Tuesday, 13 March 2012

From the desk job to the kitchen

I've been thinking about the pleasure I had in reading Po Bronson's book What Should I Do with My Life? last spring when I when in such a state about what to do with my own life. What amazed me was that it was my husband who actually recommended this book to me after he had been listening to my teary-eyed whinging for a while. I was taken by surprise because he had admitted that he too had been going through a difficult time with work (he's an academic too) and wondered if there were any alternatives. I was amazed he kept quiet about it so long. At the same time I guess this isn't too unusual. Men, in particular, haven't been allowed to express openly their vulnerabilities and insecurities for fear of being seen as weak. I think this must be worse when the insecurities have to do with the workplace, as this is where so many men are expected to define their identities. So, on the night when he took this book out from his bedside table I was speechless.

Bronson's book focuses on a selection of a wide range of people he has interviewed. They share with him their experiences of how they made the decision to transition into another profession and leave the one with which they were uncomfortable. He states at the start that some of the stories have happy endings and some do not. Some are still left in the moment of their decision-making. While I found there is a bit of tendency towards a sense of repetition across the book, I was moved by many of the chapters and could really identify with the some of the individuals.

One story, in particular, has really stuck with me. I can't remember the name of the guy and I've lent the book to a friend now, so can't check. But it is one that a prospective Post-Academic reader will recognise immediately. It's a story about a post-grad male from the US who is maybe in his late twenties and is studying for his PhD on an English topic. While he is in the middle of his PhD he discovers his brother has committed suicide and his world comes to a halt. He is forced suddenly to rethink his work, his life, his purpose and what makes him feel passionate. He decides to give up the PhD completely and never returns to it. He discovers a love for cooking, an activity that is physical, nurturing and constant. It involves others and we need it to sustain our bodies. He decides to go to cooking school to become a chef. He eventually works, works very hard indeed, in a busy restaurant. He is exhausted but thrives on his new found profession and can't imagine ever returning to a desk or sedentary job again.

I was inspired by this story and others and felt there was a great sense of hope in them, even when the people were left in a state of uncertainty after giving up an occupation that made them unhappy for so many years. The post-academic community bloggers offer this sense of hope to me also, and even more than the book because they share the ongoing 'in-process' narratives with which we can identify.


  1. What a great story! I was just having a similar conversation with a friend, one who is convinced that as long as you absolutely don't dread your job then you're fine. I would like to think there is a little something more out there and that changing career paths might help in accomplishing those ends.

    So glad I found the blog. Thanks for the link! I look forward to reading more.

    1. Hey there, thanks so much for having a look. I'm a bit of a blogging novice, but I think with more practice I'll get the hang of it eventually and get some more readers over here. And thanks for the prompt about getting my Blog page link on my profile (sooo obvious!).

      I'm loving your blog and others. I cannot believe how much better I feel about myself now that I've discovered that others like you are expressing such similar feelings and experiences.

      Look forward to keeping in touch.

    2. Same here, Jet!

      And I loved your latest post about spring cleaning. When I moved most recently, about nine months ago, I had to face some hard truths about what I could "afford" to hold onto (emotionally, mentally, etc) and what clutter had to be put aside. It meant throwing out/stopping with a lot of academic "paperwork."

  2. Yes, asking ourselves what we can afford to hold onto is a hard but important question. On another practical point, I've just taken on the task of going through all of these posts and correcting the many typos. I've obviously been in too much of a hurry to get the words out and need to get a closer eye of the finer details.