Adapted from a FB status last night (and added onto significantly):
All achievements in academia seem to be underwhelming. You write and write waiting for that moment of validation (“send it on to the committee”), only to feel completely underwhelmed when it actually comes through because you’re so emotionally exhausted from the entire process. Are all jobs like this, or are academics just weird?
This has happened to me before. I remember finishing up my MA and defending my thesis and just feeling kind of… numb. I think we bank for some sort of epiphany/life-changing feeling to wash over us when we hit those milestones, and when it doesn’t come, it’s just… well, it’s nothingness. Maybe it’s because I graduated in the summer, a year after my original cohort, but I felt absolutely no motivation to even walk in that ceremony.
You work for years and years on a degree. Other than an 18 month “break” from academic work (though I did still adjunct during that period), I have been in school since 1989. I’m set to earn my Ph.D. in 2015. 26 years of school. That’s longer than my father’s military career. Will the end have that “payoff” feeling? I joke with people all the time that the only reason I’m getting the Ph.D. is for the cool hat, but what happens on that special day when all I feel like I have is a cool hat?
Luckily, I have my head far enough out of my ass to be able to say this: it’s not all underwhelm (yes, I’m coining this as a noun). There are moments of such pure joy when a thesis finally comes together, when a colleague gets into that cool conference/journal/job that they’ve always wanted, when your students really *get* something. They’re little joys that keep you going along the emotional rollercoaster.
But it is a little crummy when you anticipate an emotional payoff – that joy you will feel just to hear your adviser say good work, your proposal is ready – and when the moment comes it’s just… blech. Because you can’t find it in you to just pause and enjoy that moment.
You’re already onto the next step, the next thing to stress over. The next labor of love.