My Fear of Commitment

True dat.

*I was inspired to write this post after I read this post on The Script Lab: “To Be Or Not To Be…A Writer.”

If you’ve been keeping track of this blog, you know I am currently unemployed. Until recently, I was a college instructor, but I cashed out my chips in order to find gainful employment that would also be satisfying intellectually. (Not that teaching isn’t challenging enough; it’s just that I wasn’t getting paid a living wage as an adjunct.) I started this blog as a way to continue to develop my writing beyond academic genres, but it has quickly become about more than just that. It made me realize something I had stashed away a long time ago: my aspirations of becoming a writer. I took the opportunity that unemployment gave me and I decide to embrace this new identity (an identity that isn’t really new).

However, any up-and-coming writer will tell you that you can’t live off of words alone. The life of the mind is just a myth, you know. So as I plot my next blog post (for here and for Sounding Out!), I’m also plotting my next move in my career. I am, after all, unemployed. Even though I wasn’t afraid to shout out to the cyber universe that “I am a writer, hear me roar,” I am afraid of committing to a new career path altogether.

You see, for the past few years I have been developing my identity as an academic. Ever since I arrived in adulthood, that’s what i thought I’d be doing: getting a PhD and teaching at the university level–never mind that the reason why I decided to major in English was because I wanted to write. I didn’t know of creative writing programs when I was in high school. I figured that if I wanted to become a writer I should study how other people write. Once I was in the program, I submerged myself into literary criticism, and that detour has taken me all the way to today. I invested a lot of time and energy into that professional identity; my dissertation is supposed to cement it. On the other hand, my teaching is supposed to show my commitment to higher ed. But when higher ed refuses me a living wage because I’m not tenure-track, what do I do? (And plenty will say I can only be tenure-track if I have a PhD. What about the thousands of adjuncts with PhDs who aren’t tenure-track? Don’t get me started…)

As I branch out to the world outside of the ivory tower and look for other jobs, my concern is: how do I present myself? Who am I? This was exacerbated by applying for a teaching position this week at a local university. I put together my Linkedin profile thinking about freelance writing, but when I wrote my cover letter for this teaching job, I thought: what will they think of this non-academic profile? Academia will see any attempt to have a life outside of it as a weakness, as a reason to not hire you…or so other academics say.

And here lies my dilemma: as I build my Linkedin profile and consider whether to revive my Facebook profile for the sake of networking, I wonder if I should brand myself as a freelancer. Whereas there are plenty of academics who have built an online presence around their academic lives, I fear building an online identity around a non-academic self. I’m not sure about leaving academia forever. On the other hand, I feel like I have to commit to something: freelance editing, social media specialist, academic, college professor. How about building a site where both of my identities merge? Will employers think I’m just not committed enough?

I guess a career should not dictate who we are. Our lives continue when we leave work. One of the things that upset me about academia was that a lot of the people around me didn’t know when to stop talking shop. They were always in academic mode; sometimes I wanted to talk about shoes. Shoes! Because they’re pretty, they make my legs look fantastic, and they can make or break an outfit. Or sometimes I wanted to talk about tv. I love tv. I love it! And it doesn’t make me any smarter or stupider than the next professor.

But our jobs make up a big part of our identities. So much of who we are is wrapped up in what we do, whether we like it or not. And I’m not ready to let go of my academic side, not just yet.

So who am I? For now, I’m settling on writer. It doesn’t pay the bills, but it feels true.

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  1. hmmm, seems to me there is a lot of writing about shoes and tv out there. You could be doing that! Along with other things. :-)

    Also, those creative writing programs that do exist? They often hire people who have actually published creative writing. So pursuing freelance writing may not close the door on an academic career in future (if you want to leave that door open).

    • You know me too well, Jo. :) I remember telling Janni on Twitter that if I had a blog I’d write about some show I had mentioned I didn’t like. She told me “do it!” I filed it away, but now I have a place to do that.

      I think I will continue to look for freelance writing positions. Now that I have tapped again into the writer in me, I don’t think I want to step away from that.

  2. Wow. I’m just so fascinated by your journey, especially since I hear myself in your entry. Of course not completely, but I think about non-academia a lot. Of course, like a business, one will train you to help perpetuate and reinforce (therefore sustain) that business (or in our case, business/institution). But at what expense? I think of bell hooks for example, we can create alternative names or find ways to control the types of public/online content available. My blog is non-academic, but covers the same info that I research within academia. Besides, there are multiple routes to get to a destination, no? In today’s times, our generation, I believe we have to be that flexible. We can’t operate off of what people did 20 yrs ago, the times are changing to fast, instability is too around the corner, and paycheck to paycheck??? Our generations as far as I feel, we barter our resources in a way as well to help each other out. Does this mean we don’t work? No! Of course we still must eat and pay our bills but the current economy isn’t our fault and we shouldnt have to feel limited because, our self-worth shouldnt be dictated by an institution that’s rapidly changing behind closed doors you know? I’m so excited for you!

    Your academic training may help inform your freelance work and vice versa. Both ways it’s a strength even though we may hear otherwise, you know? I believe you’ll find a way to merge your two worlds, it’s critical if we want to feel whole and human in the maximized way. There are certain things you may decide aren’t appropriate, but we’re human – we may swear, we may find unconventional things funny, we may critique the issues, we may laugh and cry, be naive at times and the most clear-minded at times. We may become frustrated and worried. We have families and lovers we must please/be therefore or simply but equally, ourselves. We should have room to share this without receiving an unsound critique that this type of self-disclosure is unprofessional. It’s unfair and who created this as a rule?? The times are changing.

    I can ramble all day but with much support and love,

    • Yes, you are right: our generation is blurring those lines between professional and personal. We can’t ignore the parts of our lives that inform our research/research interests. Why should we act like that doesn’t matter? Ah, the myth of objectivity. But yes, my academic training is not something I can pretend doesn’t exist. I used to pretend I could just put it away in a box and move on. I can’t. I’m okay with that now because, again, it IS a part of who I am. It’s also a part of how I view the world.

      I hope this blog merges the two worlds. Finally, a place to merge them! :)

  3. PhDeviate says:

    There’s a great Cherríe Moraga quotation about taking the risk of writing that I wish I could lay my hands on right now. But i can’t. But go you having the courage to stake your claim on the name of your profession!

    • Yes, the risk of writing! I don’t know the quote, but you are right. There IS a risk in writing. Like I tell my students, when you write you make things visible. And in that way, it’s scary because you make yourself vulnerable.

      Thanks for the support my #twitterican friend. I believe things happen for a reason. This unemployment business helped give me the time and space for me to remember how much I loved writing.

  4. It’s kind of eerie how we’re in so much the same boat this summer. I haven’t quite given up on my adjunct career just yet, but it sure isn’t paying the bills this month. Taking a few risks of my own, and trying to see what works. You’re right. It feels true.

    I might be poor, but I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time.

    • Haha, it’s certainly eerie. Ah, Twitter, you have brought us together. :) Take risks, please do! You will be happier. I’m glad I took the risk and decided to move on to another job. I don’t say everybody should do exactly what I did, but sometimes you have to take risks and be honest with yourself. Glad to hear you’re super happy. We all deserve to be happy. Just sayin’.


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