A few months back, they selected my doctoral dissertation to be among the top three in the field. And last month, they told me that they do not have additional money to renew my contract.
The bipolar nature of academia baffles me. How could these two extreme things happen within a span of a few weeks, I cannot explain.
So I am back to looking for a job, a postdoctoral position to be more specific, not knowing what awaits me. It has been six weeks since that day, and I still haven’t found anything. But in these six weeks, numerous meltdowns and heartbreaking days of staring into the unknown later, I have had some profound realizations.
I have realized that I cannot control everything. That instead of resisting the waves, I can only learn to ride with them.
I have realized that the transition time between the end of something and the beginning of something else is the region of greatest possibility. I make the analogy using Lego blocks. Whenever something ends, anything, a relationship, a career, a job, a life, we lie like a pile of Lego blocks, broken, without direction, and feeling useless. But that is also the exact moment when we can recreate and redefine ourselves, mold ourselves into something new, create new possibilities, and become someone different. I think that if we were never broken, we would never get a chance to build ourselves again.
I have realized that the US is extremely unfriendly and unforgiving for people who require a job as well as a visa. Even when they have a PhD from the US.
I have started looking into my options in other countries, which I had not done before. The complacency of having a job in the US had stopped me from looking into my options elsewhere.
I have learned to reach out to other people. I don’t just wait for a job posting to show up. I proactively contact people, asking if they are looking to hire. Sure, nothing has come out of the effort so far, but failure is not the opposite of success. In fact, success and failure lie side by side, the opposite being not trying at all.
I have realized that people can ask to interview you, and you give a job talk with full gusto, only to be told that they do not have a position, but they will keep you in mind. What baffles me is, if they never had a position, why did they make me prepare a job talk and make a presentation in the first place? Human behavior is sometimes difficult to make sense of.
I have realized that there is more to me than what I do, my professional identity. When asked about who I am, I say that I am an educational researcher. However, there is much more to me than just being an educational researcher.
I have learned to be able to stare at the ending of something, and let go. If I do not find another job (with the visa in place) in the next few months, my stay in this country is history. I have been here for more than 7.5 years now, and to think that I might just have to leave everything I have and leave one fine day is heartbreaking. It is worse when you know that it was not your doing, and you cannot do anything to make the situation better. The feeling of paralysis that comes from helplessness is very difficult to come to terms. In fact these days, I notice in me a tendency to push doing certain things that bring gratification. The other day, my mom remarked that I need a haircut, and I told her that I want to save the occasion for the day when I find a job (equaling a hair cut with finding a job). I am seeing that the rice at home is beginning to get over, and a part of me is debating whether I should delay buying the big bag of rice until I find a job, because I don’t want to leave it unused if I have to go. The rice connection doesn’t even make sense to me, one needs to eat everyday, job or no job. Yet the prospect of spending for something makes me feel guilty, not knowing how much I might need to save for the rainy day.
I have realized that there will never be a dearth of work for me, even though there is a dearth of jobs. The number of papers I am involved in right now, it will take me at least a year to finish writing all those papers, job or no job.
I have started to notice myself as an observer, like I would observe someone else. Some days, I feel so lousy, it is hard for me to get up and get ready for work. Other days, I am naturally strong, telling myself that this is just a phase, and things will look better soon. I have better days when I feel stronger. But when I do not, the day drags on aimlessly, and inefficiency spirals, to make me feel even more lousy.
And of the many other realizations, I have also realized that I can look at the situation whatever way I want to. I can blame myself, my luck, or whatever. Or I can be kind to myself, and tell myself that it was not my fault. That come what may, I am in control of my life, and a certain external situation that was not created by me should not have the power to disorient me. Sure, I can choose to dance to the whims of fate, breaking a little bit every time the weather is rough. Or, I can choose to stay calm while the storm passes, because things will be better again. Is my pain greater than the collective pain of the world? I am looking for guarantees and securities in a world where airplanes disappear into thin air, and sturdy ships sink into the bottom of the ocean. Is my pain any greater than their pains? Or tomorrow if I was diagnosed with a terminal disease, will the job situation still bother me so much? It is all about perspective.
But most importantly, I just feel annoyed that anything should come in between me and my work. I dream of a day when I will be able to wake up and start working with enthusiasm, not having to worry about things like employment and visa.