This life and that one.
Two Months Left … Not ready to leave!
I left that one for a multitude of reasons:
- Working as a sessional academic in a university for 15 or so years, and still be a lowly kicking ball is demoralising and ultimately soul-destroying.
- Turning 50 was life-changing – time to live my dream.
- Becoming a volunteer overseas for the second time in my life was that dream.
- Living, working and learning in a new country/culture was also part of that dream.
- My older son needed to find his own way in the world.
- My younger daughter has a father who loves and looks after her, and a life in which she is happy, living, learning and thriving.
But overall, I didn’t feel wanted, needed or appreciated in that life, but in this one, I do.
I feel as if I’ve been on my way to turning 50 forever. I went back to higher degree study in 1999 after finding out that my Graduate Diploma of TESOL did not entitle me to teach in Victoria. I eventually completed my Masters and then my PhD whilst working as a sessional academic in 2011, aged 44. At that time I had a 2 year old daughter and a 15 year old son. My CV was pretty good; I have never stopped working, always being independent and thirsty for new knowledge and experiences. I had been interviewed for a few academic jobs (tenured), but at that time the message was always … finish your PhD first. I still remember how at that time I felt invigorated and energetic, hopeful and happy to become an ‘expert’ in whatever it was they considered necessary in order to give me an ongoing position. And as anyone who has also been through the gratuitous process of applying and being knocked back, that energy and invigoration is likely to soon get sucked out of you.
I finished the PhD and found that my university faculty no longer had any work to offer me. I seemed to have reached a dead end there – after 12 years or so of studying and working in the same faculty, I got to one of those low points between contracts and had to accept that I had been labelled something along the lines of ‘troublemaker’ and that I would just never be good enough. Yes, I’m allowed to feel disappointed … (see below).
And the rules had clearly changed along the way, not just ‘finish your PhD’ but ‘finish your PhD and a mass of publications in highly ranked journals to show you are serious and publishable’, ensure your work ‘fits’ the current milieu, and that you are already ‘known’ as one who will succeed within that …
Where/when do you realise you have left your run too late?
I’m allowed to feel disappointed…
[…] I shared my experience with students, colleagues, and friends—anyone who asked me how I was doing got a real answer to that question. I made things very uncomfortable for a lot of people, especially my institution or anyone who couldn’t handle my public airing of feelings or the reality of academic labor practices.
Luckily, I was able to get sessional work at the university just a little lower on the ranking scale, and a little further from my house. Some more insufferable job interviews for the work I was currently doing as a sessional, an underlying sense of humiliation and failure, and my 50th birthday looming closer. Four years spent doing the work, walking the walk, talking the talk, improving my practice and knowledge and learning ways to ‘suck it up’ as required for a sessional who wants more work for the next semester. My writing was often focused on my experiences working as a sessional and teaching/lecturing in the areas of Curriculum and Pedagogy, with a primarily critical sociological viewpoint. At that time I wrote about the ‘problems’ of diversity and social justice, critical thinking/teaching/reflection, student evaluations, the precariousness of sessional work and mental health implications. And lived it.
* * *
I began looking for overseas volunteer work that matched my credentials, preferably in South East Asia. I found a job and had a phone interview in which I was able to draw from all of my experiences, the good the bad and the shocking, along with how I learnt and what I learnt from these, and how this experiential knowledge would be useful for working in a place where the challenges are not simply theoretical, but which impact on every aspect of your life, every day.
It was my first successful job interview in around 20 years.
And now I am in my last 2 months of my assignment. Wanting to do more. Wanting to come back and continue my work. Applying for such positions and being told my years in academia, whilst useful for knowledge and theory, do not cut it against those who spent the last 20 years of their career working in ‘development’. And at the age of 51, what do I do? Where do I go next? How do I find the equivalent to that appreciation and meaning I have in my life at this point?