Before my Technical Writing class today, I overheard two relatively young adjuncts having a familiar conversation:
“In grad school, no one told me the job prospects would be this slim. Sure, they said, you can teach, but no one said it would be at several campuses and that getting a full time position would be nearly impossible.”
“Yeah. I worked my butt off. I’m not lazy. I apply to things all the time, but there are so many people qualified for these positions.”
“I didn’t know I’d be an adjunct for several years.”
When we hear of a recent hire, we fume with envy. “So and so got lucky” or “so and so knew members of the hiring committee.” Often, we deem the unfairness of our situations as the end. We either surrender to the lack of appreciation or get out through some desperate means, forever questioning our worth because we failed to make it in our field.
It’s sad to see these individuals feeling trapped by the system of academia. Some accountability definitely falls on the institution that feeds on our naivete and idealism. But a lot of it falls on us and our individual choices and how we choose to perceive these choices. (I have to remind myself of this a lot.) We chose to pursue humanities for a reason: we are concerned about abstract ideas, humankind, the multitude of cultural/spiritual forces that connect us. We are concerned about processing our experiences and drawing meaning from it.
Society does not value what we do in a way that makes our survival easy, but we make a way. We are well-rounded generalists who can find use in the workplace. We live interesting lives as we find contentment in the simplest things. We are usually aware of our inner selves and larger trends in culture. We are driven to create. We are useful members of society, simply because our daily lives promote our ideals.
We must keep from being consumed by this animalistic drive for dominance and prestige. We must not let society consume our ideals. Easier said than done, but finding kindreds during our travels, in corners of book stores, at poetry readings and art galleries, even our neighborhood bar, usually help us cope along the way.