What Did I Give Up?

Dame Eleanor Hull and Z have started a series of posts where they discuss what they gave up to have a career in academia. I want to participate in the discussion, so here is my list:

1. The greatest sacrifice of all is the impossibility to live close to my sister and my niece Klubnikis. It is painful on a physical level not to be able to see them every day.

2. The second biggest sacrifice is Montreal. I love this city so much that I had dreams where I was having sex with Montreal skyline. Enough said, I hope.

3. Living in a big city is something that is crucial to my happiness and also something that I had to give up. It was so hard to get used to living in a small town that I get depressed just remembering the effort it took.

4. The climate. I suffer greatly from this intolerably sunny and hot climate that I have to experience all the time. Health-wise, it is so bad for me that I’m forced to spend the entire summer (that lasts at least 4 months around here) locked up inside with an AC. The sensory deprivation and the unhealthy food in this village also require a lot of off-setting.

What I didn’t give up for this career and that everybody else is mentioning is money. Realistically, I would never be able to make more than I get for a professorial job. The only other career I can imagine myself having would be working from home as a freelance translator, and there is no way I’d get more doing that. Besides, I’m an immigrant, so the salary I get feels enormous to me.

Without any exaggeration, however, I’m ecstatically happy with my life right now. So I guess it was all worth it.

What did you give up for an academic (or any other) career?

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35 comments on “What Did I Give Up?

  1. 1) Living with my partner and child. My partner and I have spent 5 of our 13 year relationship living together. Epsilon has had both parents around for 17 of his 36 months on this earth.

    1a) Hobbies. When my partner and I have managed to live together, we have so much time to do interesting things together, or alone (since the other watches the kid.) However, those fall by the wayside.

    2) Friends. I go to a city. Live there for a few years. Make friends in academia, and out of it. Epsilon makes friends. We make friends with the parents. And then we move. Or the academic friend graduates/finishes post doc/gets a new job. I’ve kept in touch with some, but not others.

    2a) A support network. The first year of moving to a place where you know no one is hard because, well, you know no one. There’s no one to call when you’ve locked yourself out of the house, or need help in a minor emergency. No one to hold your hand when you need to run your kid to the ER, and his father is 12 hours away.

    3) The feeling that I’m a smart person. Its something I forget while living in academia. During my brief period of life outside academia, it becomes much more apparent. Inside, I’m in the middle of the herd I run with. It’s hard to remember that my herd is in some ways the intellectual elite.

    4) Living in a place I like. Not that I’ve ever hated a place I’ve lived. But there have been places that I’ve fallen in love with, and would love to go back there. But I know that the only possible consideration in where I live long term is where we both get jobs.

    5) A doctor who I know. I shouldn’t complain, given the health care situation in the US. I’ve been lucky to always have health care. But I’ve noticed that I am always reluctant to go to a doctor to deal with health issues right after I’ve moved than I am after I’ve been to a doctor I like at least once, and know who I’m dealing with.

    I agree with you. Money isn’t a concern for me. Yes, I could make more in industry, but I love what I do. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be still doing it in light of 1 and 2. Loving what I do is worth a hell of a lot.

  2. What I gave up: Living near my family.
    I actually like the place I live very much. And I feel lucky that I found a job in an area of the country that I like. Still, I’m close to my family and it makes me sad that I can’t walk down the street and have dinner with one of them. I miss them terribly. On the plus side, one of the things that I love most about this job is that my schedule is my own. Between May 15th and September 1st, I don’t have to answer to anybody. So I can take lovely, long trips, and visit my family. If I had a “traditional” job AND lived far from my family, I would never see them.

    What I almost gave up: Friends and Relationship
    I noticed a lot of people mentioned things like friends and relationship on the list of things they gave up. If you had asked me this question a few years ago, I would have definitely said that I felt isolated. I moved to this city completely on my own without a partner, a child, or any social network. I knew nobody and spent all my time alone: every weekend, every evening. Though I like my alone time, this was overwhelming. And I didn’t know how to solve the problem. The structure of the academic day makes it hard to forge relationships. We are all on our own schedule and spend the majority of time either working by ourselves or with students (who can’t be friends or partners.) So for a while during the first couple of years at this job, I seriously thought of quitting because I couldn’t take the loneliness.

    Now however, I am very fortunate to be in a relationship with someone I am madly in love with; I have a small but nice circle of friends and am very happy. And though I certainly made an effort to meet people, my friendships and relationship exist because of dumb luck. I happened to be at the right place at the right time when I met my partner. And luck doesn’t exactly constitute a “plan” for dealing with isolation. So I understand why some people feel overwhelmed and bitter by this aspect of academia. It’s a potential pitfall.

    Re: money. I wish I made more. I definitely struggled financially before I met my partner. But since living with someone else makes things much more affordable, I am OK financially. (Though I understand and sympathize with the struggles of single people.) However, I’m not sure what job I would have that would pay me significantly more. I am paid a middle class salary. I think this is a larger structural problem in American society and why Americans have a lot of debt in general. Salaries have not kept up with cost of living. I also get VERY angry when I think about how much more administrators make than faculty. But generally, pay isn’t much of an issue for me.

    Overall, I love this career though. It has allowed me to have a wonderful, fulfilling life and I am thankful for it every day. :)

  3. What I gave up, when I worked as a lawyer, was ever having a real vacation. You must always be in touch with the office, in case one of your files explodes. It is hard to get away for more than a week at a time. I also didn’t take an official maternity leave – I just slowed down. However, I loved my job. I suppose it is good to take stock, from time to time, to see if you are really happy making these sacrifices. But if you are happy, then I don’t see much point in thinking of reasons why you might be unhappy.

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  5. What I gave up:

    Friends. My current schedule makes it very difficult to make new friends, and keep in touch with the however small number of friends I have. Moving from one place to another doesn’t help either. The male-dominated environment I work in makes it hard to make friends at work, and I constantly feel very isolated. I don’t see things getting much better in this front, unfortunately.

    Health. I went through a period where stress had taken a serious toll on my health. On the positive side, this episode forced me to be extremely disciplined about regular exercise and diet, which I would have never done otherwise. So as a whole, the effect has been positive.

    Money. Had I taken up an industry job in my field, I would have made twice as much. And would have had much more leisure.

    Children. I would have had children much earlier had I not had an academic career. I still have hopes of having children someday though.

    • I know what you mean in terms of friends. Everybody at my department is either much older or lives in the city which is far from campus. As a result, going out for coffee or drinks with anybody is impossible. I’m now even kind of glad that I’m not more sociable because if I were, I would really suffer.

  6. Interesting how similar the lists are.
    Here’s what I gave up for my 2 postdoc positions:

    1. Friends. I have never been as isolated in my life as I am now, and I am hating it. Being a woman in a male-dominated field does not help, especially as the career progresses.
    2. Living in the city that I love. Living in a big city.
    3. Being able to go to psychotherapy.
    4. Access to good food. Dutch food is terrible.
    5. Summers, warmth and sunshine. Dutch summers are the worst.
    6. Money. I would make much more money in my home country in a regular job.
    7. Being close to my family.
    8. Being close to mountains and forests and lakes.
    9. Feeling at home.
    10. Feeling (relatively) safe about my professional future.
    11. 3 years in which I could have lived with my boyfriend and instead lived alone.
    12. Possibly part of my life expectancy due to the continuous stress and related health problems.

    I am slowly coming to the conclusion that I gave up too much…. it’s a delicate balance. If a few of the points would be resolved, maybe I would be fine with it again.

    I think these lists show how much we apparently must enjoy our jobs. Nobody would give up these things for a job that does not have some really addictive and highly rewarding sides. :)

      • Good point. I had a wonderful psychotherapist in the city where I come from, and we still talk about once per month on skype. But I would much prefer to actually go and see her, as I notice the skype session help me less. I am not sure why. I guess we’re both not totally comfortable about talking via skype. You never know when the line breaks again, which is stressful, and you miss all sorts of non-verbal communication. I am often very unrelaxed during the skype-sessions. However, it is still better than nothing and better than the Dutch therapist I tried. I dream of moving back home and being able to go to therapy once per week.

  7. I won’t sacrifice anything anymore, because all my adult life, people have been trying to morally reform me, and I have learned from this that no sacrifice on my part will ever be enough to appease them. I know that seems weird — but the attitudes toward me have also been extremely weird. The general tendency is for people to take things I say out of context and to distort them. It would be like random people saying, “How dare she fornicate with our Montreal skyline! What impertinence! She needs to be reformed.”

    What I am trying to say, in a round about way, is that if you put every kind of experience within the context of good and evil, there are no longer any meaningful sacrifices, no emotions and no imagination. What is left is the idea that somebody is fundamentally evil, and that by encouraging them to continue to sacrifice more and more, you are doing you best to teach them to turn away from their evil.

    What I’m also trying to say is that when I left my home in Africa, and everything that ever had meaning to me up until that point, this was sacrifice enough. But people want to keep purging the “evil” out of me, as if no sacrifice would suffice.

    People have quite an imagination about their role in rectifying history and taking control of the moral management of “the colonial”.

      • These days it is very difficult to try that on me, but in the past it was relatively easy, since I really knew nothing at all and was totally disoriented. I didn’t know which way was up.

      • IN all truth, trying to understand whether people have a valid reason to morally reform me, along with trying to understand which of their moral reforms are viable, as well as trying to formulate strategies to avoid some of the most destructive of their moral reforms for me, has finally made me give up on the project.

        People can’t seem to respond to things in an unbiased, unpolitical way, without bringing on the bully-boy or bully-girl tactics. They often require me to give an account of myself, in terms of how I dared to do or write or think something I did.

        I’m just starting to tame this wild beast of animosity, but understanding that a lot of its energy comes from projection, which in turn came from deep unhappiness in the criticizer’s inner soul. But, it has been hard to understand how so many people have become corrupted in this way …. which often leads to the confused state of mind: “What if it’s not them, but me?”

        I find nothing of this moral retribution in my relationship with people from Asian cultures. Also, the moral tone tends to be inconsistent and hardly as virulent when relating to anybody from Zimbabwe. But Westerners? They sure have a rocket up their collective asses.

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