job. And maybe they think that's a shame, maybe they wonder what's wrong with me. Maybe they've never had the misfortune to be unemployed and think it's not so bad. 

And maybe you do say 'Don't take it so personally' 

Come and tell me it's not personal when I'm sat at my computer crying on yet another Monday when there's no jobs to even apply for. When I get another email rejection for a job I know I was qualified for. That it's not personal when you apply for minimum wage jobs and can't get those. That it's not personal when your dog has to have emergency surgery or the car breaks down and you know you can't pay your Mum back for who knows how long. When it's been days since you've been out. When you have to turn down going for dinner because you can't afford to eat in the restaurant. When friends stop replying to messages and you feel like they don't want to know you anymore. Tell me it's not personal to feel like all the years of hard work were all for nothing. 

And none of the reasons I haven't found a job are personal (well actually one was, but screw them) but that doesn't mean I don't feel it personally. 

It's not personal, it's business. That is true. But it's also personal to a lot of people. 

*And the quote was from 'You've Got Mail' because I'm an uncultured swine, as this blog discusses. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

But what do you "Really" want to do (and other annoying questions)

So after last week's post about doing the unthinkable and turning down an academic job interview (here) there comes the inevitable question of 'What now?'

Well that's the question isn't it. And the short answer being:

1. If I knew I'd tell you.
2. It's not that simple.

The most, not even 'infuriating' but actually downright upsetting comment/question I get is 'What do you REALLY want to do?' The honest and also heartbreaking truth is 'This. What I've been trying to do for the past 10 years'.

I'm not saying I've done it right or even well (clearly) but I have been going after what I 'really' wanted. The dual ambition of getting a PhD-just getting the PhD itself was something I felt I personally needed to tick off- and with that thinking, at least when I started, that academia was for a time a part of that plan. Simultaneously I also wanted to work in the arts, specifically theatre. Neither was a 'back up plan' they were back ups to each other. Equally I'd aimed for both and equally I'd have felt my 'ambitions' had been fulfilled if I'd ended up in either.

I won't go over again the feelings about academia, that's well documented in the past few blogs. A combination of failure to be good enough, and the feeling it was just not 'me' anymore has led me to here. As I said last week, never say never. But I also fully accept that the person I was when I started my PhD has changed, as has the world around me. And that while sad, disappointing too, is sort of ok (or at least it will be).

The realization that I will really never work in theatre is a more difficult one. I'd always feared (and seen evidence from other people too) that those from an academic background aren't welcomed within theatre and to some extent across the arts (with the exception of the visual arts and museums sector for I guess obvious reasons). Theatre doesn't like academics. Theatre doesn't think somehow that we're as knowledgeable as those who put the work together, or that maybe we can do both? My personal take is that no, I don't have all of the knowledge that those practically making theatre have, I have different knowledge, and surely bringing different perspectives are what we're about? I can't work out if theatre doesn't like academics as a whole, or if it just doesn't like me. This week I because convinced it was the latter.

It broke my heart (and I'm not using that lightly) this week to have a conversation where it became clear I wasn't considered knowledgeable or passionate about theatre.  That conversation this week, though not intended as malicious or hurtful, broke me. Sadly also theatre is very much an industry of 'who you know' and 'your face doesn't fit' and that's also sad. But after nearly 10 years of getting that door slammed in my face, I'm done. I don't have any more fight left in me.

So in answer to the question 'What do you really want to do?' I'm afraid I don't know. Because the thing I've really tried to do I failed at on both counts. I know I'm not the first or the last, I'm not trying to make out I'm special. Just I don't have any answer to that question.

So what else? So what now?

Well I could just accept my fate, take a variety of admin jobs and poodle along. I could do whatever I need to do to return to school teaching. Neither of these are appealing, but they're alternatives to an endless fight for something I've no hope in I guess.

In terms of  maybe what I 'really' want to do that isn't the above....I don't know.

Hand on heart, all I ever wanted to do was write in some way or form. Hand on heart if I could have a 'dream' job now, I'd be a freelance writer. I'd write the most weird/mundane/awful shit if someone would pay me to. That is my 'dream' job. I've always harboured a secret desire to be a Ghostwriter of biographies, this is a weird interest I think really suits my talents. But it's another impossible dream. So what now?

In terms of 'real' jobs. I don't know. If I could pick anything I'd probably ask to reset the clock and go back to the point at which I decided not to take a Law conversion course and pursue my PhD dream. Or reset the clock even further and do something in Policing as I said I would in school. Or reset further and take STEM subjects at A level.

But I can't reset the clock. And my 'what I really wanted to do' I tried to do, and failed. And that's sort of ok, sort of not. Because at least I tried, and boy did I try. But at 32 (well next week) to be starting over yet again. Having frankly made a right cock up of it all...that's hard.

So no, I don't know the answer to 'what do you really want to do?'

If anyone has any suggestions, the weirder the better, throw them at me and that can be next week's blog post.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Sometimes you need to walk away...

I did the unthinkable last week, I turned down an academic job interview. 

I'll just let that sit there. 

I'd been applying for a variety of jobs as a 'one last time' exercise. And if I'm honest to 'prove' that I wouldn't get them. If that seems a weird mindset I'll explain, there's a weird mindset in academia (ha! that's an understatement in general) that in order to move on, to do something else you need to 'prove' you couldn't do it. Because for many academics there is only one 'it' the holy grail of an academic job. And I guess for my own peace of mind I could say I tried enough now, and I could walk away.

When I got the email about the job I felt a real sense of dread. And then I spent most of last Wednesday crying. That's not an understatement, I spent most of it ugly-cry sobbing. Because I should have wanted it, I should have been thinking 'finally, finally a tiny chance at the academic holy grail'. Let's be honest the chances of me actually getting it were slim at best, but I was scared I would get it. Because I just couldn't have done it. 

Reasons for turning down an interview or even a job offer are firstly, very much your own, and very much within your rights-we spend a lot of time at work, and if you know it isn't the right fit and you can turn it down then do, from someone who has been there it's not worth it. But for a job like this I feel like it's even more important. We can all go to a job we hate and get by if we're able to leave it at the end of the day. It's not fun, it's not good for us but it's do-able.

 Academic jobs, aren't just a job, it's a life. My opinion personally is that it shouldn't be, and we should work to create clearer work/life boundaries, but unfortunately that isn't how things are. For those who don't know, picture a school teacher's workload-we all know what that's like right? For academics, on top of all that (which any teacher will tell you is most evenings until late, and a fair chunk of weekend and holiday time too) there's research. Because to continue being employed you need to research, research well and be prolific. You need to publish papers, pull together a monograph and attend conferences (again over weekends and holidays) You'll need to go into the next job interview with a publication list and a plan for the next things. So quickly the evening and weekend you had disappears further. As with any junior level position the pressure is on in particular to prove yourself in order to progress. 

So that's what it entails. Firstly, let's be clear, I'm not saying this is any more pressured or difficult that many other jobs. I'm just outlining it for those who might not know. What I am saying is this takes dedication, a level of commitment and more importantly to do that it takes a real passion for it. I don't have that. I don't know if it's just not in me or it's been beaten out of me, whether it's gone for good, whether I never had it, whether it will come back. But right now, I know I don't have any of that in me.  I'm not so naive also to think that another job I take won't require any additional work. As someone who has always worked incredibly hard in whatever I have done, the implication that I am somehow lazy or naive about that really hurts.

But academia broke me. There's no other more eloquent way to put it. Getting to the end of my PhD has destroyed my confidence in a way not even years of High School bullying managed. And it's so hard to come out the other side of something you put so much of yourself into only to be told you've failed. I know I can't be an academic because I'm simply not good enough. And on some days that's perfectly fine and on others it utterly destroys me again. It's something that perhaps nobody outside of it can understand, but you put everything into a PhD and most of us put our life on hold to some extent while doing it. To get to the end is an achievement, but in an incestuous field where everyone has that achievement and more it's a case of 'so what?'. I'm not good enough to publish, didn't go to a good enough University to be considered good enough for any jobs. I just don't have what it takes. And that is a difficult thing to come to terms with. And when someone tells you that yes, you wasted that PhD, I can't even begin to articulate how that feels. 

My PhD was one of passion, if it hadn't been, I wouldn't have got to the end. The plays I wrote about I still love passionately; I still have much to say about them. And a PhD was a way of getting someone to listen. Except they didn't. And post PhD you're expected to move on to other academic things. But honestly with a gun to my head I couldn't come up with any ideas, and I certainly don't have the talent to create them even if I did. And a field of academic bullies (yes I'm going that far, I've encountered several) and a field in which the best still isn't good enough, a field in which there is so much competition and negativity and one in which I simply just never fit, has done something to me I might never properly fix. 

And most days, that's alright. I have many other ambitions. I want to write. And I want to write stories, be they plays, novels, articles. I want to use the voice that is natural to me, not the one I'm forced to take on for academic writing. I want to write about the things that interest me in the way that interests me. And mostly that's good, it's ok. But it's still hard to let go of everything you worked for. 

And then there's the figuring it out. The 'what next' and the honest answer of 'I don't know'. I have a long list of things I'd like to do, but no roadmap on how to get there. I'm envious of those who have a clear career path-you train for a thing, you get a job in the thing, or those who stumbled into a job they're happy in one way or another. I'm stumbling, it's just a bit of a longer path. 

But as I'm older I make less apologies about what I want. If I'm taking a job just for a 'pay the bills for now' type job, then no, I don't want it to be the kind of job that takes over my life. I also sacrificed most of my 20s for the PhD, I like having my life outside of work back. Once again I know that in reality all jobs take a little bit of your personal time, but there's a bit of time and there's all consuming. 

I read something really interesting just a day later as well and that was 'We need to stop defining women's work/life balance in terms of children' the idea being that the only kind of work/life balance women should be entitled to/expecting is that which revolves around childcare. And this mentality is something I'm increasingly encountering. I have gotten a sense that my search for a job, career, ambition call it what you will, is somehow 'selfish' or 'immature' because I am a woman in my 30s who is single and without children. There is an implication somehow that if I was a 'proper grown up woman' (ie a married one with children) I would stop this mucking about with careers or ambition and just shut up and do a job. And that somehow my ambitions, dare I say it 'dreams' are just childish fantasies that I'd 'grow out of' if I were a real life grown up woman. Now of course not all women with children think that way, I know many fantastic ambitious women who have many dreams and ambitions connected to work and otherwise. But it's an undercurrent, and a deeply unpleasant one. 

So I make no apologies for my ambitions laying elsewhere now. I make no apologies for not knowing where I'm going next, and I make no apologies for wanting a bit of my life back. And I make no apologies for what that life does (or doesn't) include. Will I regret my decision not to go to that interview? I don't know. I doubt it. Despite what might have been, I know that right now it wasn't right. 

I feel broken right now. I feel like all those years have finally caught up with me and everything I was holding together kind of fell apart. And that's kind of ok, becuase perhaps to sort out what comes next it had to fall apart to put it back together. 

A final note, I was really falling apart last week and it was only the fact that I was taking part in something fantastic that kept me going. My Blog on GISHWES and how that helped and started to change me is  here