I have a bit of doubt about my chosen career path.
For decades I have seen people getting ahead, making money, putting their time in and climbing the ladder. In some cases I have seen them make a great deal of money without having to climb any career ladders simply by being present and doing their job from the moment of hire.
I am also working hard and have been for some years… but in the fields of nonfiction publishing and academics. The former pays minimally at best for the topics about which I’m knowledgeable, and the latter has yet to pay anything at all, really. Academics is, thus far, a net loss measured in the tens of thousands. I present exceptional credentials for highly competitive posts with real responsibilities and in exchange get offered $10-$12 per hour because they’re part-time posts for “graduate students” and simply being offered the position is meant to be my reward in the academic world, where “validation” is given in lieu of cash.
The idea, of course, is that someday this will all pay off. But of course when it does, it won’t pay off big. I likely won’t ever “make back” the money represented by the time I’ve spent reading books and writing papers.
It is, as I was warned so many years ago by several professors at the end of my undergraduate career, a pauper’s life. Why do people like me do it? What kind of sense does it make? None, so far as I can tell. Absolutely none. It is rather like an illness. We are addicted to books and to our own words, and the combination of daydreamed erudition and narcissism keeps us in line for the next round of exploitation and the one after that and the one after that, year after year.
Meanwhile, I see the others around me racing ahead, becoming financially secure, enjoying their lives, emerging into well-off middle age, yachting and vacationing and buying houses, doing “real” things. Person after person. Year after year.
Meanwhile, financially, I fall farther and farther behind.
Hard work, dedication, hard knocks, exasperation, loss after loss after loss of personal relationships and decade after decade after decade of patience… and if I make it all the way to the top—as very few ever do—I may just be given the chance to work like an utter dog and break even by the time I die, never to own a yacht or visit the four corners of the earth or “live comfortably.” And all to have the title of “professor.”
Why am I doing this?
Am I really unsuited for all of these other things?
Tonight I am staring at a job I think I could have if I wanted it, a job that could triple my monthly income in the blink of an eye… but of course it would mean that I lose my “free” summer, the “critical” summer in which I am to be making my final push toward full-on advanced status Ph.D. candidacy (finally leaving behind the title of “student” once and for all).
And so I hesitate and, so far tonight, don’t bother to apply, grinding my teeth the entire time and wondering if I am going mad.
I have to admit that I’m torn. If someone dropped by tonight and offered me $5k a month to drop out of school and take a job, I’m not sure I could turn it down.
Gak. I don’t wear uncertainty well.