I always knew this would happen eventually. Right from the beginning of my master’s, my thoughts were ‘at least I don’t have to be unoccupied for a year (before I got accepted for the PhD)/three years (once I knew that was happening)’. Bubbles of employment anxiety rose to the surface now and again, whenever I was reminded that there would be an ‘afterwards’, but as I still had a bit of time, I could choke them down. As late as last week, I was thinking ‘the enormity of finishing my PhD hasn’t hit me yet.’ Well, this week, it did, and as predicted, it was Not Nice.
It happened while I was idly looking at jobs - I don’t really have time to apply yet, but I sometimes look at what’s out there. Looking through local jobs, just in case there’s anything for someone who wishes to use their brain (a foolhardy proposition out here, I grant you, but if I can get a nice job and not have to commute too far, then yay), as I scrolled through page after page of drone-jobs, I found it a bit hard to breathe. I don’t want to do ‘any old thing’, not just because I’ve done a PhD, but because if I have to spend a huge percentage of my time working, I’d like it to be something fulfilling, where I get to use my talents. I’m more of a ‘live to work’ than a ‘work to live’ type, as you’ll see below.
I didn’t feel much better looking at jobs in That London - yeah, there were a few jobs there I’d actually want to, and possibly even be allowed to, do, but it’s nearly six grand a year and three hours’ travel (once you factor in the awfulness that is getting the bus from home to the station until I can find somewhere to live that cuts that part out), so the job and the salary have to be REALLY worth it. I don’t want to live in London because a) two-body problem and b) I want to buy a house, not rent a shoebox. I mean yeah, I’ll do it if I have to, but I felt so goddam STUCK. And when I came across jobs I’d like to do but don’t have any of the neccessary experience for, I went into ‘I’m so awful, who the hell is going to want to employ me?’ mode.
The trouble is, my sense of self-worth is totally bound up with whether I’m occupied or not, so, irrationally, I feel like unemployment threatens my sense of self. It’s irrational because I’m not going to wake up on July 9th having lost my intelligence, my savings, or my to-do list. I’ve got articles to write and jobs to apply for, and I’m still going to get up at 8 and go to the gym and eat sensibly and have nice things and read interesting things and love and be loved - yet I label this future self as ‘useless’, which is a label I would never attach to anyone other than myself. Just because I won’t be working for money for however long it takes to get a job, it doesn’t mean I’m not the same person. Apart from the whole total inability to leave home thing, my PhD has been a great experience because I got to read and write, had something worthwhile to do, and people were interested in my work, asked me to do things, and kept telling me how smart and great at writing I was. Those things aren’t going to disappear just because I’ve submitted my thesis. I just have to get it into my brain that me being unemployed =/= me being worthless.