Riding the Roller Coaster of Life – Part I: Trough

Back in April, two major life-changing events occurred: I got laid off, and I got engaged. Both these things happened within the space of two weeks. Emotional roller-coaster, anyone?
I had worked at the university for nearly six years. Still, my reaction to being laid off was a strange combination of surprise and relief. I was surprised because I’d been under the impression that my unit was in a better financial situation; yet I was relieved because my job had kind of been making me crazy. (You know something’s not right when you start forgetting how to speak English… and it’s your only language.) The work was compelling, engaging, demanding, and inspiring, but a person can only operate at “maximum-plus” capacity for so long before burning out. At the time of receiving my layoff notice, I was thisclose to burning out, mentally, if not emotionally. So, I saw being let go as a blessing in disguise: I would have some time to relax and rejuvenate, I could be particular about the positions I applied for (because yes, Jim Flaherty, there is such a thing as a “bad job”), and I wouldn’t have to worry about a loss of income until the end of the summer. Everything was peachy with a side of keen, as Buffy would say.

A funny thing happened, though, when I started revising my resume. As I erased the mailing address of the university and replaced it with my home address, I felt an acute sense of loss of identity: now that I could no longer claim affiliation with such a prestigious institution, I felt that I was somehow “less”. I was taken aback by this feeling, because a) I’d been ready to move on from my job for at least two years; b) I don’t actually believe that I am a lesser person because I no longer work at TU; and c) I didn’t think I was that status-conscious.  So, something else must have been bothering me…

I’ve often thought that being an academic is one of the best jobs in the world, because you get paid to read, write, research, and talk about your interests with people who are equally as passionate about them as you are.* I also think that many academics have spent their entire lives being validated for being smart, conscientious, good workers, etc. It’s almost impossible not to internalize that validation, and have what you do become tied up in who you are. If, like me, your academic interest is in equity and social justice, then I think it’s even more impossible not to have this happen. The downside, of course, is that you can easily reach the point where there’s virtually no separation between you and your work.

I sometimes occasionally often almost always brought my work home with me (mentally, if not physically). It didn’t bother me too much, though, since the work was so rewarding and, right until the end, I still experienced moments of “OMG, I can’t believe I get paid to do this!” Still, I think what surprised me is how unaware I was of how deeply I’d come to identify with my place of employment. (I’m usually the Queen of self-awareness, you know.) Upon further reflection, however, I’ve realized that the sense of loss I felt wasn’t only because I had come to identify deeply with the university: it was also because of why I identified so deeply. It’s one thing for me to be an advocate for social justice when I am “just Dominique”; it’s another thing entirely to advocate for social justice when I am “Dr. Dominique” from a prestigious university. I was hugely proud of the fact that I could use the full weight of my institutional privilege to challenge inequity.

I can’t do that anymore.

And, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to again because, in many ways, my job at that university was a once-in-a-lifetime position.


* I know that the academy is not the only place in which this is possible. I also know that this is an idealized description of academic life. Still, I think the essence of it is true.

5 comments on “Riding the Roller Coaster of Life – Part I: Trough

  1. Hello Dominique-Dominique,

    Your reflection is insightful and yes, it is time to leave the university, you soared there, but think of that to which you are going.

    I loved that game, perhaps we’ll play it on May 18th!!! just for the absolute delight of it!

  2. I thought of you as I was reading this essay: http://cs.unm.edu/~terran/academic_blog/?p=113

    Currently, three of my other friends are at a crossroads in their academic careers. One friend is thinking a lot about her relationship to her own work and the academy and considering how freeing it can be to work outside of its constraints. Difficult, of course, but still allowing for more flexibility.

    • Thanks for the link! Terran outlined pretty much every reason I’m (still) ambivalent about academia. That being said, part of me just wants to have the *chance* to say “no”, you know?

  3. […] trying to pretend I had control over everything by planning it all out.  You see, ever since being laid off from a really great job and joining the ranks of 1000s of short-term, benefits-less contract workers, I’ve been […]

  4. […] I’ve also written here before, I had that job.  I was an institutional researcher and a sessional lecturer. I was able to […]

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