A million years ago, I wrote about being in the middle of the tenure process, wherein I am evaluated by a series of committees and then either lose my job, or get to keep it until my endless ethical breaches (the falsification of data, the research assistants chained in my lab, the moonshine still in my office…) are discovered. The process has ground along for well over a year; I submitted the documents a month or so before Bun Bun was born.
But it’s over. I am tenured. I suppose I should be pleased, but it happened so slowly–and with so little ceremony–that it’s a complete anticlimax. Like, I more or less found out it was official when I received my new contract.
Plus which, my enthusiasm for my job is still at low ebb. Not lowest ebb ever (what would that be, like neap tide or some shit?), but low.
Last week I had coffee with a student I’d mentored, and we chatted about our lives. I told her how tenure in combination with all my BABIES seems to have shifted my priorities considerably, away from work. She nodded enthusiastically–she was looking forward to finishing her MA, getting a job, and having a nine-to-five life with family at the end of her day. (She’s gay, just in case you’re assuming she has easy access to babies and are hating her.) She’s a mere child with her whole life ahead of her, so it was odd to find ourselves in more or less the same psychological place.
Meanwhile, I am surrounded by people who are foaming-at-the-mouth eager for a job like mine. I recently ran a workshop on applying to PhD programs, which was full of students who want to “go into academia”, whatever they think that means. I told them that a PhD is useless for almost all the jobs in the world, and that the chances of getting one of the jobs it IS good for are miniscule. Afterwards I though about how little that wisdom would have influenced me when I was an undergrad. I just couldn’t do otherwise than apply to grad school. I was infected with scholarship. A weak, mediocre, unproductive strain, but it seemed incurable at the time.
So what happened to the Bunny of a decade ago–why am I not more pleased with myself? Maybe it’s that I know this achievement means less than I thought it did. I thought you had to be super awesome to get tenure. But you don’t, because I’m not. As various committees voted yea on my weak ass over the past year, I had to accept that my mediocre efforts are good enough (good enough for Mediocre Institution, at least). I still encounter the career trajectories of my cohort of grad students and feel sad and pathetic, but maybe I am more willing to accept that I will never be like them. In short, I’m not more excited because being stamped ADEQUATE is nothing to celebrate.
It’s also possible that the way parenthood worked out for me had a massive impact on my level of career ambition. I mean, everyone says having children changes your priorities and it’s partly just that. But I also think that, had I gotten pregnant when I first tried, it would have been another item on my checklist. Instead of being all fuck my career I don’t caaaaare waaaaaaaah I would have been all I have to work even harder and be an even better researcher and mother and… THE PRESSURE!
Which is not to say that had I not spent two years weeping under my desk, I would have achieved greatness. I think I’d probably be in more or less the same place career-wise. So perhaps wanting parenthood and failing to achieve parenthood and then achieving parenthood (I mean, how perfect is this: Right when I might have been anxious about the tenure process, the world’s best bundle of attention-absorption appeared in my life!) was in fact the perfect distraction from my own mediocrity. Thanks, meatball-filled pelvic cavity, for keeping me mentally occupied.
A final possibility is that I’m just a big Eyeore who refuses to take pride in any professional success.