The Lemons, The Lemonade, and Lessons Learned
I’m old enough now to know that everything comes down to perspective. What happens to you is rarely as impactful as your attitude towards it. Now that I’m comfortably in my 40s, this is one of those lessons that I don’t need to learn over and over again. So, when I’m in a funk over something, it’s a deliberate choice. I wear it like a prickly wool blanket, itchy yet warm. A familiar irritation.
I am in such a mood now.
See, I got my PhD last year, but am hardly where I thought I’d be. When the graduation balloons fell and the poofy hat went back in its bag, I was dumped onto a difficult academic job market. The only positions available were a few classes per semester—part-time pay without benefits. Now let me acknowledge my privilege that I’m married to a hard-working man, and we've always relied solely on his income. We ain’t rich folk, but my gummy bear supply has never run dry.
Still, the dreams I had of being an assistant professor or even a full-time instructor gave way to contingent contracts (they call it “adjunct”) that could get withdrawn in a moment’s notice. That’s actually what just happen to me. An online university pulled the plug on my summer gig less than two weeks before the end of the spring semester. I was already nursing my wounds from a recent round of rejections. Now, I don’t even have summer work. I called my husband and said, “I feel small.”
First things first, hats off to the man I married. His immediate response (after “I’m so sorry”) was, “We’re gonna be all right, baby.” Later, he spoke life-giving words to me of my potential and my bright future. He never failed to indulge my spite at the injustice of it all, but he didn’t want me to wallow either. Instead, he encouraged me. “You’ve been saying you needed a break. Now you have one.”
He’s right. That whole soul sabbatical thing I was talking about.
Did I wish this on myself?
Here I am with 8 weeks until the second half of summer classes begin (in yet another precarious situation where I never know I’ve got the class until it starts). That’s 8 weeks of the children still in daycare because we don’t want to lose our spot. It’s a forced hiatus on all my grinds: academic and parental.
I want to feel like a loser. Others from my cohort are fully employed marching slowly but surely towards tenure. I could get grouchy. Yet at the same time, I’m reminded that I need this. I’ve been goal hunting for seven years in this academic jungle that’s been all consuming from the moment I said yes to grad school.
Of course, all this crazy existential stuff is coming up like “What am I doing if I’m not striving towards something?” “Who am I if I’m not a fully functioning PhD?” Those are deep questions. I’m not ready to get into all of that yet.
Instead, I’m taking the lemons of this adjunct career and making lemonade. Wait, no. Actually, it’s a cherry lemonade… with a touch of lime… and maybe something else with a kick. Because I can either see this as a failure or falling into rest. I can isolate or catch up with my friends and family who sat patiently waiting for the old me to resurface. I still have a choice.
I think I’m gonna choose that lemonade. And I’ll be texting you soon to share it with me.