notes from a creative writing PhD candidate
Ten months of sitting in front of two glaring computer monitors, planting myself in a chair for eight stressful nonstop hours, ninety-minute dirty metro rides twice a day, shoveling lukewarm yogurt into my mouth for lunch while I’m talking on the phone, and dealing with yelling clients and yelling brokers and yelling MSNBC reports are OVER.
I hinted in a previous post that I was very unhappy and unfulfilled in my job, and my bio mentions my desire to leave my job and pursue a PhD. After many sleepless nights, pro/con lists, and budgeting, it’s finally happening. I couldn’t be happier, or more grateful.
In mid-August I will no longer be a slave to the higher powers of wealth management; instead, I’ll be teaching three courses as an English instructor at the university where I earned my MFA and taught for three years prior.
You may wonder, if I love teaching so much, why did I leave academia in the first place?
First, adjunct faculty make a pittance for their time spent planning lessons, teaching, communicating with students, holding office hours and grading lengthy papers. The average is about $2500–$3000 per 3 credit class, and since adjuncts are part-time faculty–which means no benefits, healthcare and no steady salary–you really don’t make much and there’s no job security. Three years of this left me nearly broke and feeling very frustrated–after seven years of higher education I was still eating ramen and drinking boxed wine. It didn’t seem fair.
And second, I felt an immense amount of pressure from my dad to “get a real job.” I’ve been extremely blessed that I have no debt, no school loans, and was given the opportunity to seamlessly transition from undergrad to a Fulbright to graduate school all on scholarships and stipends that paid my way. I worked extremely hard, studied relentlessly, threw myself into my work, but because I wasn’t working a traditional 40-hour work week and earning a steady salary, I was “lazy” and “unfocused” and “biding my time.” He just wanted to make sure I could support myself. Part of me wanted to prove that I could survive in “the real world,” put on my big girl pants and go make a cushy salary at a big rich company that made my dad proud.
If I could go back in time and tell my recently graduated MFA-toting self to just hang in there and keep pursuing my passion while living just above the poverty line, I’m not sure I would. I’m glad I had this experience in the corporate world–if only to show myself that I’d rather be making half my current salary as long as I am doing something I find rewarding, interesting and morally aligned with my beliefs and passions. I’m trading a 3-hour train commute for a 20-minute car ride. Getting my life back, having the time to read and run and be outside and cook, is worth more than any salary. I can blog, study for the GRE, enter writing contests and revisit my graduate thesis. The past ten months, in many ways, feel like a waste of time. But if I can use that wasted feeling and turn it into something positive, something that pushes me to work harder than ever, then maybe those ten months chained to a desk making rich people richer wasn’t such a waste after all.
[If you’re interested in reading about ways to change your lifestyle so you work and spend less, save more, and have a better quality of life, check out Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin, Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, and Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez.]