Episode 11: Tugs on the Sleeve: Worries, Blessings, and Ego Confusion

I had three professional conference presentations on the books this year. Big ones. One at my specialty’s national philosophical society meeting, one at a conference in tribute to my well-known dissertation advisor, and a keynote address at an international conference in Europe: A good year, for the girl who just went rogue. I was not sure how to approach these professional spaces, knowing I was probably going to give up my post as an associate professor. In the face of the usual professional “point/counterpoint” style debates and posturing, I was filled with a mixed sensation of “you all can just bite me” liberation, and “will you even let me into your club anymore if I’m not a professor?” fear and anxiety. I wondered whether I would have been invited to give a keynote address at an international conference if my title weren’t Associate Professor, but instead Independent Scholar.

As I began to confess to people what was going on in my life — that my job was really unhealthy, and that I needed to move on from it — the reactions started coming in.

First came the worries from my elders:
“So which school are you moving to? You do have another job lined up don’t you?”
“Why don’t you apply for this [top of the line administrative] job at [middle of nowhereville]?
“You aren’t leaving academia are you?”
“How are you going to pay the bills?”

Then came the “you rock, I am so envious” encouragement from my peers:
“You are so courageous, I am so proud of you, good for you!”
“Maybe I can quit too and we can start a business together!”
“Save a yurt for me in your yurt village.” (more on downsizing later)

And then came the response from “the big guy,” my dissertation advisor, the longest-standing mentor I had ever had outside of my own parents. In other words . . . Professor, I mean, Doctor, I mean Sir, I mean . . . what am I supposed to call you now?

I winced as I told him, thinking of his disappointment. He was so proud of me for my success. He was happy with himself at my success. My voice shook . . . and then, the confirmation of why he is “the big guy,” the guru, the mentor, the Dad of my adulthood. He looked at me with concerned eyes, the kind that tell me I need to rewrite the paper because I got it all wrong, and said: “You’ve got to do what your integrity tells you is right, even if it’s against the tide.” I felt myself tear up. I hugged him. “I’m really happy to hear you say that . . . I thought maybe I could move into your basement?” He roared . . . and in that moment everything was going to be ok.