Warning: this post is something of a confessional. I am aware that I am not the only person out there in this situation: this post is dedicated to them, and all those who have been there, PhD or not.
There is a distinction between jealousy and envy. Often this is confusing, as the words, definitionally, are highly similar. Psychologists, however, make a simple distinction. Whilst jealousy and envy often feed into or off of each other, the former occurs in response to threat – the worry that something we love will be removed from us – whilst the latter occurs when others have something which we do not possess. At the moment, I am sequentially suffering bad attacks of envy, and I dislike this intensely.
I should start with the positives, though, because I am aware that were I less fortunate, I could have much more to be envious about. I am lucky to have a wonderful partner who is incredibly supportive. I am lucky to have a roof over my head. I am lucky to have a family who care about me. I am lucky to have the amazing friends I do. So, in many ways, life isn’t too bad.
But the unemployment. I had hoped, at this point in the blog, to actually be writing to you about something, about my experiences as a functional working ECR. But I am not, and for this I am sorry.
Initially, it wasn’t too bad. I needed a holiday after the PhD. But holidays can go on too long, and you know that, the longer you are away camping, the bigger gets the pile of washing to do when you get home, the bigger the pile of post in the porch. My holiday has gone on far too long.
I have always been something of an envious person. I like to be good at things, and I’m massively envious, almost all of the time, at people who are better at those things than I am. This even extends to things I haven’t been trained for, like science and technical things. I think I just don’t like being seen as stupid. But this particular bout of envy has nothing to do with that, really.
I suppose the first appearance occurred when I saw lots of my friends, from all periods of my life, getting houses, having kids. I was envious that they were basically settled, and comfortable, or at least appeared so (social media is a bad thing, for this propagation of appearances. Keeping up with the Joneses has nothing on Facebook). But I was also distinctly aware that many of them had not had the amazing experiences that I had had, of doing an MA, working at an internationally renowned museum, doing a PhD…all these things. And I had chosen that life, so that was fine. My envy was mitigated by my own pleasure in my choices, and my hope for the future.
But now it has gotten to the point where I am envious of those still doing their PhD. An angry part of me is increasingly convinced that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, and every time I see a comment (again, Facebook, I should just quit you) about how horrible it is to write a PhD., I seethe with rage, because that was, in many ways, the one of the best times of my life. I was functional, doing a project I had chosen, that I had passion for, that I had the intellectual, social and financial fortune to be able to do: I was so incredibly lucky, and I didn’t know the half of it.
I am now also watching people who I worked with during that time get work, and enjoy it. I am especially thrilled that my friend the Viking has managed to land herself a teaching job at the University in Reykjavik. I’m not a fan of schadenfreude, and I am genuinely really pleased for all my friends who are getting where they want to be, and I wish them all the luck in the world, but I am still so envious. And this envy, I think, stems from a sense of inferiority and somehow, that I’ve failed to match expectations. I was always told that, purely by virtue of being “me” (smart and unusual, apparently), I’d be fine, that I’d get a job and everything would be OK. Now, I’ve had a bit of part time work here and there, but so far I’ve had very little other than rejection for anything substantial. I didn’t live up to my reputation. And the most frustrating part of this is that I cannot tell what I am doing wrong. Am I not working hard enough? Is my CV poor? Am I doing cover letters incorrectly? Am I just looking in the wrong places?
Or is it, as my Viking friend so wisely said, a case of poor circumstances? Somehow, in an IM conversation the other day, she must have picked up a note of sadness in my typing when we were discussing the cool things she is doing. ‘You’ll get your opportunity to teach…’ she said. ‘You’re in a much tougher spot…It won’t always be an upwards struggle.’ She’s right, I hope, and I’m really glad that I have people like this, who still have faith in me. Thank you to you all.
I have deliberately neglected to use the word ‘jealousy’ throughout the body of this post. Because jealousy has, bound up in it, a sense of hurt and betrayal. I do not feel these things: no-one has taken anything away from me that I had, no one has stolen anything I love. My emotion is envy of the simplest kind, and it is born out of things that only I can do anything about. So, I intend to do them.
This is less a post of desperation than it is one of frustration. I do have a couple of irons in the fire, but they are not yet hot. Waiting for them to come to temperature is frustrating, and there is of course that perpetual worry that they will never do so. But if they don’t, I guess I just have to put new ones in, of other metals, or go all electric, because I will not allow this situation to continue. I am still hoping, and will continue to work towards what I want. I will continue to make myself better, to work on that CV, to take what jobs I can and do them well. I will stand with all of us who have yet to find their place, and cheer when each one finds theirs. This is all I can do, aside from to hope that this is a just world in which hard work, in the end, pays off.
A movement is accomplished in six stages
And the seventh brings return.
The seven is the number of the young light
It forms when darkness is increased by one.
Change returns success
Going and coming without error.
Action brings good fortune.
Pink Floyd, Chapter 24, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn