Hi, my name is Allison and I’m an academic.
I’ve been in recovery from academia for 18 months. I first knew I had a problem when I looked at my non-existent life and realized if I stayed an academic, I would die in poverty, alone, and with only a false sense of intellectual and perhaps even moral superiority to keep me warm at night. I finally hit rock bottom when a fellow addict stole my supply, intellectually shamed me, and left me to academically die. Obviously, I took a pretty big hit, but I did not die. Instead, I became committed to my process of recovery.
Since getting clean, I’ve reconnected with my family and friends. I am able to show up for them fully when they need me. I have a stable work-life balance. I prioritize my mental health over all career-related concerns. I read for fun now. I actively look for other ways to channel the energy that I used to put into my addiction to academia: I write this blog, I work on book projects, I ghost-write for clients whom I like and respect. I teach my previous discipline at a high school in Harlem. I use my training in writing and research to teach students how to excel. I also teach them about how to recognize, and combat, systemic inequality.
I no longer view myself as a victim of exploitation, but rather as a survivor. With this restored sense of agency, it’s time to admit some hard truths.
In other words, it’s time to work the steps*.
Step 1: I’ve admitted that I was powerless over the structural inequality of academia, and that my life had become unmanageable because of it.
Step 2: I have belief in a power greater than myself and academia, which is a belief in human dignity and empathy.
Step 3: I made a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of Living an Intellectually Embodied life, as I have come to define it for myself.
Step 4: I understand that in order to live an intellectually embodied life, where I uplift marginalized peoples and combat inequality, I must now perform a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself
Step 5: Further, it’s time for me to admit to myself and others exactly how toxic and unbearable my behavior was when I was in academia
So, here goes nothing:
Y’all….I was fucking unbearable in graduate school. I was restless and continually frustrated by my false belief that I was more intelligent than everyone else. As a result, I behaved in a cut-throat manner that includes the following:
I regularly made up words and made no effort to define them.
I prided myself on intellectually embarrassing my peers.
I used the word “problematic” so much that it smacked of pretentious elitism, and most likely made my friends’ eyes hurt from how much they had to roll them back into their heads.
I fundamentally believed my research would garner me a precious tenure track position (lolz).
I looked down my nose at “society” and how intellectually debased it was, without engaging into why this might be the case. Further, I falsely believed the system I was a part of (the university) was somehow not a part of this “debased” society.
I cancelled on friend’s weddings, family weddings, and general joviality during the holidays because I was a Serious Scholar who had to divert all attention to the intellectual assignment at hand.
I was mean to my peers. I did not support them as much as I could have. I did not see myself as a part of them.
I am most ashamed of the reality that I saw adjuncts as not smart enough to get a “real” job in academia.
It’s a process to get clean from academia’s toxicity. It’s hard admitting you were wrong.
Leaving academia involves a process that is not unlike getting clean from any other addiction. Including getting the shakes and the acute pain of withdrawal. There is a violent rupture that occurs when one separates from a culture that demands you define your identity solely through it.
I now understand that the culture of academia encourages, perhaps even insists on, this toxic mindset in order to ‘survive’ graduate school, et al. While I was surrounded by a culture of fierce competition predicated on a false-belief that academia is a meritocracy, I incubated this mindset and behavior in myself due to a complete absence of self-esteem that was disastrous in a myriad of ways, including that it enabled others to take advantage of me and my work.
The problems of academia are no single individual’s fault.
It’s a waste of time to attempt to assign blame. Instead, I’ve chosen to do a fearless moral inventory of myself so that I can help others. So that I can continue to advocate for education and reform. I’m most likely still a massive bitch, but at least now that I’ve recognized this, I can use my powers for good. And direct my rage where it rightly belongs.
If you, or someone you know, wants to recover from their addiction to academia, know there is a whole community waiting. And, as always, I’m listening.
As I continue my fearless moral assessment of myself and of academia, I’ve compiled a pretty gnarly reading list, which I discuss in my bi-weekly newsletters. Here’s what was in this week’s. If you are interested in this reading list, I humbly suggest subscribing to my newsletters. I’m not selling anything, it’s just my way of spreading the knowledge I’m continuing to gather about higher education plus whatever bad ass author I’m reading at the moment.
*Yes, I know I only talked about a few of the steps. There are more, and they are even more important. But, for the sake of brevity, I focused on recognition first.