I decided a few months after my first seizure that I didn’t want to pursue an academic career. Reactions when I announced the news to my family and closest friends were varied, though there was a common thread connecting them: an insistence that I’d change my mind. I haven’t. I won’t.
I’m under no illusions as to the academic job market. Things are tough, particularly for those of us who so intelligently chose to do a PhD in the Humanities (no sarcasm intended). If you’re lucky enough to find a position, you have to be very flexible in terms of where you’re willing to go and what you’re willing to do. I’m not: I’m a heavy user of the Canadian healthcare system, and obtaining comprehensive coverage in the States would likely be hard/expensive, plus my husband’s career relies on being in an urban centre. Mobility isn’t, of course, the sole consideration. There’s no guarantee that even the most qualified academic candidates will find something suitable within a reasonable timeframe, and I’m not sure I have the stamina or drive to play the over-saturated field. Coveted (and rare) tenure-track posts require incredible dedication, and I’ve come to accept that when I push myself too hard, my body rebels. In short, the whole academic thing just isn’t in the cards.
Not that I’m going to abandon my degree. I’ve worked hard to get where I am, and I might as well see it through. I’ve acquired a skill set that will, I hope, help me find meaningful employment outside the ivory tower, and I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished within it. I’ve taught at the university level, I’ve published articles, a book chapter, and numerous book reviews, I’ve presented at several conferences, I’ve won major scholarships and fellowships, and I’ve written hundreds of pages, all while dealing with major health conditions and frequent medical crises [end inappropriate/shameless bragging]. I’ll graduate without debt and before I turn thirty. I haven’t lost anything, unless you count time (and I don’t; spending five years being paid to learn about something you love is, in my books, a pretty sweet deal).
There was a time in my life during which I was incredibly rigid about how I wanted the future to unfold. As clichéd as it may sound, epilepsy has taught me an invaluable lesson: that what matters, in the end, isn’t meeting some arbitrary goal, it’s appreciating the (often sucky) journey and being open to alternative paths. I’m not sure what I’ll do next—and I try not to get caught up in worrying about it—but I’ll figure it out when the time comes. I haven’t shut any doors, and, to be honest, I’m kind of looking forward to trying my hand at something else. For me, the more important step was figuring out what I didn’t want for myself and staying firm in that resolution. Someday I’ll bid farewell to the academic world in which I’ve been entrenched for so long, and, sad as I might be, I’ll do it with the confidence that I’ve chosen what makes the most sense for my health and for my personal life. And maybe managing to let go of academia will be my biggest academic achievement of all.