Like most everyone in this corner of the profession, I took a gander at the job list after it went live Thursday night. I wasn't looking with intent, and I didn't spend long on the site--just skimmed the listings and remarked that there were only three or four jobs I'd be interested in if I were on the market (not counting those at places like Berkeley and Harvard, which aren't actual jobs but a conspiracy between the MLA, FedEx-Kinkos and the U. S. Postal Service). Then I shut down my computer and went to bed.
The next 36 hours passed pleasantly: I puttered around the apartment, spent quality time on a couple of writing projects, and thought some more about a talk I'm giving next month. Then on Saturday, while refilling my coffee cup, I suddenly blurted out to the empty room, "I should apply for Job X."
Now, Job X is at a school that, over the years, I've occasionally pointed to as the kind of place I'd like to work. It's not an institution that most people would regard as a dream job, and I don't have any real investment in it myself--it just has a number of features that I consider desirable. Still, though I'm friendly with a couple of people in the department, I've never so much as set foot on campus, and when I saw the job listing on Thursday all I did was say, "School X! Good job!"--and then immediately clicked on the next page of listings.
But apparently some part of my brain kept thinking about that posting, unbeknownest to my conscious mind, until all in a rush I felt that I had to apply for that job. And--I could, couldn't I? It was just one job, and so really shouldn't take too much effort. I could even comfortably tell my chair about it, because hey: it was only one job! which I had totally reasonable reasons for applying for!
But, ugh. It would be work. And though I'd be a strong candidate, there are lots of strong candidates out there. And if I didn't actually want to leave my current position--and was in fact quite happy there--what was the point, really? Job X might be a better job over the long haul. . . but did I know that? And would it be better for right now?
I couldn't get back to work. I paced around my apartment for several hours and wrote long, insane emails to a couple of professional friends: what should I do? What should I DOOOO?
And then, just as suddenly, I decided that of course I wasn't going to apply for one stupid job; I wasn't going to apply for any jobs. I'd never intended to, and I wasn't going to. The End.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who falls into this mania every September. When it happened last year, though, I thought it was situationally specific: I was feeling unmoored in the wake of my breakup and uncertain what that meant for my professional gameplan. I didn't even get close to applying, but I spent the better part of a week freaking out about one listing in particular--and then wondering whether I shouldn't apply to a few other similar schools.
But here it's gone and happened again, nearly a year after I thought I'd figured out a rough five-year plan--one that does not involve my going on the market any time soon. So is it me, or is it Jil?
Jil, I've decided, is my professional alter-ego (not to be confused with Flavia--I've got more than one, folks; try to keep up). Or perhaps it's better to say that she--more than the real-life person who previously held that title--is my nemesis, made up of all my own worst and least-lovely characteristics: anxiety, vanity, doubt, and the haunting sense that my life could be even better if I only knew what I needed to do to make it so. Each year, Jil comes back into town and nags at me, tempting and frightening me with visions of alternate futures. Jil makes me wonder if I'm defining happiness and success properly, or if I'm capable of recognizing those things when I see them. Jil makes me restless and dissatisfied.
Jil. She's got such a nice, all-American name, and she comes smiling toward you with promises to listen, to help you out. But don't turn your back: Jil'll cut you soon as look at you.