I honestly thought I was done. I was out of academia for good. I was happy about it. I am happy about it.
Do you ever feel like something keeps pulling you back into a place that you’re trying to get away from? I feel like a ghostly hand has caught me on the collar at the last possible second. Not so fast.
I recently had lunch with a good friend who teaches at a Local Community College. He says they are hiring a few people in my field for next fall. He wants to know, would I consider applying? He is very kind and enthusiastic about it. In fact, he says that he has some influence in the department. He feels certain I would have a good chance at being hired. “You already have a job letter,” he says. “So why not just send it in and see what happens?”
Yes, why not indeed.
I am glad my friend thought of me, and I’m really flattered that he thinks I’d be a good candidate and a good colleague. But as our conversation progressed, I felt a tremendous burden begin to settle back onto my shoulders. It was a weight that had lifted back when I made the decision not to go on the market this year. But now it was back, heavy and familiar as a bad memory.
Now I find myself conflicted again. Terribly, terribly conflicted. I have time to think about this before making a decision. But it will never be easy.
I try not to look for signs or omens in the universe because I think the world is just kind of random most of the time. Things happen, or they don’t. We do things, or we don’t do them. Sure, there are reasons and contexts to consider. But we also have a tendency to create narratives around the randomness to explain things that don’t make sense any other way. I could apply for and be offered the job. In five or ten years, I might look back and say, yes, I was meant to do this work after all. It’s all clear to me now. Or, I could not apply for the job and really, truly put academic behind me. Then, in five or ten years, that will be the story I tell. I left academia and this is what happened as a result because that is how it was meant to be.
I could be making a mistake not to apply, not to take this one last chance to be employed at a college as a faculty member, even at a two-year college.
Or I could be making a mistake by going back to academia at all, by allowing the ghostly hand to guide me to a place I thought I’d left.
My biggest concern is that I may never know which choice is the right one because, whatever I do, it will become part of the narrative, part of my life story. It will be the thing I did because I didn’t do the other thing.
As the road rolls out behind me, how will I know where the path not taken might have led?