Filed under: Academe, PhD chat | Tags: academia, adulthood, ageing, birthday, childhood
In the aftermath of my 26th birthday, I feel an ever more present and pressing demand that I should start acting in ways more appropriate to belonging to the 25-35 age bracket. I have been wondering, should I adopt more mature music tastes? (i.e. less Kylie), should I finally learn how to drive, and should I really find childish Iphone apps so amusing (e.g. hours spent playing with fat/bald/freak/ginger booth)?
Thing is though, I still feel like a big child most of the time, and yet it seems the people around me are all getting younger, rubbing their 21st birthday celebrations in my face (and more upsettingly these people see me as old).
Turning 26 I sense a gulf between what I presumed I would be/feel at 26 (based on others expectations) and how I actually feel and act now as a 26 year old. This disjuncture I feel, is one of the great deceptions of adults to our former child selves, that while we may imitate some adult like posturings we remain on the whole little different from when we were ten years old. Thus in turn fostering the illusion that there is an identifiable evolution from childhood to adulthood, after which you should know how to drive, understand about taxes and only listen to blah ‘credible’ indie music.
Yet I feel I have merely devolved, with adolescence and my early 20s being a diversion into experimenting with dumb ideas and making wrong choices with the wrong people, and simply returning back to my 12 year old self.
There is one profound difference in being an adult though which is the both terrifying and joyous realisation that while as a child you simply did as you were told, as an adult you actually have some authority over your own life and your own choices. This can be a tough responsibility to handle as evidenced on a daily basis as I wander through Goldsmiths campus and survey my fellow students, who with their unkempt hair, ridiculous clothing, diet of microwave meals, (and don’t get me started on hygiene habits) appear unable to make decisions over even the very basic of tasks.
However there are also more fundamental questions that one has to tackle, particularly when life starts to go a little awry. As a child if bad things happen to you, you endure it, because you have no choice or power to control events. Yet I found this sense of powerlessness lingered as I entered into my adult years.
That was until last week when I had a moment of clarity in my Cosmopolitan haze in which I admitted that all my discomfort and melancholic temperament could possibly be a result of forcing myself down a path that was not right for me. I then began to wonder, is there not another way to live? A life more full of hap, and less full of drudge? And further I realised that this life, this freedom, was accessible only through myself, if I wanted my life to change I simply had to learn to make choices.
This realisation also came after reading this which propelled me to question whether I really wanted to continue pursuing a career in academia. I no longer felt I was cut out for the competitiveness, the long arduous hours, the fact you have to study for so long with an ever decreasing chance of obtaining any form of job; and the very real fear of being 35 and still without a permanent university post. I looked at my future and I saw suffocating dismalness and worsening dress sense and bad hair choices (which unfortunately appears to happen to all female academics).
Voicing my concerns has meant I have recieved a mixture of genuinely good advice and well meaning but ultimately unhelpful suggestions. Some suggestions have been that I should simply endure it, that this is simply part of the process, as if my expectations were too high. But is it really preposterous to propose the idea of perhaps you know, being able to enjoy what you are doing?
I also found people asking me “Well what would you do?” – almost as though people in academia cannot imagine a world that exists outside their own. The self-involved bubble of academia had previously been a welcome cushion from the harshness and mundanity of the ‘real’ world, but I had begun to find the world of academia just as harsh and mundane as the world ‘outside’.
The truth was I didn’t really have a reply to “Well what would you do?” because in leaving I didn’t feel like ‘doing’ anything at all. “I just want a simple life” I told my supervisor, and she looked at me with I believe genuine empathy, but also perhaps a little pity for my childish naivety.
Academia had given me so much, it has made me who I am, it has been in my life since 19, and now I was asking – is this it? What would I be without it?, what would I mean, what would life mean, and what would become of me?? My academic achievements are so integral to me as a person, take those away and I actually haven’t achieved much at all. So considering leaving would involve a re-evaluation not only of what I would do with my time but something far more fundamental to my sense of self.
As the years pass I also recognize there are some things I will never achieve. This is not always a negative but it certainly involves a sense of loss, as you have to let go of some of your childish longings and hopes. Ageing becomes a continual process of losing, a grieving of the time and possibilities that will never be.
And so I am left with no delusions of transformation, of finally blossoming, of spouting the false rhetoric of ‘life-changing’ narratives (re Eat, Pray, Love), but the underwhelming acceptance of the banal and appallingly ordinary contingencies of this life I am living through.
This is not as gloomy a picture as it sounds for what is left is the challenge: the challenge of living within a politics of the hap. What form will this take? I have no idea.
But surprisingly, I feel optimistic because this time, I choose freedom.
*ALSO THIS WEEK* I attended a fantastic lecture by my academic hero Nikolas Rose, and my belief and faith in academia was once again rekindled.
2 Comments so far
Leave a comment