So many people just float from one aspect of their career to the next and they’ve lost a vision that is separate from the vision of someone else…
You’ve been squeezing your dreams and wishes into those that belong to others.
It takes stepping into your own strengths and worth to be able to shine a light on the purpose that exists within you!
My eyes are open and I cannot and will not close them again (quoting Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez)
I can’t unsee the structural issues that need to be addressed for women and POC to thrive (colonial values such as “lone genius”, status, elitism, specialist experts, independence, leadership (defined narrowly), and productivity in numbers not quality.
So, I’ll share some of the BS that keeps many of us trapped in academia. Many of these I felt all too keenly before I decided to make a shift.
“What if it’s not better on the other side”
I have some hard truths to lay down: The working conditions may not be better outside academia.
So should you stay in academia? 🤷🏽
When I was considering breaking up with my husband, I made excuses like “but he’s a nice guy” ” other guys may be horrible to me” “I don’t hate him” “It’s not a bad relationship”
Listen, it was really hard. I didn’t have a good time leaving, but I wanted to leave because I knew I could thrive. Even if I never found another romantic relationship.
You don’t have to remain in a place that no longer brings you joy.
The “grass may not be greener” but you can cultivate your own beautiful lawn with some important work:
✨ Get your boundaries in check, so you’re not exploited in the next job or industry.
✨ Value yourself and your joy.
✨ Trust and have complete faith that you will survive no matter what.
✨ Discover what you really want out of life – for you!
Either way, you will move forward as a new person with a new sense of purpose!
“I have to commit to more qualifications!”
What did your culture, school, or family teach you about the importance of getting degrees or qualifications?
This was a question I asked my Facebook group, and it generated some discussion about being first generation university students. First ones to get degrees, etc.
Also, for me, getting a university degree was a way to escape poverty and to have a “legitimate, professional” job.
I got quite addicted to achievements, school rewards, stickers, badges of attendance etc. They gave me meaning and significance and validation. This carried through to undergrad/graduate school in running for graduate student president.
This striving for achievement makes you believe in the value of metrics that cause stress and burnout.
So, the first things I had to do when I left academia was
✨ To develop compassion for myself.
✨ Drop that feeling of being significant and validated based on colonial ideas of accumulation and hoarding
✨ Change the definition of success and make it a reality
I prioritized taking care of my teenager, who was having mental health difficulties, and being a full-time working mum just wasn’t possible. I also prioritized my own mental health and personal development.
I found what skills I needed to be using to feel fulfilled, and the kind of contribution I wanted to make, with boundaries fully in check.
I took courses, thinking I needed more skills, though.
I had so many degrees and training, and didn’t realize I had the skills already to make a new path. And anything I didn’t know, I learned on the job.
What are you striving for? Have you changed what you’re striving for (states of being rather than for accolades)? Joy rather than tenure?
“I don’t know how to change – what else can I do out there?”
In searching jobs, it was soul-destroying to read through job specifications and try to fit into them with the things I had done before.
Plus, add to that academia’s narrative that your skills are so niche that you can’t possibly be good enough for any other job.
And I’ll say that my first interview (and second and third) went very poorly.
It may sound like a brag, but there was a time that if I got invited to an interview (in academia), I’d get offered the job.
I had interviews down!!! I’d put in tons of applications and not get invited often, but I am a very good public speaker and I can easily sell myself in person.
When I was leaving academia, the tables turned… I got some interviews in industry but I bombed them!
They asked me about tasks that I didn’t know because I hadn’t translated my skills to the market. I felt so stupid!
I didn’t think I could hack an industry job. I thought I’d have to get retrained, get another degree or certificate, or start at the very entry level!
What I was missing was the lingo, the confidence, the self-knowledge…
Once I translated my skills… well, I still didn’t have the confidence or self-knowledge, to be honest! 🙈
That’s when I realized it was part of the work: I needed to know how to translate and market my skills so I could talk the talk.
But I also needed to walk the walk, which took a deep dive into what I need, what I want, and what I’m willing to negotiate.
I needed to heal!
I needed to feel confident in my identity, my strengths, my unique talents and then to be able to communicate them, providing specific times I could demonstrate my skills.
It was a hard road full of tears, dancing (to rehabilitate my soul), and self-acceptance and self-compassion – two therapists, a counselor and 2 coaches helped!
It took getting comfortable in the discomfort!
Once I did that work, I decided I didn’t want the industry job. I loved coaching and consulting, and I felt I could make a real practical difference!
“What was the point of getting to point X if I’m not aiming for point Y”
It’s easy to get trapped in the sunk costs of it all! I spent my 30s in academia and half my 40s were gone once I got out.
It felt like starting over! One of the things I realized is that I needed to accept that priorities can change and the time has not been wasted.
What contributions have I made to academia? Who have I helped? What does my gratitude for having contributed to academia show me about who I am and what I care about?
I take with me that impact I’ve made! And I leave behind the title that was the proverbial shorthand for that contribution, since it no longer serves my current values and priorities.
“What will I be if I’m not Dr X; I worked so hard for this title”
As I started a new path, my identity as “an academic” started crumbling. That mask I was wearing to feel important was no longer serving me, as I had a different notion of success.
An important change for those leaving academia is to separate your IDENTITY from your INTENTION.
“I’m ambitious/successful” vs “I have value based on who I am and my connections to other meaningful people”
The former can make you feel like you can’t possibly change. And that you must seek continual markers of success and validation.
The latter centers you and your purpose as being valid, full stop.
✨ You have intrinsic value by nature of being human!
Whereas striving for achievement can leave you feeling unfulfilled; purpose and contribution can lead to a meaningful life.
“What if I regret it”
Regret is the whetstone of one’s values, someone said to me.
We learn about ourselves and our priorities when we experience regret. And like a foraged sword, we come back with resolve.
You can be a Phoenix and rise out of the ashes… not once, but multiple times. Each time, with a stronger spirit, a sharper tongue so you can champion what you believe in, and with boundaries like armor.
But don’t let the fear of possible regret keep you stuck in your current place.
Once you know what drives you, you can feel empowered.
“What if I hate the new job and want to go back to academia?”
🛑 Don’t feel trapped by the threat that you can’t go back.
🛑 Don’t get yourself stuck in overthinking the “what if”.
Let your faith be greater than your fear (Megan Markle said that).
Amazing opportunities and light are on the other side of that fear or discomfort. If you can withstand a little discomfort, you’ll see a transformation leading to joy.
If you do change your mind and want to return to the ivory tower, you can.
You may have to work a bit harder to go back, but you know how to build that boat again, even if the bridge has been scorched.
“I’ve been looking at jobs I could do but I’ve not yet made the decision to leave”
I get that decisions can be hard! There are several ways to get past the struggles of decision-making.
Get clear on what you want.
How do you want to spend your days?
What would you be doing if money were no object?
Sometimes we fear disappointment and uncertainty and failure.
But be curious: what would you be doing if you could be assured that you wouldn’t feel the pain of disappointment if it was not a success?
Overthinking can be a hindrance.
Try this: flip a coin for leaving or staying in academia?
How did that make you feel? Pay attention to the quick, immediate emotions that that exercise drummed up. That will be illuminating.
Seeing your current reality is difficult when you’ve learned all the compensatory mechanisms to make your daily experience at all *livable*.
I would invite you to write down what your year has been like at work.
- What have you spent most of your time doing?
- What have you had to miss?
- What have you not focused on this year?
- What has your mood been like?
- What have your stress levels been like?
- Who have you been able to make friends with?
- Have you had YOU-TIME?
- Have you felt refreshed and eager to return to work after your holidays?
These answers will show you what your current life is like…
Now, here’s the important part!!
Imagine this reality if the job were written in a job advert – with all you wrote above… Would you apply?
Yes, it’s a reality you’re accustomed to, but if it’s not working for you, you may need to change.
Don’t you think you deserve joy and more time doing things that fulfil you?
You have the tools to make that a reality!
You just need to decide! Once you decide on a course of action and make yourself a priority, you will find that opportunities open up!