Once upon a time, as I was busy dropping out of high school years before I would eventually earn a Ph.D. degree, a high school counselor in her 60s (at least) told me that she was still busy figuring out what she wanted to do with her life. That’s where I am right now. Caught in the center of a web whose spokes anchor on disillusionment, ambition, personal interests, personal obligations, and straight-up fancy.
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So one would think that someone who earns a Ph.D. obviously needs to become an academic.
Problem is that the academic world is so thoroughly disgusting, exploitative, wrong-headed, backward, and brazen right now that it takes a herculean effort in terms of willful denial to really be excited about the industry. I won’t bother to dig up statistics and factoids to support this claim. Anyone that’s read the Chronicle for a year, taught as an adjunct, or sat on the editorial board of a journal (I’ve done all three) knows that it’s a sham.
That’s sad. We really need smart people doing good research that isn’t influenced by the immediate profit motive and capitalist logic that infects corporate life.
Unfortunately, academic life is, by and large, not the place to find it. Mostly what you’ll find in academic life are stuffy people with very, very misshapen understandings of the world and of knowledge busying themselves to produce things that are entirely unmeaningful for all practical intents and purposes, and surely entirely unmeaningful for all intents and purposes outside of the academy.
It’s a wasteland. And one in which jobs are hard to come by and even then result only from ridiculous, extreme personal sacrifices at that. Nobody in their right mind should go into academics.
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Of course, someone that’s got the skills that I’ve got and the happy employers that I’ve got ought to seriously consider corporate life.
Except that corporate life is so amoral in its outlook that it’s hard for anyone who has actual children to place themselves in the service of such world-destroyers. And, to add insult to injury, corporate life is willfully and explicitly meaningless on its face.
They’ll happily tell you that—that meaning and fulfillment are none of their business, and they don’t care if life is short and then you die, it’s none of their nevermind. If you want to live a meaningful life, they’ll say, become a professor. See above.
And of course there’s also the exploitation here, too, not just of employees, who routinely work 80 hour weeks, but of the consumers that they serve, who are raped at gunpoint every day by corporations without even realizing that this is happening, in many instances.
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There are also the independent things.
What have I really enjoyed doing over the years? Taking pictures. Writing words. There is at least one stringer in me, and at least one novelist.
Problem is, these things don’t pay. Or, they pay for some vanishingly small portion of the population if people that do them that effectively have won life’s lottery. Trying to make it as a photographer or a novelist is like throwing my family to the wolves (and still not being paid). I’d earn no money. We’d starve. And I’d never, ever, ever actually manager to make a single god damned buck.
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Believe it or not, I’ve also thought about politics.
Problem here is simple. I could do great work on the public’s behalf…but I’d never, ever, ever, in a million years get elected, because the work that’d I’d do is not what the public wants. (Refer to the classic flaw in democracy. It can be stated as an axiom: Whatever it is that the public votes for is precisely that which is not in the public’s own best interests.)
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What will I do with my life?
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Thing is, my life has recently crossed the “50 percent” threshold, as in I’m halfway to worms in the casket. And, at the same time, my responsibilities have only grown and I have also (well, very nearly, including the defense portion) finished (finally) my Ph.D.
The question is an open one.
We can’t stay where we are (in residential, geographical, employment, financial, or vocational terms) for the remainder.
The question is where to go next.
Either there are many great options or there are none.
The regrettable thing about modern life is that in fact “many” and “none” are very much the same thing.