This article was originally published on Medium.
It’s not easy to walk away from security.
Especially security that you’ve worked hard for. In my case, it took decades.
See, I loved books and some time between watching Dead Poets Society and my first college literature class I decided I was going to be a professor.
So I was in it for the long haul.
I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in 2006. Then my Master’s Degree. Then my PhD. All told, it took about fourteen years. (There’s a great Simpsons episode where Marge admonishes her son, “Bart, don’t make fun of grad students, they just made bad life choices.”)
I was happy with my path though. I loved the feel of campus. I loved the energy of each new fall semester. I loved teaching and writing.
But it did require a lot of sacrifices. And very little money. I crossed the country twice with my family in beat-up cars, from Utah to Rochester, New York, back to Utah, and finally to Massachusetts where I landed the Golden Ticket in academia: a tenure-track job as a professor.
The first few years were great. I worked hard and enjoyed it. I liked my colleagues. Time flew by creating courses, advising students, writing books and articles.
I was a rising star in my field. It felt good. Invitations started pouring in. This journal, that lecture, this committee, that publisher.
In 2020, I earned tenure. Job security for life, as they say. Almost immediately I was asked to serve as Chair of my Department, which I accepted.
I’d reached the apex of my profession.
I should have been thrilled. Or relieved. Or proud. I guess I was proud.
But the truth was I was not in a good place.
After several years clearing hurdle after hurdle, I stopped and looked around. Turns out in the quiet there was a lot of sadness.
It’s hard to talk about sadness. People want to know why. What happened? I thought….
I’m a mostly optimistic person. But I’ve also felt this ache — this feeling that something is missing — for most of my life. I guess my entire life, really.
When I was younger, the ache had a tinge of sweetness because you felt that soon, very soon it would come. That connection. That wholeness. That fulfillment. And there were fleeting moments when it did.
But now that I was older, I was losing that horizon. I knew what I wanted life to feel like. But there was not only a gulf between that life and the one I was living, there was the diminishing possibility of it ever happening.
This sadness was heightened by a sequence of painful blows. I won’t list them all. The toughest ones involved family. My mom, the anchor of our family, had a life-altering brain injury just two years after retiring. About a year later, my dad was rushed to the hospital and nearly died of Covid. Those two things alone left me shaken.
Then my marriage of fifteen years came to an end.