What’s the first thing you need to do when you decide to leave academia? Find a job. Any job.
But be sure you know the definition of a job. A job is “something done for 8 hours a day for pay” (Elle Luna, The Crossroads of Should and Must, 2015). It’s not your new field or line of work, your new calling, or your forever career.
Finding “Any Job” Reduces Your Stress
You need the time to figure out what’s next, but that is made a whole lot easier when you aren’t also worried about how to pay your bills.
Start applying for jobs, indiscriminately. Don’t apply exclusively to jobs in your field or jobs that require your advanced degree because what you need most right now is to buy yourself some time so that the next career move you make is a smart and thoughtful move.
You Don’t Know What You Need or Want Yet Anyway
When I decided to quit my Ph.D. program, I told my friends why I had made the decision and what it meant to me to drop out of my program. One friend said, “It sounds like you’re talking about a breakup.” And she was right. When you break up with someone, even when you are the one to initiate the break up, you are mourning not just the loss of you two as partners, but also of what you could have become and achieved together.
And it’s the same in your career. Deciding to move on from academia is an incredibly tough decision. When you spend so many years honing your specialty, particularly with the aim of becoming faculty, it’s only natural to feel helpless, hopeless, or directionless, your new future hazy and unclear.
It’s hard enough to figure out all your career stuff, so for the moment, you don’t also need to burden yourself with figuring out your rest-of-your-life options. One step at a time.
Free Up Your Brain Power to Figure Out What Matters
First you need a reliable paycheck with benefits – and if you’re honest, maybe even one that doesn’t require a lot of difficulty. A lot of academics who find themselves in a whole-new work world go overboard in learning the ins and outs of the new industry, studying up on all the resources for how to do their new jobs, and even spending their otherwise “free” time benchmarking their new work so they can prove their understanding and value to their employer. After all, us academics are naturally curious and have excelled our whole lives at being studious, so studying up on our new work comes naturally.
But you’ve just made a momentous decision, one that will impact the rest of your career, and so I can’t stress this enough: getting a job, any job (so long as it covers your bills) is a proven strategy that gives academics the time to mourn what you’ve lost and work through the effects it will have on your career.
You also have had very little (if any!) free time for a long time, and work-life balance is perhaps something you’ve never had the chance to learn.
Getting a job, even a “mindless” job, buys you more time.