Six months ago, I made a decision that surprised nearly everyone, including myself: I decided to “leave” academia. I had just started the third year of a prestigious post-doctoral fellowship. I had just published my fifteenth first-author paper (an impressive feat by any metric). I had won two dissertation awards and an early career grant. After ten years of hard work (and a lot of luck), I was poised to be a front-runner in the academic job market.
However, I wasn't happy. I was tired of constantly moving and living away from my family. I was tired of academic politics and hustle culture. I was tired of seeing my depression and anxiety worsen year after year. So I decided to make a career change and search for employment outside academia. During this search, I began to grapple with a new question: if I am not an academic, then who am I?
It’s a daunting question. But, it was one that I was actually excited to answer. Who I am, when not solely defined by my work? Who can I spend time with? What hobbies can I explore? What can I do with all of my new-found time, money, and mental energy? I had given up so much of myself and my (non-academic) interests to focus on securing a tenure-track job, that I was eager to rediscover myself.
So, who I am? Yes, I’m still a researcher and a developmental psychologist. But, I’m also a friend. A sister. A daughter. A partner. A writer. A lover of cats, plants, babies, and corgis. And so many more things that I can’t wait to discover.
Today, I’m four weeks into an industry (UX) job that I love. I recently purchased a house in Asheville, North Carolina — a hip city nestled in the Appalachian Mountains. As I write this from my front porch, a group of wild turkeys strolls across my lawn. You can hear a chorus of songbirds in the trees as the wind gently rolls through the leaves. And for the first time in recent memory, my anxiety has lowered to a whisper.