Emotional Juggling Act

For the last week, I have been busy working on a new business project with my husband called Super Nature Adventures that I plan to launch this month. This project stems from my lifelong love the outdoors and will feature monthly subscriptions of adventure packets. Each will focus on a different family trail in the Pacific Northwest. This has all been very daunting, but also very exciting, especially in the last few days as we’ve been smoothing out the final details for the project. Yet at the same time, my teaching still lingers in the background. Just this week, I began teaching a class that will likely be my last one as an adjunct on a topic related to my dissertation, no less.

It would be an understatement to say that this juggle been a challenge, and not only in the ways that I had expected when I laid out this game plan to make sure I had some income while I was working on the business launch. I knew that juggling two kinds of work would be stressful, and I had anticipated such common challenges as learning a new culture. What has caught me off guard is the emotional work of this juggling act. I am at the starting point, but also must attend to the closure of a chapter in my life. This simultaneous process of closure and change has brought forth emotions that had been lying dormant since I first walked across that stage to be hooded for my PhD. And yet simultaneously I am so so eager to move on.  Each side of this equation comes with so many competing emotions that some days I feel like I am having an identity crisis.

For instance, there are some days I wish I had quit teaching sooner. At those times I dream of having all my time filled up with creative work. Small tasks related to teaching annoy me a bit too much, and often I put them off until the last minute. Other times I wonder if I’m making a mistake by making this the last term. What if I still need supplementary income next year?

Some of this comes from the fears that our business won’t succeed, which are natural and normal and totally expected when taking a risk. But I suspect this gets confused with my affections for teaching despite the problems I have with it. For the most part, I have liked teaching (well, except when I have a lot to grade), and I love the interactions with students.  But I have long been sick of dealing with all the problems of adjunct work (lack of respect, lack of security, lack of pay, and so on). When I am asked to teach a new class, I can get very easily burned out and frustrated by the mere fact that I’m still paid the same regardless of how much work I have.

Add to this the emotions that come with realizing that I am of finally cutting off that last link to academia, and I find myself in unsteady territory. Those expectations to get a tenure track job are hard to completely shake off.

It can be exhausting to be forging ahead while I am simultaneously looking back. It’s also hard to shake the perception of many others who have long affiliated me with academia, especially when I myself must play this role when I am in the classroom or emailing my students. I may be wearing two hats right now, but the one others have seen me wear most is my teaching hat. I find myself still saying I “teach” whenever I am asked that dreaded “What do you do for a living?” question, more out of habit than anything else.

To start something new is to be a novice again. It means admitting that you might need help.  This can be especially difficult to some of us with PhDs (definitely me!) who are more used to an academic culture of that rewards expertise.  This is a vulnerable position to be in. It’s tough. And yet. Most days, all I want to do is work on the new business because the work is so stimulating and interesting, and there’s a real feeling of pride with creating something new. (Of course, that’s when I cycle back to cursing the fact that I am still teaching at all.)

All of this is to say that I think it’s important to recognize that there’s more to transitions than learning new skills. This thing so many of us our doing – this reinvention of what PhDs can and should and will do – takes emotional energy, just as grad school itself was far more than intellectual work.

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