The anxiety of picking the perfect outfit for the first day. Packing your bag multiple times to be sure you have everything you need. Those night-before jitters, and the excitement of seeing old friends and meeting new ones. The anticipation of a new year of learning. For almost my entire life, I’ve celebrated back-to-school in late August. This time of year has become synonymous with classrooms, syllabi, and familiarity. For twenty-one autumns, I was a student and grew through my educational journey. For two short-lived autumns, I was a full-time teacher. This will be the first year I won’t go back to school.
It is bittersweet.
I know I am making the right decision to leave academia. Without another income to support me, the job isn’t sustainable or stable. I’ve spent months turning over this decision in my head, wondering where in the past five-six years I went “wrong”, but sometimes the odds and system aren’t in your favor. I love learning, writing, and research—and I’ve grown to enjoy teaching and interacting with students—but sometimes those aren’t enough. I can’t say for sure whether things would have been different with or without the pandemic, with or without my life taking certain shapes at times, but it’s led me here.
I’ve always defined and validated myself with education. I was a good student. I earned good grades and teachers liked me. I read at a high level and voraciously. I loved spending time in the library and writing books. That, also, isn’t sustainable, though. Without those things, as I’ve learned, I still need to value myself. I can’t be defined as a student or academic when I’m not affiliated with a university. I can’t depend on kind words or praise to know my work has merit. In the last year or so, I’ve tried to build confidence in everything I once depended on others for. After all, what was that fancy grad degree for if not the ability to know I can do my weird-best and succeed?
The emotions are heavy, I’ll admit. I’ve been listening to “Rivers and Roads” a lot. Maybe it’s a good thing I had that pandemic crisis where I questioned my value as a writer, and came out of it for the better because it’s prepared me for this. Who am I without school? I’m still someone who loves research; I’m not done deep-diving into shower scenes in horror. I may not read as much as I once did, but it still brings me joy. I can still write and learn and explore the world in so many different ways outside of a classroom.
That’s what’s next. This blog—and my life—have long been defined by a lack of adventure or short bursts of it, but the next month will be life-changing. I’m going to travel. While I’m not weighed down by a work schedule, I’m going to discover new things about the world and myself. I’ll let museums, bookshops, restaurants, parks, and so much more be my campus. For years one thing or another has held me back, but I’m ready to embrace these opportunities with an open mind and heart.
Of course, I’ll share my adventures here so keep an eye out for the getaway.
The future has always been a moving fixture in my life with few certainties. While I may be right back to square one in terms of ‘making a living’, I can choose to find that depressing or exciting. This can be an opportunity to mourn the ivory tower I’ve left, or celebrate what it gave me and know I’m probably better off. I might miss academia, but I’ll always carry the important lessons and people with me. And, as my mom keeps pointing out, this might not be a goodbye, but a see you later.
This is my first autumn since childhood without going back to school. That will be the first of many firsts to come in the next few weeks. And isn’t that just as exciting?
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