I've left everything hanging on this series for far too long. It's because mid-career is running me over with a steamroller, work-wise. Mid-career does this. It has no mercy.
BUT... I did promise a happy ending, or at least a hopeful one. I can't tell you what can work for you, but I can tell you what turned things around for me. I think it dovetails nicely with what some commenters on the previous post have said, even though it's different in its particulars. My thoughts on this are a bit unformed, so I hope you'll bear with me.
When we last left the discussion, we had brought up the problem of post-tenure malaise/depression/anger, and how it was compounded by the fact that nobody talked about it because... well, in a world where departments are 50% adjunct labor and tenure is not a certainty even if you do land a permanent job, it seems like we should be doing the opposite of complaining (and, of course, one or two commenters have agreed with this position -- that we've got no right to complain, that is -- fair enough).
I also told a bit of my own story: the post-tenure letdown, the frequent feeling of being overworked and underappreciated, the tears, the snappishness, the serious contemplation of walking away from it all because it seemed that my job was making me deeply unhappy. Or, at least, it wasn't making me happy.
What I did, at some point a few years back, is that I really, seriously allowed myself to look at where I was, what I wanted out of work and life, and how my job helped and/or hindered me getting there. Here are a few of the things I realized along the way. Maybe one or more of them will apply to you.
1. You always have a choice. Yes, seriously. Maybe you don't have the choices you want, and maybe the "other choice" is really, really bad. But you do have a choice. Many, actually. Start thinking about those options. Include the most ridiculous (circus) to the prosaic (I can make a good latte) to the "within the field" options (administration; part-time adjuncting) to taking a flier on something totally new. What do each of these get you in the way of better quality of life? What do you give up? Really play out the scene all the way to the end: If you took door #2, where might you be five years from now? I thought about ditching my job, looking for adjunct work + coffee shop jobs in the town I grew up in (and which I love dearly), and maybe writing books on the side. I really tried to imagine what my life would be like. I also thought about the practicalities of that decision.
2. What nourishes you? That's a really hippy-dippy way to phrase it, I know. But it's also the most accurate. Where do you feel most like yourself, both in your job and out of it? Does your work situation enable you to do that thing? Even facilitate it? Or does it get in the way? Or, maybe a better way of putting it is: does it enable more than it obstructs? Or vice-versa? 'Cause things change from day to day. I discovered, somewhat to my surprise, that I loved writing. I love the creative process, and that little moment where all of a sudden you see something that wasn't there before, and the mad, frustrating scramble to show it to other people, even while knowing that you'll always be inadequate to the task. That's what gets my middle-aged ass out of bed in the morning. And I started thinking, "Hey... my job does give me the space to do this (except when it doesn't)."
3. Realize that your job doesn't owe you anything but a paycheck. We sometimes come into academia expecting personal fulfillment from our jobs. And I think that academics get it more than people in most jobs -- from teaching, from research, from service. But that was never in the contract you signed. You agreed to do a job; they agreed to pay you. Chances are you find some parts of your job more fulfilling than others. So, if you stay, you can think about compartmentalizing your jobs. For me, everything got sorted into two columns: "Things I do with integrity, and to the best of my ability" and "Things I do because it's a joy to do them." Sometimes there's even overlap between the two. But realizing -- really acknowledging -- that my job did not owe me personal happiness... and further that the fact that I did gain personal fulfillment from a decent chunk of it (way more than, say, most food service professionals -- the other thing I'm actually qualified to do), allowed me to reframe the rest of it.
4. Don't de-prioritize those things that make your life worth living. The previous point may sound like I'm saying "Suck it up, Buttercup." I'm actually not. A decision to stay should not feel like a martyrdom. It should feel like a strategic reframing of your relationship to your job. Think about the things you love that you no longer do because you "just don't have time, what with work the way it is." Fuck that noise. If your job is just a job, then you owe it integrity and hard work... but you do not owe it every corner of your life. That, too, was not part of the contract you signed. You get to take a day or two off. You get to go for a hike, or go to a yoga class, or just sit on a park bench with a novel. Start small. Think about a day. Or a three-hour window every day. Practice saying, "My job does not get this. This is MINE." And if your job does not let you do that -- have even a little corner that it can't pre-empt... well, then maybe that job sucks. It's certainly sucking the life out of you. But then again, are we just assuming that the job won't let us have it? Have we ever tried just saying "no"? (I'll tell you: I'm better at this some weeks/semesters than others, for certain.)
5. Think about all this, then make a choice. As an academic -- a tenured academic, no less, you have so much more choice than just about anybody. But that includes the choice to walk away -- or make an internal transition to something like administration, or become "downwardly mobile" to allow yourself more time -- if 1-4 have convinced you that this is the right way to go. Do it. You can recognize that you have a great, enviable job and still realize that it's not working for you. On the flip side, if you decide to stay, make that a choice, too. "I choose to remain in this job because..." For me, it was because I could do more of what I loved in the job than in some other situation (other than "independently wealthy," but even the circus is a more likely option than that for me).
5b. ...and continue making that choice every day. When I decided to stay, one of the things (other than the conscious reframing) that helped was the knowledge that I could walk away at any time if I changed my mind. Granted, there would be consequences, some of them (mostly the financial and personal ones) quite serious. But my job would never again feel like my jailer. As long as I did my work with integrity and to the best of my ability, I could engage with it on my own terms. And let me tell you: that's fucking excellent.
Let me leave you with a little fable -- actual, that's its title: "A Little Fable," by Franz Kafka:
"Alas", said the mouse, "the whole world is growing smaller every
day. At the beginning it was so big that I was afraid, I kept running
and running, and I was glad when I saw walls far away to the right and
left, but these long walls have narrowed so quickly that I am in the
last chamber already, and there in the corner stands the trap that I am
"You only need to change your direction," said the cat, and ate it up.
You can choose to change direction, whether that's in your career or in your mind. Don't get eaten.