(As they say in various recovery communities: trigger alert! (un-)Employment-related post follows. Click away now if you don't want to read it.)
I talked yesterday (okay, chatted online) with a journalist friend. This guy is really good at what he does, has won at least one national award (that I know of), and was doing the print/online hybrid thing years before most people knew what was what there.
He's been out of work. Picking up shifts in a coffee shop to help make ends meet (his wife isn't yet working full-time either) and support his two year-old son. Looking for jobs and hoping for someone to recognize his undeniable talent, and pay for it.
I used to joke that my younger sister, as a bartender, was in one of the only recession-proof jobs. Then she lost hers when the bar she worked for changed hands and the new owner decided to "make some changes." She found another bartending job a few weeks ago. Hates it, because the guy also owns strip clubs, and is a bit of a sleazeball, but she's got a six year-old, a new baby, and a new mortgage, and off and on is single-momming it (it's complicated).**
Sometimes I dream about life at a fancy SLAC, surrounded by trees and engaged students, with my own office and research money and the like. Sometimes I just dream of not having to pay for my own photocopies. But I don't always take the time to take stock and realize that, short of the complete collapse of my state's education system ((knock wood)) or gross dereliction of duty on my part, I cannot be fired. I need to be grateful for that more often -- internally, anyway, even if I continue to sign up for Union actions to push for better.
But here's the point: Our recent discussions about whether or not (or when and under what circumstances) one should go to grad school, what one should expect of the labor market, etcetera, aren't taking the emotional factors into account. These are wrenching decisions, whether you're in academia or out of it, and it's not all about crunching the numbers (number of Ph.D.s versus number of jobs; monthly paycheck divided by frequent flier miles accumulated flying to see your partner once a month; pay per adjunct gig divided by number of weekly miles on the freeway). If your passion is Restoration drama, but you know the abysmal state of the job market, should you go anyway? Is it more important to find a job that's likely to keep a roof over your head (and the heads of your loved ones) in the long term? What sort of compromises should be made for a paycheck? Is it better to make them before investing (or wasting, depending on your perspective) 8 years of your young life in grad school, or should you roll the dice, and believe that those 8 years have a value in and of themselves? What's the psychic trade-off for walking away from what you love for pragmatic reasons, and is it worth it?
**Unexamined privilege note: unlike my first two examples, and unlike many of my commenters, I am single, with no children. So my calculus is somewhat less complicated. It's a lot easier to cut back on expenses when it's just my own.