I’m nearing the end of my time as a professor and I’m down to less than three weeks before I board a flight to start my new (old) job. I’m sure a lot of people are wondering exactly what went wrong this year. The story goes deeper/further back than that.
Sometime in the late 90s, I decided that college professor was the job for me. I took a rocky path to get there, but eventually earned my PhD in the field, and… couldn’t find a job. I was kind of unemployable in Cincinnati (where I was living at the time). Industry wasn’t really an option in Cincinnati, and while I had a teaching job at the time, it was 9 month contracts, and I was eventually going to be time-limited out of that position.
So, we jumped. We went out into the unknown, and tried something new on. Very early on, during my days at Amazon.com, I had this feeling that I didn’t belong there, that academics was surely the place for me. But I stick it out because because I needed to explore that career path and for lack of a better option. Seriously, there aren’t many people who want to hire someone with a Ph.D. in computer science for software engineering jobs.
There was always this nagging feel of “I got a PhD, why am I not using it to work in academics?” It was almost if I was letting my degree down, and not living up to my training.
Flash forward a few years, and I was finally able to make peace with not having a career in academics. And then, I had an opportunity to switch to a career in academics. For us, it wasn’t even a choice. Being where we were in life was always sort of a consolation prize. Even though there were several red flags, we took the job, moved all our stuff and jump in face first to a different life.
The problem – this different life didn’t fit. It didn’t fit in anyway. Just like I used to feel that I didn’t belong in industry, I now felt like I didn’t belong in academics. Only this time, the feeling was much stronger, more more immediate, and much more screaming “you must do something about this!” My new job was not good for me, and not good for my family. The increased working hours, increased stress, and less time with my family, all added up to a big negative that needed to be dealt with.
This year has been devastating to me, my immediate family, and my extended family. We can only hope that this turns out to be the worst thing that happens in our lifetimes. And we faced a series of difficult choices. Stick out what isn’t working, try to find something and salvage the wreckage, or go back to what was working. We chose to go back to what was working.
It took me until the age of 35 to figure out what I wanted to do when I grow up. Unfortunately this discovery had to come in the form of huge life lessons and undue strain on the relationships in our lives. Now I know, and I can move forward knowing that it is a path we chose.
I don’t know if these costs will ever be “worth it.” We have huge piece of mind in knowing that we tried something. We have huge piece of mind knowing that the life we will be living going forward is not a consolation prize, but a choice to do the best we can in the world every day.
One thing for sure – it is time to move on. This life isn’t working, and it is time for one that works.
Just a little bit of insight into what went wrong. We have more to share, but all in good time.