Much useful advice is contained in Dr. Maria Wisdom’s recent Chronicle of Higher Education essay, “5 Factors to Consider Before You Leave Faculty Life” (November 17th online), but a few critical topics are left unaddressed. For readers who are thinking about departing academia for a new career, here are 5 additional issues to keep in mind:
Normal people don’t talk like college professors. For example, you will encounter very few accountants, bartenders, or X-ray technicians who use the phrase “lived experience.” If you employ that phrase in their presence, they will tilt their head and gaze at you like a puzzled Cocker Spaniel. They’ll do this because they’ll regard the phrase as stupidly redundant. The reason they will believe this is because the phrase is stupidly redundant. Suggestion: During your first few months out of academia, don’t speak. At all. Take some time to reacquaint yourself with the English language.
If you must talk, refrain from bragging that you seldom watch television, or — even worse — that you don’t even own a television. Most people watch a LOT of television. In fact, many families who can barely afford a bag of Cheetos and a toilet brush own a flat-screen TV that is larger than your garage door. If these folks find out that you don’t watch TV, they’ll think you’re weird. And they’ll be right. What is WRONG with you?
Expect to feel uncomfortable and have awkward interactions when you inform your academic friends that you are now making a living selling houseboat insurance. You will see sadness in their eyes — sadness for you, not for themselves. Don’t make a pathetic attempt to overcompensate by telling them that you have discovered a level of satisfaction in insuring houseboats that you never experienced as a faculty member. They won’t believe you. Because you won’t believe you. Embrace your pain. It’s okay to cry in public.
When meeting people who don’t know your background in academia, decide how you’re going to react if they start telling cruel, hurtful jokes about college professors. Will you inform them of what you used to do and then chastise them? Will you be silent? Will you join in and participate in the trashing of your former profession? In race-relations terminology, choosing the second or third option is known as “passing.” Consult the relevant literature for recommendations on how to pass successfully. You might need to abandon your family of origin.
If selling houseboat insurance works out well for you, make sure to purchase a high-end sports car and pay a visit to your old campus. Ask your colleagues how their Zoom and hybrid classes are going, and inquire about the progress of the committee they’re on that’s responsible for redoing all the worksheets for community college transfers. Show them your personalized “EX-PROF” license plate. Casually smoke an expensive cigar in front of them, regardless of your gender. Tell your friends in the English Department that it doesn’t matter if references to bacon and chutney in the novels of Edith Wharton foreshadow major themes in the mature work of Philip Roth. It really doesn’t.
And for God’s sake, please go out and buy a big-ass TV. You’ve earned it.