I'm either going to need a radical overhaul, or just a new activity to keep me going a bit longer. Can't decide which, either because I'm indecisive or out of ideas. I'd like some input on either front: a) should I throw caution to the wind and take charge of my destiny? b) any suggestions for new preoccupations to get absorbed in while this current life persists? Piled embankments of soggy sleet within.
posted by anonymous to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Some context: I'm an early-to-mid-30s man, I'm super-sociable, pretty-good at being sensitive and generous to other people, and in most cases (and about most things) I'm a pretty enthusiastic person. I'm just not so good when it comes to me, and I'm worrying about where it might lead. I'm in a monogamous, committed relationship with a woman I love, we've been together since The Millennium, and lived together whenever we've been able to, although our job situation ("2 body problem") means that we've also lived apart for as long as we've ever lived together, and currently we're a couple of years into Long Distance living.
I've got myself into a career that I think I wanted when I was 19 and starting at university: I'm now an academic in the UK with a 'permanent' job, and slowly becoming established. It's taken a lot out of me: the research-related anxiety, the impermanence, the temporary contracts, the heavy teaching load that falls on junior faculty, as well as moving house every few years for the last 14 years to get here, and particularly the living-apart-from-my-partner angle. The job isn't great - it's not a great university, my area is maligned and marginal within it, the workload is tolerable but the students are not, the city is a backwater. I think I could enjoy the job if it were elsewhere (a. nearer my partner or other friends, b. in a decent city, c. in a decent department). But hey, I didn't come to this paragraph to moan. This is just backdrop.
One way I've put up with the situation is to try to keep busy and active; I run, cycle, climb, swim. I should probably channel some of my time and energy more into my research work, but it's a kind of black hole of low confidence, self-doubt, Imposter Syndrome. I feel a bit like a Washed Up Academic already, and I only just got here. And 'here' is not exactly where I wanted to be. My work doesn't particularly interest me most of the time; I haven't felt properly absorbed by it for a while; I miss that, but my current place of employment doesn't really enable me to have a thriving research life – most of my time at work is taken up with teaching and admin. Most of my time outside of work is spent trying to kill time by being active (plus it's a form of therapy, to help deal with the loneliness / distance issues).
A good friend [most of my closest friends live in a different, vibrant, exciting, but one-flight-distance-away city] suggested the following to me: "You used to to be less risk-averse, you'd do creative, imaginative, exciting things, and had a great time, and all the while, at the same time, you were working towards a career which you weren't sure you wanted. Now you've got it, you're sticking with it, because it represents a sort of security and permanence, even though you don't enjoy it. You should quit it, claim your life back. You can certainly do something else, so do it." I like the message: time to switch it up and jump ship.
[In contrast, a more senior colleague said: 'But you've invested too much time in pursuing this career to just duck out now.' Clearly there's a fault in the logic, since by these lights the longer I spend pursuing something, the greater the reason I have for continuing pursuing it, and that would hold true for any pursuit, no matter how vicious].
I discuss the situation regularly with my partner, with my family, my friends, and other colleagues (from previous institutions where I've worked). I'm not getting any clearer about it. There's not much chance of me and my partner living together soon; I apply for relevant academic jobs regularly at any universities which would bring us nearer together (unwise?), but jobs in my field are super-scarce and über-competitive (yeah, that sense of being a washed-up academic already is regularly refreshed and confirmed by the rejections I keep getting – I guess I'm pretty thin-skinned). We don't want to end up in the city where I currently work; the plan is definitely for me to get out. At present our plan for a life together seems to have stalled, unless I quit academia and pursue something else, something that can be pursue nearer to where she's based. My desire to quit my current place of work (albeit not academia generally) is huge, but we know that I'm impossible to live with when I'm unemployed / broke / underoccupied, and I don't have much clear idea what I'd do other than my current line of work (although I'm highly employable, I don't have much of a clear sense of ambition for what else I'd like to be pursuing right now), so I'm unlikely to quit without a plan.
But perhaps I should just continue to see where this thing goes? Another couple of years ploughing this furrow further might make a difference on the job market (I've picked up a few Measures Of Esteem here and there lately, although confirmation bias for the Washed-Up hypothesis means I tend to downgrade their significance), might make me more employable in the same field, more attractive to a different institution (nearer my partner) where I can find a more active, supportive research environment. In which case I need some coping strategies to put up with the current-shitness. I'm not up for medication or any talking-cures. I already quit the social networking sites I was on because of the destructive effect they were having on me. I think I need something to do, or a selection of things to do – activities which are absorbing, satisfying, time-passing, and involve a degree of progression/development. Climbing is like this, but it requires a reliable partner, and I've been drawing blanks in my current city. I take cooking pretty seriously, but it's not full-time absorbing the way that, say, sewing-ones-own-clothes is to my partner. I used to bake bread a lot, but I've recently been cutting out wheat; I cure meats but there's only so much cured meat I can eat; I'll brew some beer or make wine but again, these are things I can do for an evening or two before they need to be left to do their own business. I tried to improve my French and my guitar-playing abilities, but I couldn't stick at it; the same's true of learning other languages, and instruments (including pD and MAX/MSP, which I very much wanted to learn). I used to blog back when blogs were more of a thing, and when I felt I had something to say. In other cities I've been involved in organising and promoting music-related events, but that's not an option in the current location. I read a lot for a living, so I struggle to get stuck into reading a lot during my 'spare' time, apart from long-form journalism (the Wire magazine, the London Review of Books) and surfing. I used to maintain a vegetable plot but my current apartment has no garden. I picked up crochet for a while over winter, but I'm not stimulated by it. I keep trying to think of new things to do to distract myself, and part of this is about planning for the coming autumn and winter (since I think it's highly unlikely that I'll quit my job before the new semester, no matter how much I want to); contingency planning for when climbing is much less of an option (wet rock), and cycling and running are less pleasant (wet roads). I thought about maybe taking up kayaking, or surfing: things that can be done just as well in the wet. My dad would certainly encourage me to think of social activities I could be doing: things I can usefully do to put energy into helping other people towards their ambitions (since he sees my particular gift in life to be facilitating other people, and he's correct that it's something I'm good at). But right now I'm just drawing blanks. Not sad about it, just very empty, and with no idea where it's going.
So having bored my dear and not-so-near ones like a stuck record for the last few years, I thought I'd try the ever inventive hivemind. Any suggestions or thoughts about phoenix-like reinvention strategies welcome. Alternatively, ideas for time-passingly-absorbing new activities gratefully received.