I would argue that 99% of the people who are unhappy in academia are unhappy for two reasons: they’re buying into an academic myth that doesn’t serve them, or they’re suffering a mismatch they aren’t acknowledging.
It’s easy to do – despite the very real organizational nature of higher education, academia still runs, to a large extent, on the stories it tells about the nature of a professorial career. Not only that, but the internal logic of the whole shebang suggests that the quality of any given job is directly proportional to the prestige of the institution that holds it.
Have you noticed what’s missing?
Paul Grilley, a yoga teacher I love, repeatedly quips that “people vary.” We can’t all do or train for downward dog the same way, and we aren’t interchangeable cogs in the higher ed machine. We’re going to fit some spaces better than we fit others, and we’re going to fit into some stories better than we fit into others.
That’s just reality. People vary. Jobs vary. Opportunities vary. Departments vary.
The unhappiness comes in when we think that we should fit a situation when we just don’t. When we try to force ourselves to ignore the discrepancy between the story of academia and our lived experience of it. When we blame ourselves, instead of a situation, for things that don’t work out as planned.
Awareness is the hack
If you can explore your unhappiness and figure out what two things are in conflict (a story and your experience; your career needs and the available jobs; your personality and the department), then you can figure out a way through to somewhere that feels a hell of a lot better.
Sometimes that involves leaving academia – but sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes, simply recognizing what myths you’ve been holding on to, examining their basis in reality, and letting go of everything that doesn’t fit your experience is enough to dissolve the misery. Sometimes it means acknowledging where you don’t fit your current situation and searching out a new one, one that does fit you better.
No matter where it leads, looking carefully at the myths and mismatches that are in play can help you find a way through to happiness that doesn’t involve trying to become someone you aren’t.
Jo and I have found a way to help
It can be hard to find a way in to the myths and mismatches you’re in the middle of, because they’re defined as reality and so are invisible. It’s easier to have someone else point them out and then see what might be in play for you.
That’s why Jo VanEvery and I have put together a free eCourse on the most common myths and mismatches we’ve encountered as academic coaches. You can read more about it (and sign up if you’re interested!) by clicking here.
However you do it, if you’re unhappy in academia, I encourage you to take a good look at the expectations you’re bringing to bear on your situation and to question whether or not they’re actually something you want to hold on to. I’d bet good money that somewhere, there’s a myth or a mismatch contributing to your unhappiness, and if you can dig it out and bring it into the light, you’re halfway to a solution.