Monday, April 11, 2016

4 Years Later: Kathleen's Update

I'm excited that How to Leave Academia has a new home. As Lauren said, I don't think she, JC, or Jet will post here often, but we wanted to make sure the site remains free and accessible to anyone in need of support or advice. And if you're hungry for more stories of leaving academia, don't forget our Moving On: Essays on the Aftermath of Leaving Academia.

On the heels of Lauren's update, I thought I'd throw my hat into the ring and let you know how things have been panning out for "Currer Bell."

When I started Project Reinvention in 2012, I wrote anonymously. And those early posts show it. They're raw, vulnerable, honest, and angry. But then the New York Times came calling, asking for my real name. They wanted to write about the site and its authors as part of a longer piece on floundering academics. Nifty opportunities like that don't come along that often, and I decided it was worth ditching anonymity to be a part of the piece. Once that story broke, my blogging became more guarded. I even went back and erased some particularly rant-y diatribes against my old employer. It was a day late and a dollar short. Though I'd already quit my job, "SAP" (small academic publisher) moved up my last day the second the NYT story came out. Things have changed a lot since that articled appeared in November of 2013. At that time, I was newly married, unemployed, and my husband, Paul, had a struggling law practice that brought in little income. I don't know what kind of bravery, or insanity, made me quit a job when we had no income coming in, but I know I'm not that bold now.

The posts of 2012-2014 are from someone who felt she had little left to lose. From the despair of not being able to find an academic job, to the shame and misery of being a traveling academic textbook saleswoman, to worries over adequate health care, to never knowing where Paul and I might be living in 6 months, not a lot was going right. Yet, despite all that, there's a lot of happiness in those posts, too. Building a strong relationship, new adventures, and the sense of possibility and reinvention.

As I think about where I am in 2016, I realize two things--1. Now, I have a lot more to lose and 2. SIKE, I kinda ended up back in academia again, oops.

After quitting SAP, I worked as a life coach helping people with a variety of challenges, but much of my coaching boiled down to post-acs and career coaching. I struggled because I felt the post-ac coaching market was predatory (desperate folks low on cash, hiring coaches for guidance felt icky most of the time), so I went in search of a new niche. I dabbled in food coaching/blogging, but never quite felt at home. Eventually, I tired of most of the rhetoric of coaching and self-help.

In February of 2014, I was hired by my current employer. I work in a faculty role in a non-profit institution of higher education. So, after all that struggle, I'm an academic. Go figure. It's not the picture I envisioned when I started graduate school. I don't work at a liberal arts campus covered in ivy. I don't present papers at international conferences. I don't spend my weekends scouring microfiche for mentions of obscure nineteenth-century women writers. Instead, my university operates a lot more like a traditional business. I work pretty regular hours. I don't get summers off. I have no research requirements. Some days I really enjoy my job. Other days, I don't. I like working with students, but I miss scholarship. I love the flexibility of working from home, but I miss course development. Some days the business approach to education reminds me of sales. Some days I can tell I'm making a difference in the lives of non-traditional students who would have been shafted by most traditional universities. I'm learning that career fulfillment is a lot more nuanced than I ever expected. Sometimes I still mourn not being a "true" academic. Other days, I'm thankful I can choose where I want to live, don't have to grade, and don't have to spend my life worrying if I publish another article.

I always thought the biggest success of my life would be my career. I never cared about meeting someone, getting married, or having children. So, I'm routinely shocked that I still haven't quite figured the whole career thing out (despite lots of time and worry) but I'm rocking marriage though it requires nil effort on my part. Isn't life funny?

Paul left private practice and secured a good, stable government job in 2015. It's not flashy and I don't think he'd like to stay there forever, but it's a step in the right direction. We moved from Pittsburgh to Virginia (outside DC). It took us a good long while to sell our house in the Burgh, so money has continued to be tight. But the end appears to be in sight--we should close at the end of April. This means for the first time in my adult life, I'll have a real income and my spouse will have a real income. Two salaries. Two sets of benefits. Two 401ks.  Some mornings I wake up and think "I'm gonna be so rich...." I can't wait to see what life will be like with financial breathing room. Sometimes I toy with getting another degree, or using the extra money to start a side business of some sort. Knowing what it feels like to be close to the financial edge, I'd like to use a chunk of it to improve other people's lives, and so I've started researching food banks, charities, and political groups I care about. As an academic, I always felt my work was "political," but I'm realizing there are lot of opportunities for activism in my life that extend beyond carefully crafted syllabi and articles.

Right now, I spend most of my free time cooking, exploring my new hometown, listening to records, taking long walks, reading a variety of things, and writing. I've got two blogs at work, an existing one with humorous reviews of food TV programming ( and a yet to be started one because I've had a yen to write about my day-to-day life again (

As Lauren said at the end of her post, I've learned "everything's gonna be alright." And, she's right. Who knows where Paul and I will end up eventually, but, meh, in time it'll work all out.

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