dr. unemployed

when we got back from the midwest six weeks ago and my period of time off started for real, i told myself this: i would give myself one month to enjoy it, to finish the things that needed to be finished, and to not think about finding a job. come october, i would start looking in earnest. but not until then.

though i would like to pretend that i was completely zen about this decision, there were moments when, against my better judgment, i would start searching for jobs online. “just to see what’s out there,” i thought to myself. “just dipping my toes into the ocean of possibilities.” this was a foolish thing to do. it’s not a good idea to start searching out of nowhere, with no goal in mind, completely unprepared for what you might or might not find. these decisions were always impulsive, fueled by my own anxiety and yielding even more.

because what i found was this: i am simultaneously under- and over-qualified for about 95% of jobs out there. i spent my twenties earning two master’s degrees and a doctorate. this means that while i’ve completely maxed out on education, i have virtually no work experience. entry-level positions — the ones that people with no work experience are supposed to apply for — require no more than a bachelor’s degree. most of the job postings i saw asked for 3-5 years of project management or fundraising or leadership development, none of which i have, and a master’s degree at most. the jobs that require a phd are either 1. ones that i don’t want — the ones that i’m leaving my field in order to avoid — or 2. ones that also require a whole lot of other work experience, because they’re meant for someone who’s, like, 45 and interested in parlaying their knowledge and experience from their current career into a new one.

ergo, those sporadic, uncalculated dips into the job-searching world were usually discouraging. but even in those moments, i still had to laugh: of course i would be frustrated with my options. i’ve spent the last 6 years walking in one direction, which got me exactly to this point. now i want to be somewhere else, and i’m annoyed that all this walking in one direction, toward this destination, hasn’t taken me elsewhere. of course i’m not qualified for anything out there; i’ve been preparing so extensively for this. and now that i don’t want this, of course things are going to get tricky.

so i guess the moral of this story is this: the more time you spend walking in one direction, the harder it’s going to be to change course. so when you know that you’re not going in the right direction, STOP WALKING. the earlier you correct, the easier it’ll be.

i don’t regret going to grad school or staying in the program after the doubts started to surface. (of course i wouldn’t; the cognitive dissonance would be too great. but i digress.) and thankfully, my job hunt is going much better now, thanks to some reflection and more focused searching and gifts that dropped out of the sky. but i certainly see how things would be easier for me professionally if i had stopped earlier. i know people who changed course drastically after attending prestigious undergrads. i know people who changed course after earning master’s degrees. these are significant, difficult decisions. but when you’ve seen your education to the end and gotten a doctorate degree and then decided to change course… it just doesn’t make sense to people. “why didn’t you stop sooner?” “why do you want to change now, after you’ve specialized so much?” these are the questions i’m going to have to answer in whatever comes next. i hope whoever hires me gets that this is a journey and that the decision to change course at this point in time wasn’t easy. i hope that “i found that i didn’t like it” is a sufficient answer for them. but i can only hope.

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