Whenever I travel (whether for the weekend or longer like this last trip), I usually have a bit of a mental reset. It often involves my work and it used to happen without fail. In the last year or two, it hasn’t been as foolproof, but the respite has obviously been welcome…
Last year when we went to Scotland, we had such a wonderful time that it was difficult for me to come back home. I remember sitting at lunch in Heathrow airport on the verge of tears because I didn’t want to come back to work. I actually feared the same thing would happen this year.
As it turns out, I was ready to come back at the end of three weeks, but my mental and emotional state in regard to blogging was not what I needed it to be. I spent much of the three weeks in a debate about my relationship with blogging and really in a debate of if, and how, I wanted to carry on.
I’ve been toying with how to share all of this and I’ve realized that I have so much to pull apart, it can’t all happen this week. And it certainly can’t all be shared in a single post. With everything going through my thoughts (at all hours of the day thanks to jetlag and being 29 weeks pregnant), I’ve decided to start at the beginning of my journey here.
As I consider switching career paths, I’m obviously reminded that this isn’t my first go-round. In fact, I did just that – change my career – when I was 25. As I start to unpack where I am in this professional journey of mine, I’ve also toyed with writing about “deeper”(?) topics like business, professionalism, finding inner peace, and so on. So. Here’s my career change story of the first time I switched professions and let’s see where this all goes.
My Career Change Story
At the wizened age of about 15, I figured out what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to become a college professor of history. I was going to get my PhD and teach. I had it all figured out. And for about the next decade, I did. I graduated from UC Berkeley and immediately started at UC Davis in the history department a few months later. Though I struggled at times with the demands of grad school (perhaps a post on that is in order as well), I, for the most part, had my end goal in mind and was working my way toward it.
I remember in my second year, I debated a slight career change, but I only went so far as to look into museum directors and history research and analysis outside of academia. Then I started researching and was back on my professorial path once again.
Earning your PhD typically takes 5-7 years depending on research limitations and if you have to learn languages. Finishing in five years requires really no extra languages and easy access to needed materials. Even with that, however, it’s difficult to finish in that time period. I pushed myself – along with the encouragement of one of my best friends in the program who was doing the same – and was on track to finish in five years.
In the middle of my fourth year, I was researching my last chapter and started to falter. The research involved in dissertations combines secondary work (i.e. recounting and synopsizing research that’s already been written) and primary research (e.g. synopsizing things like newspapers, laws, and letters written at the time of study). My chapters were running 30-40 pages with everything and this last one was already at 60 pages and I hadn’t even gone on my research trip yet.
In addition to that overwhelming mental status, my research trip wasn’t going well either. I had a devil of a time trying to find housing (I was going to New Orleans just after Mardi Gras) and nobody seemed willing or able to help no matter how many trees I shook. And the icing on the cake? Three days before I was set to leave, the ONE housing option I’d found fell through – literally. The ceiling in their house started collapsing – a common aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the Big Easy. I found another backup option (a bunk bed in a spare room of a church with a toilet in another part of the building) and shortened my trip from two weeks to an intensive four days.
I survived and got what I needed (though obviously I need a better NOLA experience). When I got back home, however, I hit rock bottom. It was at this point that crying less than twice per day was a feat. I stopped reaching out to friends, my boyfriend (now husband) and I were struggling, and I began to isolate myself more and more.
It was, however, in this low state that I decided to start blogging. It all started one early morning when I decided to start baking and selling baked goodies. I created a business name (Luci’s Morsels), a menu, and a website. Over the next few months, I pulled myself through the dissertation process by writing on my blog every day. It was also during this time that I decided that researching wasn’t for me. I would look into just teaching after graduation.
As luck would have it, I’d been offered a job to teach at Davis that summer. It was going to be my chance to find out if I liked teaching. I prepped for months and walked into the first class, excited to teach.
That night, my boyfriend asked how it went. I looked at him and said that I’d let him know in six weeks when the class was over. I didn’t enjoy that first day, but I figured it was nerves and I’d likely settle in. The next morning, I got in the car to drive the 90-minutes to Davis from Oakland. I crossed the bridge (about 1/3 of the way there) and started crying. I didn’t want to go back…
Obviously, I finished the six weeks, but it wasn’t enjoyable. After that first weekend, I told my boyfriend and parents that academia just wasn’t going to work for me; I didn’t want to be a college professor. My boyfriend, very cutely, asked if we could still move after graduation as we’d planned. Of course, I said. And my parents asked what I planned to do instead. I’d won a fellowship for my last year, so I didn’t have to teach anymore. And I’d started this random blog and said that I knew people made money from blogging. I’d try to build it up over the next year. My mom, hilariously enough, said that she always knew I was a business person.
And so it was. I graduated the following summer and walked away from academia.
A number of people who’ve heard my story have told me I was brave to leave the known professional path. It didn’t feel brave. I knew it was the right decision, but truthfully it felt like the dumb decision for a few years.
Not surprisingly, I didn’t start earning money from my blog that year (or the year after). The first year in LA involved at least weekly sob sessions about what a waste of space I was. But I knew that going back to academia wasn’t the alternative – I’d be crying everyday doing that too. Of course, with teaching and researching, the income, insurance, and job security were the better option. But with blogging and social media, I liked what I did everyday even if I never got financial or verbal affirmation.
Since switching career paths, I’ve had a few instances of returning briefly to the guild of academics. Each time has involved clear signs that I made the right choice.
Switching career paths is no easy decision. It’s one that only you can make. Many people do switch careers, more than once in fact, but it’s not always something that’s discussed openly. It’s never an easy decision, which is often overlooked when we talk about making that move. You are pretty much guaranteed to struggle in some way after you switch. Hopefully it doesn’t last long, but it’s a reality nevertheless.
As I struggle with my emotional well-being as a blogger, I’m reminded of all this, wondering if I need to make another move…