Saturday, February 14, 2015

We Can't Complain, but Sometimes We Still Do (Mid-Career Malaise, part I)

After the eight-billionth conversation with friends about this, and the forty-billionth statement that "I should blog about that -- I think I will," I'm going to (hopefully) kick off a series of blog posts that are probably going to cause a bit of ridicule in some corners. But what the hell: I'm going to talk about post-tenure depression. Mid-career malaise. That approximately one to two years (and sometimes longer) after you get tenure when, all of a sudden, you're angry at everyone and everything sucks and you don't. know. why.

Because you've got it all, right? What do you have to be angry or upset about? You probably don't even have a right to complain.

But this is a Genuine Thing. I've seen it happen over and over again: to myself, to my colleagues, to almost every academic I've talked to. And the fact that nobody's talking about it makes it worse.

So: over the next couple of weeks, I'm going to try to take this on. I hope this will be helpful. I hope not to piss off too many untenured, unemployed, or underemployed academics by doing what amounts to validating bitching about a privileged position. I probably will offend several people anyway. And to them I say: I'm sorry. You have every right to be offended. But even though the problem here is nowhere near as grave as yours, it is still a problem, and we need to talk about it.

Stay tuned...

12 comments:

Flavia said...

This is a really important topic.

And of course, the problem of mid-career malaise is related to the crappiness of the job market: fewer TT jobs means that even those lucky enough to have a TT job (and get tenure) have less career mobility, fewer departmental colleagues with whom to share the service burden (or by whom to be intellectually or otherwise invigorated), and just generally fewer resources to do the kind of work that might make one happy where one is.

Looking forward to the discussion...!

nicoleandmaggie said...

I was very angry before tenure. After tenure, I decided not to give any more rats' butts.

JaneB said...

I am in a system without tenure, but my job is reasonably secure, and I definitely reached (am still in, or am having a second round of) this sort of early-mid-career what-next anger and frustration and general is-this-all-there-is-itis... will be very interested to read your take on this!

What Now? said...

I've realized just in the last year or so that I'm in this stage myself. It's the high school career rather than university career version of the phenomenon, but there's probably a good bit of overlap. I'll be interested to hear your comments!

undine said...

As Flavia says, this is an important topic. Not everyone gets this malaise, but it's serious.

ej said...

As we've talked about IRL, I share your malaise, though I'm not sure it is about anger with me. It is more about a lack of purpose. I just sort of feel bereft and have a really hard time getting excited about the things that used to excite me pre-tenure.

Which is another way of saying I will be following this blog closely as the posts appear!

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

I'm interested in what you have to say about this topic. Many of my colleagues are in this phase or even later in in their careers. They get so sick of all the service thrust upon them and how little support they get. It's tough to watch -- I'm sure it's harder to go through. Oh what fun I have to look forward to!

Curt Emanuel said...

My job isn't TT but I'm pretty secure. I was there about 5 years ago. I'd finally achieved it, whatever "it" is supposed to be. I wasn't mad exactly, just looking at the prospect of working another 20-25 years with nowhere left to go.

This is not strictly true - there are administrative spots. But I didn't want to do that and the extra $$$ from doing what I do privately rather than publicly never appealed to me as my employer might ask me to support something I didn't believe in.

I wasn't mad, just left with a "what the hell do I do now?" sort of feeling. Very disconcerting. Sat down, really worked it out (this took some months), and figured it out, at least for myself.

At least part of the problem (I think) is that most of us are internally motivated rather than externally by money (primarily, we all want a certain level of recognition/appreciation and money can be a signifier) or a big office or title or whatever. Once one of those major motivators was removed I had to figure out how to deal with it. It wasn't so much finding new motivators but taking those I already had and convincing myself that they were more important than I had previously thought.

IOW, I'm a goofy, irrational Human. Hope this feeling doesn't come back - it could.

Susan said...

Hmmm. I thought I'd commented last night. I remember having this conversation with you, Squadrato and Historiann some years ago. The Chronicle published a study three years ago or so which showed that Associate Professors were more unhappy than any other group; and I'm sure it's a combination of the "nowhere left to go" that Curt Emanuel describes, and the heavy load of service that usually comes with tenure. And clearly it's not always anger, but frustration, depression, boredom. . .

The academic world is unusual in that actual work doesn't change much over a 30 year career: we do more or less the same things every year. I think it's one reason people go into administration -- they want new challenges, to learn new things.

Anyway, I look forward to your comments!

Anonymous said...

This-- this is precisely why they hate us.

KC said...

De-lurking to say that I welcome these posts. Having received tenure in September, I have been in just this state; I'm glad to hear I'm not alone.

Z said...

It felt like I had been captured, incarcerated, indentured. I went into the house and did not come out for years. I had wanted a life, I had always wanted a life, and now I owed it to this weird institution in this weird place, and everyone thought it was good. I was on the suicide lines for years ... largely because I had gone into so much debt to finance my career and get tenure that I was in NO position to move anywhere, not an inch.