One of my kids’ books features a zen monkey who quotes Lao Tzu: “At the centre of your being you have the answer: you know who you are and what you want.”

But do I? This job search has taught me that I don’t really.

At one point, having seen what making it in academia would involve and realizing what academia is – not that well paid, badly organized, full of egos – I had convinced myself that I would be happy to give it up and go into a non-academic job. But then I found myself faced with the choice of one decently paying commercial job and a handful of not-so-well-paying, precarious teaching jobs, I had a mini identity crisis. What did I want?

In the teaching jobs corner:

  1. They are in line with what I’ve been doing for the past three years, and give me a foot into the door of a new career.


  1. They pay shite
  2. Teaching takes a lot of effort, and I’m not sure I want to do sooo much teaching that I don’t have time for anything else.
  3. There is no stability. Next semester, I’ve have to start this search all over again.

But the thing that really pissed me off about these jobs is how unprofessional these places are. They are vague with info, and provide no proper confirmation about anything – whether you really truly have the job, how many students, hell, when the semester starts and ends. In order to withhold this info for whatever mysterious reasons – I guess amazingly because they don’t know either – they don’t even reply to email. I heard from one friend that one of the places that I was slated to teach at confirmed over email that she would teach a coach, and then silence, until nearing the start of the semester, she emailed to ask them for details, and they told her that they found someone inhouse to teach that course #sorrynotsorry. This made the vagueness of communication unnerve me further.

In a fit of pique one morning having again not received a response to an email query, I fired off an application to a non-academic job. And to my complete and utter shock, the HR replied right away. They asked me to state salary expectations, a category I had left off my application because my real expectations are high but I’m willing to compromise? Pressed on this point and suspecting that if I put in my last salary, I might scare them away I asked around and found a former colleague had worked there. Although she told me the pay would probably not be amazing, the place was a good one to work at, I got excited.

The thing was that two weeks or so before the start of semester, I felt bad to back out of the teaching jobs. But two weeks or so before the start of semester said teaching jobs were being vague and hadn’t even signed a contract yet.

Of course, on the day I apply to something else that writes back, the woman from the teaching position replies to my email saying sorry I was on leave (on leave replies are not a thing that exists in academia I’ve come to understand, eyeroll). Anyway, I went in for the editing test of the commercial job, and while I liked the place, I disliked the politics they espouse which are on the (economically) right wing of the spectrum. Nevertheless, I could swallow that for financial security. Unfortunately, I think I did rather badly on the editing test.

While waiting to hear back, I wondered why I was ‘wasting time’ prepping for the teaching jobs. If I did indeed land the commercial job, then all these PPTs on Pride and Prejudice would be for naught. It all very well to say carry on as if you weren’t getting the job, but the fact is that if I were to get the job, I should have been trying to get a paper published not prepping for courses that I wouldn’t teach. The problem is that depending on my future path, the claims on my current time would change. Not knowing what the future held became even more frustrating because it gave me the sense that my current effort might be entirely a waste of time.

Anyway, I didn’t hear from the commercial job for a few days in which time, given the alacrity of their first response, I had given up on them. I was fine, except my ego was bruised. I knew my test hadn’t been stellar but I didn’t believe it was so bad as to write me off the second interview. That’s the other thing about job hunting, the sting of rejection.

Then, of course, just as I had given up hope, I got called in for the second interview. And of course it happened on the same day that the institution I would be teaching with contacted me to ‘double confirm’ that I would be available and said they would start processing a contract.

Now with the possibility of the commercial job becoming real, I had to figure out what to say about the teaching. I could of course back out of the teaching altogether – and given the lack of professionalism and low pay, why not- except:

  1. I didn’t entirely want to close the door on an academic career given that I did have a PhD and it was a path I wanted to explore (but not risk bankruptcy for)
  2. Although I had established that these institutions wouldn’t treat me the same way – they have a clause in their contract that if 10 students don’t sign up the course gets cancelled – I did not feel comfortable backing out at the last minute. If nothing else, these were not bridges I wanted to burn entirely.

Finally, I did the kind of Libran balancing-act that my conscience would be comfortable with even if it may not have been the most sensible course of action. I told the interviewer that I could start in two weeks but I needed to be out of office a couple of half-days to teach for three months. They didn’t seem as fazed by this as I expected. And I really liked the manager which helped ease my misgivings about the politics of the place.

Then came the agonizing what-ifs. Even if they agreed to my conditions of being out of office for a bit, I would need to cancel two teaching jobs. And the whole arrangement of a full-time editing job and two teaching jobs was going to be crazy hectic for me. Now, I realized that I needed to speed up prepping for the courses because if I did get the job, I would have zero prep time during the semester.

The idea of being so crazy busy that I wouldn’t have time to breathe began to give me a minor panic attack. But more than that I was stressing about cancelling two of the four – yes I need to teach four courses to make slightly about my student stipend – teaching jobs I had committed to (but not yet! signed a contract for) .

The time between these call-backs is agonizing. The well-meaning advice is apply and forget about it, but it’s hard to when you are in the interview process. It’s hard not to what-if, or in my case at least have a game plan about what to do with the other balls in the air.

So what happened in the end?

I haven’t heard back from the commercial job. I’m a little miffed ego-wise, but for now, I’m okay with it. I had told myself when I started applying in April, that I would prioritize teaching jobs for the first semester to give that career path a chance and having actually got four offers, it seems silly to close off that option even though they lack stability. I might as well get that experience on my resume. And the money all put together is not that bad.

The commercial job would have given me stability, but it was going to be a nightmare doing it together with teaching. So I’m actually fine with it not coming through except for the unease about what I’m going to be doing three months down the line and whether this means that I’m unemployable commercially.

To go back to the quote that started this post, the answer may be at the centre of my being, but I don’t know what it is. I feel easier fate having made that choice for me.