There are lots of great things about pursuing an academic life - about going to graduate school and then becoming first a tenure-track and then tenured professor. Not among those things is the fact that pursuing an academic life can actively get in the way of one growing the fuck up.
I spent most of my morning "taking care of business." This involved 1) setting up phone, internet and cable for the new house, 2) setting up the discontinuation of service with my current cable company, 3) calling about getting my carpet in the upstairs stretched, 4) setting up an appointment with an accountant regarding tax stuff. Upon completion of these tasks, I thought to myself, "Self, you're actually doing grown-up freaking things. How totally weird." (Of course, BFF noted that I'm not really a grown-up because I have neither written a will nor contracted hemorrhoids, and those are the markers of truly being an adult. I say, if hemorrhoids are required for true adulthood, I hope never to be an adult.)
Actually, that's been something I've thought to myself throughout the home-buying process. That suddenly I'm actually a grown-up person, when really for most of my 35 years on this planet I haven't been.
One of the things that resulted from my choice to pursue an MA and PhD and then tenure-track employment back-to-back (though obviously the t-t gig was partly luck and not totally "choice") was that I made choices (sometimes conscious and sometimes not so much) that kept me from growing up. In order to achieve my academic goals, I postponed or avoided things that might tie me down or root me in ways that would be difficult to change. The reality of this profession is that we need to stay mobile in ways that are often contrary to embracing adult responsibilities and adult roles. It strikes me, now that I'm finally putting down roots through the buying of a house, that I'm also finally becoming an actual adult.
One of the prices I paid (and I'm not saying that all people in academic careers pay this particular price - just that it was the price that my academic career exacted in my own life) in order to excel in this profession was to avoid the sort of milestones that typically signal that a person has grown up. I didn't marry. I didn't have children. I didn't buy a house. I didn't take vacations - like real vacations paid for out of my own hard-earned money, as opposed to those subsidized by piggybacking them onto a conference or by my parents. I didn't work at a real "career" until I was 28. Even once I did work at a real "career", I kept myself mobile in order to have the potential to change jobs. The reality is this is not a "normal" trajectory for growing up. Most people grow up by the time they're in their mid-to-late-20s, via one or more of those markers. And growing up means things like putting down roots: being place-bound, being bound to other people who are not hundreds and thousands of miles away.
Again, I'm not saying that my experience here is identical to the experience of all people who pursue academic careers. Lots of people get married, have children, take vacations, work in real careers, buy houses, before they go to grad school, get tenure-track jobs, or achieve tenure. Or they do so during that time. But I didn't. I couldn't. Not if I wanted to be a professor, not in my particular situation.
So here I am, at 35, growing up, when many of my friends already accomplished that 10 years ago or more. (Seriously, by the markers I've noted, I have friends from elementary school who were grown up 20+ years ago.) And it's a weird and daunting thing to do, after having lived for so many years avoiding attachments, responsibilities, and obligations - avoiding, totally, growing up. After so many years of knowing that "growing up" could be a significant hindrance rather than an accomplishment. It's a weird thing to do to put my growing up ahead of the job, or ahead of the profession. It's a weird thing to think that doing these things isn't, in some weird way, breaking the rules.
Getting to hang with my former student today, let's call her E., and befriending BES... through those friendships I see the ways in which I've stunted certain kinds of growth in myself in the service of academia. And while I try to counsel them in ways that show them that they shouldn't do what I did, I do kind of feel like I'm in no position to advise them, since I'm only becoming a motherfucking grown-up like right now.
That said, there's something kind of cool about growing up and knowing that this is what I'm doing. There's something cool about growing up consciously, rather than having it happen without me realizing it. It's nice to be able to experience all of this now, knowing that I'm not just doing the "done thing" but rather that I'm making choices and decisions and things that are making it happen.
That said? One probably would be better served by growing up a hell of a lot earlier than at 35 years old.
4 years ago