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Mascot for #DevilDiss

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Eeyore Syndrome (updated 29 May)

Updated anecdotes in blue. Updated 29 May.
I had one friend in theatre whose response to just about any situation was "It's all a matter of perspective."
I had another who used to say about bad things happening or bad days "The pool of self-pity is only so deep."
Both are true. Or rather, they can be true. They can also be perceived as flip. When you're having a crap day you don't want platitudes. Often you just want someone to listen. 
I tend to take Nehi for a walk or run. I also have an intimate relationship with my heavyweight bag. Everyone has different coping mechanisms.

But there's a difference between an occasional bad day, and serious depression. And I'm not talking about the latter. Depression (and depression in academia) is a real and serious issue that deserves to be dragged kicking and screaming into the light and examined and dissected until some solutions and more resources are found and provided.

But I'm not talking about either. I'm talking about what I call Eeyore syndrome.
There's a guy that Nehi and I regularly see on our morning runs at the park. He has a cute little dog Nehi likes to stop and say hi to. But I get a sinking feeling in my stomach when I see him. Because he's just so sad. ALL THE TIME. You ask him how he is and you get the actual Eeyore big sigh, then a litany of how life sucks. It's exhausting.

A few weeks ago, there was a statement made on social media that scholars/grad students should not be on social media until they have tenure.
Which I think is just flat out ridiculous. For a lot of reasons.  But as I wrote in response, just because I think social media, particularly Twitter, is vital to our new academia, that doesn't mean that it's a free for all. There are still guidelines to follow, things to do and not do.

Common sense is all you really need to do well (or rather not crash and burn) on social media. Would you say that to the person's face? No, then don't put it on social media. Would you say it at full volume in a work meeting? Again, then no. Some people treat social media as their own personal sounding boards. And the problem with that is that for the most part no one cares. It's the sign I have above my desk.
Before you think me awful- social media, particularly social media used for work, is not made up of friends. They are not family. They are colleagues. Work colleagues. People who you will work with, and recommend you, review your work, and maybe hire you.
These are not your friends.
They don't care about your sexual preferences, dating life, half-coherent ramblings, or inner monologue.
And they shouldn't.
Because none of that has its place AT WORK.
I think the immediacy of social media, and the illusion of intimacy can often confuse this. But it's a lesson worth learning.
I have a pretty long list of people on Twitter I've muted for exactly this reason. I don't want to hear it.
And I'm pretty sure your colleagues don't either.
Or your potential employers.

If for no other reason that constant complaining about everything is unprofessional.
Which brings me to the other type of Eeyore.
I call it "Job Specific Eeyore" but that's just because that's where I see it. In truth, it's symptomatic of a larger issue.

The job market in academia sucks.
This is not news to anyone.
There are too many PhDs, not enough jobs, and we're all competing against the 500 PhDs that didn't get jobs last year.
There are also larger labor issues even amongst scholars WITH jobs, whether they be adjuncts, tenured, or lecturers.

And these issues all deserve our dedication, involvement, and activism.

But there's an elephant in the room.
A lot of PhDs do not have what it takes to do this job. They don't publish, they don't present at conferences, they drag out the time to degree. They waffle about these things for numerous reasons. And that's fine. BUT.
This job, as I used to say of teaching, should only be done if you literally can't imagine doing anything else. There are better, easier ways to make money (and not be miserable).
And this and other altac information is starting to draft into consciousness. Particularly humanities degrees are useful, and people are starting to explore more and more just how much.

But I know people who are in grad school starting their own business, dancing, teaching yoga, not as side jobs to make money, but as back up plans.
If you have a back up plan you are that invested in to the fact that you often choose THAT over progress in your PhD program then I'm not sure why you're here.

On the other side, I know someone, a previous high school teacher like me, who KNEW the first year of their PhD program that they were in that they didn't want to do this, and wanted to go back to teaching high school. They didn't quit because of stigma, and were miserable the next couple of years. That's ridiculous. I know people (as I've written of before) that do not have what it takes to be a professor. And someone should tell them that now, before they rack up another $10,000 of debt and another year wasted. 

But I digress. Kind of. If grad school is brutal, it's nothing compared to the job market. Conservative estimates depending on field put you up against 500 other applicants per job. Amanda Ann Klein covered the whole process here with great truth and detail. I can't say it better than that, so go read that.

So let's say that you're not one of the above PhDs. You're not hedging your bets with your PhD interfering with your life as a Pilates instructor. You're published. You present at conferences. You network on social media. You've done everything you can to make yourself the best candidate possible.

And you don't get a job.

And you tell the world wide web about it.
In detail.
Excruciating detail. About how sad you are. How you're a failure. And awful. And how your life is over.
And the way you present it sounds just like this:
There are a couple of problems with this. The first is that even if this is how you feel, the work-related Internet does not need to know this. One, it's unprofessional. Two, would you hire this person?
Second, we, as a society, have become people who are defined by their jobs. Jobs used to be what you did to pay the bills and could afford your life- you know the family, trips, good hamburgers, road trips, movies. Somewhere along the way jobs became what we were. They became the primary identifier of our personality. Hence the first question most people ask, "What do you do?" as though what I do is the defining characteristic of ME.
Which it's not.
Is life easier and better when you like your job? Sure.
Can a sucky job make life hard? Sure.
Will I be sad if I don't get a college level job? Sure.

But even in the worst scenario, a job doesn't define me. It didn't define me when I was a prep cook. Or a retail salesperson, or a bartender, or a waitress, or a theatre technician, or a high school teacher.

I know someone who has a job making a little north of $50,000 a year. Benefits. Tuition reimbursement. Gets to travel. 9-5 mostly. Vacation time. In NYC. So, pretty good gig. And is quitting because the job is as a secretary, and they're too good for that, so they're attending a non-accredited grad school that is associated with religious nutjobs, for some fluff future job that they won't get because, unaccredited. Why? Why not keep the great job, the benefits, and have that job not define you and just go out and have a great life? 
Makes no sense, except this person has drunk the Kool-Aid that they are somehow lesser because they are a secretary. Which is crazy talk. 

Whether or not I get a job as a professor this year I will still be me. Nothing fundamentally will change about me. I won't suddenly be stupid. Or unprofessional. Or incapable of publishing. Or presenting at conferences. Or sharing my ideas.
Yet that is exactly the "sky is falling" attitude I see all the time.
Now part of that is the institution- the idea that if you're not in the ivory tower you don't matter. But at least from what I see, that's eroding. There's a real shift away from such elitism (or maybe I just follow the right people).

If you or I don't get a job it's not because we're bad people. It's not because our work sucks. It does not suddenly invalidate our lives. We just didn't get the job. Think back to your first few jobs- flipping burgers, folding sweaters, cleaning pools. I'm sure you didn't get your first job. Did not getting that job fundamentally change you?
I'm guessing not.
And neither should this.

The second part of this Job Market Eeyore also makes me think of my "perspective" friend. Venting can be good. Over beers or coffee. With actual real life friends. But on social media it's not professional. Particularly when it drifts into whining. Or when it appears as though you're not doing anything to change it. The difference is time and duration- venting about a bad day, okay still don't think it's professional, but a once in a while good, fine. But day after day after day. At a certain point, realize what you have control over and CHANGE SOMETHING.
Don't like where you live? Move.
Don't like your job? Start exploring shifting gears.

I get that there's a lot you can control. But the thing is, there's a lot you can. If nothing else, you can start with your attitude.

1 comment:

  1. Random thoughts from someone a few years further along:

    I think that there's something about this particular line of work that even if you don't want it to really seeps into your bones, especially in the humanities, and that's because you're not just learning skills, you're acquiring whole habits of thought. Another reason for the totalizing aspect of this is that a lot of folks go into this line of work because they did so because they literally couldn't imagine themselves doing anything else.[1] That means, however, that because of that level of commitment, it's easy to quickly fall into a state in which it's no longer a Thing You Do to Make Mortgage Payments, but Who You Are. So in many ways it's harder to turn on and off than if you're a person who, say, codes from 8 to 5 in order to pay for your house and car.

    But in most cases, folks acquire the This is Who You Are enculturation well before getting a FT position (it usually happens sometime in grad school). So it creates this sense of deep existential lack: I am my job but my job doesn't exist yet. This means that the job hunt is incredibly emotionally draining.

    But the job hunt is also incredibly draining because of the way it's drawn out. No other professional position has a timeline of seven months from the posting of a position to the offer getting made. There's also the highly seasonal nature of the job hunt: "Look at all these postings!"-->"Hey, look, there's my Dream Job!"-->"I HAVE AN INTERVIEW!!!" [Repeat.]-->"Surely I'll get invited for a campus visit..."-->"No word yet...?"-->"OMG I had a campus visit and it was great the campus was a campus and I can imagine myself in one of those offices and the faculty were great and I'm already pricing houses etc."-->"Oh. I didn't get it. I FAIL AT LIFE."[2] And then a summer to emotionally recuperate follows and the emotional roller coaster begins again.

    Of course, what all that means is that it's best to have a couple of different faces. There's the face for public consumption, a face that one has on friends-locked social media[3], and then a face for close friends.

    A final note is that even if you know exactly what the score is and how it's a bad idea to internalize the This is Who you Are notion of academia, it can often still be your "gut" reaction. I spent 2009-10 academically unemployed because I had the good sense to finish in the worst financial crisis in seventy years. And even though I knew at a head level that my worth is not defined by being on a university payroll, emotionally it was still *incredibly* draining.
    1. I certainly know that I spent all five years in the Marine Corps looking forward to when I would get out, do my undergrad, and then to go to grad school to be a medievalist. Because I am weird.

    2. And because most words of interview and rejections happen along a similar timetable, they emotionally amplify each other.

    3. Which can be more open than a public persona, but which still requires caution, since FB friends are often a larger social circle than we'd want. And in the end, it's still in the hands of a publicly traded corporation. Similar caveats go for LJ if you're a geezer.