A Few Words for a (Current) Academic

Oh, but academia. You turned this achievement-oriented boy into an anxious wreck of a man.

These are words from Dr. Eric Anthony Grollman, from his recent post about how he’s trying to break away from what he calls “academic stardom,” or that mindset that turns you into a calculating, status-seeking, career-absorbed quasi-lunatic even when the normals outside of your chosen profession consistently look at you like, “What is it you do again? Work for the alumni association?”

My dear, dear friend in sociology, you are so not alone in your sentiments. This quote at the top of my post? Never have truer words been spoken about life in the Land of Perpetual Schooling and Theoretical Betterment. In my experience, you can’t exit a degree-granting program above the Bachelor’s level without becoming a twitchy lump of PTSD and self-loathing. It’s the kind of neurosis caged parrots get when they start pulling all their feathers out. At least, that’s what I felt when I finally gave up the struggle and quit my PhD in English literature. Suddenly, I found myself wandering the streets muttering, “I’m still a pretty parrot, right? Right??”

No, that didn’t really happen. (It would have been much cooler and less pathetic than what did take place, which involved shivering, scattered moments of false hope, and antidepressants.) And anyway, it’s beside the point, since it’s you I wanted to talk about. And what I wanted to talk about was the “trying” part of the “trying to break away from academic stardom” that I mention above. See, I’m not convinced that you’ve fully stopped your ears against the siren call of Academic Perfection, possibly because everything that you mention about yourself in your blog post suggests that you’re Dr. Sociology Adonis. I’m being completely serious here. I know a lot of people with PhDs, and almost none have even come close to racking up the accomplishments you have. I mean, jeez. I wished for academic stardom, and I got my ass handed to me on a platter. Don’t knock what you have, friend!

I totally get the fact that academia insists on gnashing on you like chewing gum, such that your health, personal life, and any other concerns about the outside world tend to slip away. And you should absolutely 100% not let that happen. But remember there are those of us out here in the academic afterlife whose spirits got broken well before mid-chew. You might have progressed further if you had a homemaker for a helpmeet. But hey, you could also have been born the gender expected to be that homemaker. Then you could have had kids and a crippling chronic illness that leaves your psyche twisted in knots. (Anxiety disorder? Oh, yeah, we’ve got that in common, too, my friend!)

I guess what I’m trying to say is, only your own strength could have carried you to where you are today, so don’t undermine that achievement. Please, for those of us who got left behind on the battlefield, celebrate it. Don’t let the dictates of some idealized vision of an Important Scholarly Life drive you insane. We have more than enough insanity in this world as it is. Go have a margarita on a warm beach somewhere and just be.


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