They spent thousands on undergraduate and graduate training to avoid that hustle. They eschewed dreams - journalism, art, entertainment - for safer bets, only to discover that the safest bet is that your job will be contingent and disposable.
- Sarah Kendzior, “Surviving the post-employment economy”
I’ve written previously about how, before I wanted to be a professor, I wanted to be a journalist. I started writing press releases and copy for my swim team when I was 14 or 15 years old. Our high school didn’t have a newspaper, but there were opportunities for student writers to publish in the major English Montreal daily, The Gazette, which I took advantage of as much as I could. If I hadn’t been invested in swimming, I probably would have tried to start a newspaper, but for me, swimming was the way to get a scholarship and get a free education and out of the house. I continued in college (CEGEP) to write entertainment reviews for the paper there, and then in university ended up editing the English-language college newspaper.
This was all in the 1990s in and around Montreal. The English-language market was shrinking and then eviscerated following the 1995 Referendum, as more and more Anglophones moved to Toronto or elsewhere. The Internet was, as we all know, CHANGING EVERYTHING, and so the future of newspapers and other traditional media were in doubt. I went to every single possible job talk or mentoring session offered to aspiring journalists, usually given by working journalists. Journalists, as you may or may not know, are some of the most cynical people ever to have lived, and Montreal Anglophone journalists were even more hardened. Each and every one of them made journalism seem like the least-appealing job you could ever want. Even working later on with sports journalists (which, to me, seemed like they had the BEST JOB EVER), I saw just how outwardly miserable most of them were.
I always wondered why I saw the writing on the wall with journalism (get out!) and not academia, and it is clear to me now that it was because of the honest guidance of the jaded, hardened journalists who made the job sound miserable and counseled us not to go near it. We all had romantic notions of breaking big stories and writing riveting op-eds, but instead were told we’d spend countless years sifting through mundane tasks and writing puff pieces, harassing haggard families, and engaging in the worst kind of gossip-mongering and speculation for little money and possibly no hope for the future of the profession. I said, NOPE, and decided to become an academic instead.
Because the academics all told me how wonderful it was to be a professor, and how I shouldn’t worry about getting a tenure-track job because the Boomer professors were retiring, demand for college was rising, large cohorts of students were in the pipeline, the economy was booming, etc, etc, etc. Faced with two things that I “loved” more or less equally (journalism and literature), I choose the path that was made out to be the better of the two based on the testimony of those who I figured would know best.
Whenever I hear the critiques about what I (and others) say about NOT going to grad school, I will point to those curmudgeonly and cynical (but truthful!) journalists who gave me straight talk about the path I was thinking about embarking on. Certainly, there were people who attended those same sessions and still went on to study journalism, and I’m sure more than a few of them became quite successful as journalists or putting their writing skills to other uses. I wish, sometimes, that I had been one of them, given the reality of being a PhD (in English, no less) in this current academic job market/mess/gong-show. I love teaching, I love writing about literature (I would love it even more if I could TEACH literature from time to time), but I find myself being pulled back into public writing, the kind of writing I loved doing in the first place.
There are only three things in my life that I have been internally motivated to do, requiring little-to-no external pressure to push myself to carry on and keep going: writing, reading, and swimming. I should take that as a sign.