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.