I think that many of us, ten years or so into one career, have fantasized at least once (and sometimes once a week) about greener pastures where we could pursue a passion without having to bring our work home with us. Just last year, I was thinking about walking away from academia entirely, moving somewhere closer to friends and family, and trying to support myself through writing popular nonfiction.* But there also seems to be an unrealistic component to the fantasies in the article: that somewhere out there, there is a job that provides a decent amount of cash, unlimited personal fulfillment, and lots of free time. Believe me, I've had those same fantasies about the job I currently have, from time to time, and the disjunction between fantasy and reality is what brought me to the breaking point last year. In fact, some of the quotes in the article, with only a few minor tweaks, could easily be written by someone with academic fantasies:
- "This was supposed to be her Plan B: her chance to indulge a passion, lead a healthier life and downshift professionally — at least by a gear. Instead, Ms. Economou finds herself in overdrive."
- "He daydreamed of an unfettered life at his kiln, creating Bollywood-inspired teapots and butter dishes. [...] Now, instead of spending his free time absorbed in visions of clay, he spends as much as 70 percent of his day on administration."
- "She had envisioned a life of 'workouts, getting lots of sleep and blogging every day about health and fitness.' Instead, her classes start as early as 6 a.m. and she feels wiped out by day’s end, which can be 14 hours later."
- "A few years ago, she moved to Paris to apprentice with a master chocolatier. Visions of decadent bonbons swirled in her head. Instead, she felt like a modern-day Lucy in the candy factory, hunched over in a chocolate lab packing chocolates and scrubbing pots. If she wasn’t doing that, she was sweeping floors, wrapping gifts, answering telephones or shipping orders."
And I think that last bit is what left the sourest taste in my mouth (next to the condescending idea that people who work in non-professional jobs really don't have to work as hard****). Because the title of the NYT piece? Yep: "Maybe it's time for plan C."
*At least I hoped that it would be popular.
**If a job -- if anything in your life -- is making you truly miserable over the long term, then I say it's time to let it go.
***This process of acceptance and boundary-setting is a work in progress, of course.
****This is a common fallacy, and I think it can be boiled down to the laughable belief that pay and effort are always commensurate. Scratch the surface of that idea, and you quickly find the assumption -- and I guess now we're getting at what was really the sand in my sandwich when I read the article -- that people with little to no money are that way because they don't work as hard as their socioeconomic betters.