Main Character Energy in the Face of Precarity

Channeling my inner Blair Waldorf and serving main character energy

Hello, dear Reader, and welcome back to my blog, a site that has sadly been neglected for too long. This partly owes to the nature of working on precarious contracts. Juggling adjunct teaching gigs, full time management of a restaurant (this pays the bills), and publications already in the pipeline doesn’t leave as much time as I would like for more informal writing. It also owes to the fact that I’ve gotten on with the business of living a life outside of my identity as an academic researcher. In this blog, I would like to provide a personal update of what my life has been like since last I posted (spoiler alert: I got married, again), while also reflecting on my approach to twenty-first-century academia, which I like to call ‘main character energy in the face of precarity’.

Life outside the ivory tower

Married!

My life in the past year has been a flurry activity beyond my academic pursuits. Many of you will know that I got married on my thirtieth birthday in 2021 to my long-term partner, but we finally got the chance to have the big party we had planned this past April, with our families and a hundred friends in attendance. I like to refer to our 2022 day as ‘My Big Fat Scottish Wedding’ because we really pushed the boat out with our plans. My Maid of Honour lovingly referred to our itinerary as ‘bold’. But things turned out perfectly. We were married on Portobello Beach. Fifteen minutes before we were meant to walk down from my in-law’s house, the sun came out. It hadn’t been forecast to be sunny on the day. The sunshine held for champagne reception in my in-law’s garden, with hail starting as the last person got into the last taxi on the way to the evening reception. Talk about timing! We managed to have an injury-free ceilidh and my American family and friends got the once in a lifetime experience of the ‘Loch Lomond’ finale of a Scottish wedding. It was a perfect day.

‘She’s not here’ should’ve been my out of office automated response.

After four years away, I also made it home to the United States. I had never planned to be away for that long, but between the pandemic and academic *stuff*, time flew by and suddenly I hadn’t been home since September 2018. In some ways, it felt as if no time had passed at all, visiting old haunts from my undergraduate years and catching up with family. In other ways, it felt as if a lifetime had passed. It was the first time home since my cousin died. My dog has gone from middle aged to nearly sixteen years old. I attended close friends’ wedding and saw people that I hadn’t seen for ten years. We joked that I’d catch them at their fortieth. I made memories with my husband and re-connected with parts of myself that I forgot were there.

The best of pals since 2006.

‘What’s meant for you won’t go by you’

When I speak to other early career researchers and people nearing the end of their humanities PhD, I often find myself uttering the phrase, ‘what’s meant for you won’t go by you’. It has taken a long time for me to take my own advice. In the past year, I have prioritised my relationship, my health, my hobbies, and re-connecting over the constant grind perhaps expected of an early career researcher. Before the pandemic started, I convinced my partner that is was ‘not a good time’ to go the New Zealand to see his family because of the stage I was at in finishing my PhD. Similarly, I didn’t go home for my cousin’s funeral because it was ‘not a good time’ because I had just submitted my NITS (Notification of Intention to Submit for the blessedly uninitiated). Two weeks later, the world shut down because of Covid-19. I regret both these instances of prioritising my PhD above everything else. It was selfish, but it was also misguided. The trick of academic precarity and the ‘hunger games’ of jobs and funding convinces you that if you don’t put your PhD above everything else, you won’t make it in academia. But it’s a lie. And this is what I mean by ‘main character energy in the face of precarity’. I have stopped letting my self-worth be defined by how much I ‘do’ for academia. Rather, I have prioritised who I am, and who I was, before I undertook my postgraduate study. By allowing myself to feel like the main character of my own life again, rather than someone on the the sidelines watching other people get the [insert: job, promotion, award, prize, etc., here], I am happier.

Happy power-posing.

I know that my approach, ‘main character energy in the face of precarity’ might sound selfish on the surface, but it’s not. Re-prioritising my relationships and interests outside of my work as a historian has transformed my mindset. I am much more present in my life and I feel like I have a life outside of academia. There is no longer this ‘lectureship or bust’ mentality that I had when I was finishing my PhD. I continue to succeed. I won an award for my first published article. I was recently invited to give a keynote lecture. I also continue to ‘fail’. Hours before giving this keynote lecture, I received an email that I hadn’t made it to the interview stage of a job I wanted.

It’s not that the circumstances have changed all that much, but I’ve changed. I’m finally embodying my own advice, remembering that what’s meant for me won’t go by me. In the meantime, I’m living.

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