NB: this post is meant as a forum to discuss something that doesn't get talked about often: the depression or anger that often accompanies the year or so post-tenure. As I noted in my previous post, I write this well aware that many out there would be incredibly grateful to be in this position. Yet, like Betty Friedan's discontented suburban housewives, we do need to talk about this. So here goes:
So, here's how it is.
You work through grad school. You beat the odds and get a Tenure-Track job. Then you bust ass for six years. You teach. You develop classes. Maybe you write a book. And then: you have tenure.
Whoo-hoo! Set for life!!!
So why do so many of us spend a year or two post-tenure chronically pissed off, depressed, or both?
The commenters on my previous post (especially Curt) kind of said a lot of what I wanted to say, but it's worth bringing up a few points, and then just opening up the discussion.
The first, and most important thing to say is this: You are not alone.
It might seem like that. The reason is that we haven't been talking about it. Because frankly, it's embarrassing, right? "Oh, boo-hoo; I have a career and tenure and job security and a book and everything. My life is soooo saaaad..." I mean, who wants to be that person, right? So we bite our tongues and figure that there's just something wrong with us, some inability to be happy.
I'm basically here to advance the thesis that you're totally normal. Here's the thing: you spent half a dozen years in grad school, and another half a dozen more on the tenure track. That's most of your adult life, all pursuing one thing. You had a purpose. You knew where you were heading. There was a Big Goal.
And now you've achieved that goal. And here's the thing: Nothing is different. Well, you may have a slight bump in your paycheck. And you've certainly got more committee work. But other than that, after a few people stopping by to say "congrats!", it just all stays the same. Or maybe a little harder. And for some, this might be the first time in five to ten years when you've looked up and taken stock of your life and wondered where all the parts of your life that are Not-Work went. Remember when I had a hobby that I loved? Remember when I went out on dates or with friends? We invested so much of that for so long in The Job. And now we realize that some days would be better or worse than others, but The Job was never going to be anything more than The Job.
I know that I never thought any of this consciously, but I do recall spending a lot of time in tears, or planning to leave my job -- not to go job-hunting; just to put in my notice and pack it in. I was more impatient with students. I was easily upset by colleagues. I couldn't bear to think about my next book project. In short, I was a wreck. And yet, nothing was really wrong. Nothing. I couldn't name a single reason why I should be miserable and wanting to pack it all in when I was arguably at my most successful by any external measures. But there it was.
God, that's a grim note to end a post on. I promise that the next post will be more hopeful. After all: I'm still in my job (which is still pretty much the same as it was then -- including the exact same salary, sad to say), but I'm actually pretty content. But I did go through a very dark period, and I've seen a lot of other mid-career people go through the same thing, so what I'd like to do now is open up the comments for people to just share their own experience -- that stuff you were embarrassed to admit because intellectually you knew just how fortunate you actually were. Were you depressed post-tenure? Angry? Did you contemplate a career change? Did you check out for a while? Did you double down on the work? Feel free to post anonymously if you want. And if you're not in this situation (and especially if you're rolling your eyes at a bunch of privileged folk talking about their high-class problems), I'm going to ask you to remember that YMMV.
And next post (Friday, I think), we'll talk about Things That Helped.